PELLA — Most of the time you can throw out the rankings and the records when Pella and Pella Christian meet. The Battle for Tulip Town had another competitive installment as the game was decided by single digits for the sixth time in the last seven meetings. This time was the top-ranked Dutch holding off an Eagle surge to come away with a 56-52 road win against their inner-city rivals.
“It was a hard fought game against Pella,” JD Boer said. “We really struggled in the first half. We didn't take care of the ball very well and Pella really hurt us on the boards.”
Pella Christian was without their biggest fan for the big game. Former Eagle boys basketball head coach and super fan Dick Vander Laan died in late December from a stroke. Vander Laan could usually be seen attending nearly every Pella Christian sporting event and the school made sure to continue that tradition by reserving a seat with his name in the stands for Friday night’s game.
The game started with neither team able to find the range from deep as it looked like a low-scoring first before a quick Pella burst put them in front 14-7 heading into the second quarter.
While the Eagles continued to struggle offensively, Grant Nelson found a groove for the Dutch, knocking down a couple of threes while Niko Schirz had a couple of nice hustle plays to help Pella build a 30-15 halftime lead.
The Dutch looked like they had the game in control but the Eagles responded well out of the break, using a 10-3 run behind threes from Levi Schelhaas and Schirtz to get back into the game.
PC continued to chip away, outscoring Pella 21-7 in the quarter to pull within one against the top-ranked 3A team heading to the fourth quarter.
The pace ramped up in the fourth quarter with both teams flying up and down the floor but it was Karl Miller playing closer for Pella with back-to-back huge threes to put the Dutch ahead 49-40 with two minutes left.
Meanwhile, the Pella defense was charges left and right led by Josh Warner. The Dutch would make enough free throws down the stretch to close out the win and avoid the upset.
“I thought we did a great job of responding in the second half,” Boer said. “We brought a 15-point halftime deficit down to one in the third quarter. I was proud of the fight the guys showed to work themselves back into the game. Ultimately, though, we just didn't make quite enough plays to get us over the top. Credit Pella for making some big shots there in the fourth quarter to take control of the game. We had some similar opportunities that we just weren't able to capitalize on.”
Pella was led by Nelson, who finished with 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals. Miller added 17 points and five rebounds for the Dutch.
Pella Christian received 14 points from Schelhaas. Schirz was a point short of a double-double with nine points and 14 rebounds while Eric Mulder and Bennett Spronk also had nine points for the Eagles.
PC held Pella to just 36.8% shooting from the floor and 21.4% from three while the Dutch were just 8-of-17 from the line.
The impressive defensive performance was needed as PC struggled with ball security as they lost the turnover battle 26-9.
“I thought our defense was pretty solid all night,” Boer said. “Offensively, we just had a hard time finding rhythm and flow, and that will be an emphasis coming into next week. We've made it through the first half of our Little Hawkeye Conference regular season. We've had our ups and downs, but I believe our team has really improved throughout the year, and we're excited to face some of these great teams again through the second half of the schedule. We'll be ready for a nice road trip out to West Marshall on Monday.”
Pella Christian (5-7, 3-4 LHC) travels to West Marshall (4-6) on Monday at 7:30 p.m. while No. 1 (3A) Pella (10-0, 5-0 LHC) will host No. 7 (2A) Des Moines Christian (10-1) on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.