ALBIA — What's that old saying?
Kevin Archer certainly knows.
"It tough to beat a team three times in one season," the Albia head boys basketball coach said on Thursday shortly after the conclusion of the third meeting this season with South Central Conference rival Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont.
"It's really tough. When they're 15 miles away, they're probably your biggest rival. That makes it a heck of a lot tougher."
In the end, the Blue Demons needed to do several little things to earn a third victory over a young, but improved, EBF boys basketball squad. While several little things added up in the end, it was a big 14-0 run that pushed Albia forward in the postseason with a 62-53 win in the Class 2A district semifinals.
Trey Griffin stepped up in a big way for the Blue Demons, scoring a team-leading 20 points while dishing out five assists in the postseason win. Four different players reached double figures for Albia, including 14 points apiece from brothers Blake and Drew Chance.
Blake Chance ignited the game-changing rally in the second half, hitting Albia's third straight 3-point jumper to close a quarter cutting EBF's 46-41 lead down to two heading into the fourth. Chance then opened the fourth quarter with his second straight 3-pointer, giving Albia the lead for the first time since Jackson DeMoss ended the second quarter with a banked-in 3-pointer that put the Blue Demons up at halftime 29-27.
"We were really struggling, but our seniors were really cool-headed," Archer said. "I remember Blake coming over to start the fourth and clapping, letting everyone know that we were fine. We've got a lot of guys that have been in this situation before and knew that we could some things better in the fourth. It was just a matter of us executing."
While Albia executed early in the fourth, scoring the first 11 points of the period to open a 55-46 lead, EBF struggled to find the same level of play that had carried the Rockets to the lead in the third quarter. The Rockets turned the ball over 19 times in the game, 10 more than Albia, and left the Blue Demons open four times on inbound passes for open shots at key moments that kept EBF from truly taking command of the game.
"We played exceptionally well for three quarters, but we could never really extend the lead beyond three or five points," EBF head boys basketball coach Travis Stout said. "The big key was Trey Griffin hitting some huge shots for them. Albia's depth was huge. When they needed a big basket, Trey got it for them. We couldn't seem to find an answer for him."
Albia, however, struggled in the first half to find an answer for Ethan Davis, who scored 18 of EBF's 27 points in the first half while hauling in eight rebounds to keep the Rockets right in the game. Davis was limited to just two points in the second half, however, finishing with a team-leading 20 while not collecting a rebound in the final 16 minutes.
"Ethan was a beast in the first half. He really put us on his back and carried us," Stout said. "I was a little disappointed with our patience in the second half in terms of getting him touches. We just didn't do a very good job of that."
Going up against Davis, Drew Chance worked hard for a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double for the Blue Demons. Nathaniel Wynn also came up big defensively with 11 points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first quarter, while collecting a team-best three steals.
Brooks Moore added 15 points and six rebounds for EBF, who closes the season with a final 11-12 record. Albia, now 18-2 on the season, will face Pella Christian for the second time this year in the Class 2A regional finals on Tuesday night at Oskaloosa after earning an 85-77 win over the Eagles in the second game of the season.
"Confidence is big. Going into a game with confidence is never a bad thing," Archer said. "Pella Christian is a really, really good team. We've been able to get to substate finals before by beating them, but they've beaten some really good teams. We know how difficult it's going to be, but our guys will be excited. We'll be ready to come out and play hard."