PELLA — The first game of 2021 didn’t disappoint in terms of excitement and competitiveness. Pella Christian erased a first half double-digit deficit to the visiting Lions from Des Moines Christian but a late potential game-tying three would rattle off the rim as the Eagles would fall 44-41 on Saturday afternoon.
"Our guys battled hard,” Pella Christian head coach JD Boer said after the game. “We made a nice comeback, but came up just short.”
Both sides came out with a lot of good energy and pace early on but the Lions would capitalize on a string of Eagle turnovers, who finished with 19 on the day, pulling ahead 15-8 late in the first quarter.
DMC was scoring in bunches in transition in the second quarter while Niko Schirz was bringing the energy for PC. Schirz attacked the glass and made the hustle plays while draining a three as part of an eight-point quarter for the junior forward.
The Eagles also good energy from their bench late in the second, cutting it down to six before DMC’s Adam Witty hit a late runner to push the Lion lead to 30-22 at the half.
Des Moines Christian pushed their lead to double digits early in the third quarter before the Eagles would go to work at chipping away at the deficit.
Aiden Stoltz corner three was followed by an Eric Mulder steal and slam to chop the deficit to four before Elijah Hess would get the tip rebound to fall for DMC with the Lions leading 36-30 heading to the fourth.
Although the atmosphere haven’t been the same this season with limited fans, no students or pep bans, the crowd made their presence felt in the fourth quarter as Pella Christian made another run.
Schirz’s right-handed hook shot brought the Eagles within two with two minutes to go. DMC would look to milk the clock but PC elected to play it out, eventually forcing a turnover with a chance to tie or take the lead on the other end.
With less than a minute to go, Schirz would turn the ball over on an errant skip pass to give the ball back to the Lions.
PC would foul Witty, sending him to the line for a one-and-one. Witty knocked down the first but missed the second to keep it a three-point game.
Levi Schelhaas would come down the other end and free himself for an open pull-up from three at the top of the key. The shot looked good all the way but would rattle off the front of the rim and off, eventually ricocheting off a Lion foot and out setting up PC inbound under the hoop with 1.3 seconds left.
The Eagles would try to get an open look in the corner but DMC defended it well, forcing PC to throw it out of bounds, securing the win for the Lions.
“I was proud of our rebounding effort, getting 16 offensive rebounds is a great step in the right direction,” Boer said. “I also thought we defended fairly well, especially in the second half, holding a really good DMC team to 14 second half points. What hurt us in this game was consistency on the offensive end. Credit DMC for really getting after us, but we turned the ball over too many times and just didn't have a great shooting night, especially from behind the arc.”
Pella Christian got good offensive days from Mulder and Schirtz. Mulder went for 14 points along with eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Schirtz finished with 14 points as well to go with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Mulder and Schirtz combined to shoot 12-of-17 from the field while the rest of the team combined to go 6-of-25 (24%). The Eagles also struggled from the free throw line (3-of-9) and from three (2-of-14) in the low-scoring battle.
“We're getting close,” Boer said. “The guys continue to believe, work hard, and we're getting better. I believe that at some point soon we'll get over the hump and start winning big games like this.”
Pella Christian (2-5, 1-2 LHC) gets back to Little Hawkeye Conference action on Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. when they travel to No. 1 (3A) Dallas Center-Grimes (6-0, 3-0 LHC).