In perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the Warren Masonic Christmas Tournament, the boys championship game featured the potent Pioneer offense from Warren County Middle School against the high-flying Eagles of Morrison.
This game was more than just another championship game and perhaps the best overall performance by WCMS this year. In a near-flawless game, the Pioneers defeated the Eagles, 41-30.
Micah Webster from WCMS and Irving Espinoza from Morrison shared game-high scoring honors with 15 points each. Webster got it done on the inside against an aggressive and physical Morrison defense.
Espinoza got his points anywhere he could get them. He went straight to the rim and he connected twice from beyond the arch. He even knocked down three free-throw attempts in his quest for the championship.
WCMS made a statement in the first quarter as the Pioneer offense pounded the ball down low to Webster. It was obvious if Morrison was going to stop WCMS, the Eagles had to find a way to stop Webster inside.
In the first quarter Webster controlled the offensive boards. Time after time the ball was fed inside where Webster made his drop-step move to the basket. He was held up on one occasion and muscled up a shot that dropped as the whistle blew. He completed the three-point play.
The only other Pioneer to score was sharp-shooter Eli Jones, who slipped outside past the defense for an open look. Jones buried the deep shot for his first of four 3-pointers over the Eagle defense.
On the Eagles end of the floor, Espinoza was covered by a relentless defense by Jerry Mrema. Espinoza was never more than a couple steps away from the defense. Morrison attempted to screen off would-be defenders without much success early.
Espinoza picked off a pass for an easy basket in transition and then got free from behind the three-point line for five of his 15 points. With Espinoza wrapped up, the Eagle offense turned to Rylan Holder and he added three points. After one quarter, Morrison trailed 10-8.
The Pioneers offense started to click in the second and a flurry of shots came from all directions as Morrison fell back into a zone defense. Jones again lit it up from outside and he added a pair of 3-pointers before the half. With the defense forced outside, the ball went back inside to Webster.
Jacob Lann buried a 3-pointer after he got a wide-open look and C.J. Taylor got inside for his first two points.
The Pioneer defense went on lockdown and all lanes to the basket were cut off. Mrema, who defended Espinoza, received help from a lightning-quick duo in Dante Elam and Taylor throughout the second quarter. Espinoza was constantly harassed by the WCMS defense and limited to only a very deep 3-point shot. Kasen Holder was the only other Eagle to get a shot to drop through and at the half WCMS extended its lead to 25-13.
Morrison found other ways to score against the Pioneer relentless pressure on Espinoza. He did score a single basket off a turnover and he shot 2-of-2 after he was hit hard inside on his way to the rim.
Carter Mansfield and Webster shared the load on offense in the low-scoring third quarter for WCMS. The Pioneers focused so much on defense, it left little time for offense and after three complete WCMS led 31-23.
Nothing was easy for either team in the final period and the dagger came from Jones who connected on his fourth 3-pointer. Mrema, who played his best defensive game, scored his only basket late in the game.
The Pioneer defense continued to close off much of the Morrison surge in the fourth. Kasen Holder added four points and Espinoza added his final basket for Morrison.
WCMS held on and stunned Morrison by a final score of 41-30 and claimed the Warren Masonic Christmas Championship. The Pioneer win ended a 14-game winning streak for Morrison that dated back to last year’s loss in the state tournament.
PIONEER SCORING – Micah Webster 15, Eli Jones 13, C.J. Taylor 4, Carter Mansfield 4, Jacob Lann 3, Jerry Mrema 2
EAGLE SCORING – Irving Espinoza 15, Kasen Holder 6, Keegan Scott 3, Rylan Holder 3, Dominique Betancourt 3