By PAUL HINES
Waltonville rushed to a huge early lead and held off New Athens 53-48 to take fifth place at the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament on Saturday.
“We’re lucky enough that we held on,” Waltonville coach Brian Gamber said. “We made some big plays down the stretch. We had guys step up and knock down some big free throws and because of that we were able to win.”
The Spartans jumped out to a 16-3 lead after the opening quarter and led by 15 going into the fourth before a furious rally from New Athens. The Yellowjackets hit six 3-pointers in the final quarter. The hot shooting late helped them slash into the Spartans big advantage.
“That’s a credit to them,” Waltonville coach Brian Gamber said. “They’re a very good team, very well coached. They’re not going to quit. They’re not going to give up.”
Luke Marlow hit a 3-pointer with less than a minute left that cut the deficit to 47-44. But Waltonville’s Trey Witges and Jordan Hale hit five free throws late to seal the victory.
Hale led the Spartans with 19 points, and Witges finished with 17. Both were named to the all-tournament team.
“They’re good players. They’ve played a lot of minutes,” Gamber said. “That’s what we’re kind of keying on is trying to get them open looks put them in good positions.”
Witges and Hale played a key role in the Spartans’ quick offensive start, combining for 12 points in the opening quarter. Waltonville maintained its double-digit lead throughout the opening half and into the third quarter. In the third, the advantage grew to 19 midway through the quarter.
“That’s one of our big things, we’ve tried to key in on getting out with a lot of energy, lot of effort,” Gamber said. “(The) first half was about as well as we’ve played all year.”
Waltonville is 11-3 this season. The Spartans finished the tournament 3-1.
“Three out of four, it’s not what we wanted obviously but to win three out of four (it’s) a very good tournament for us,” Gamber said.