Mercer falls to EFCA, 49-44, in District 10 Class 2A championship game

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Mar. 4—NEW WILMINGTON — Every minute counts in the playoffs, and the Mercer boys basketball team found that out the hard way.

The Mustangs fell behind early but managed to battle their way back. However, they didn't have enough scoring and fell 49-44 to Erie First Christian Academy in the District 10 Class 2A championship game on Friday at Westminster College.

EFCA held a 12-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. A layup by Jake Mattocks cut the Eagles' (13-10) lead to 16-11 a couple minutes into the second quarter.

That's when the scoring stopped for the Mustangs.

Mercer (20-5) was outscored 11-2 in the second, and the Eagles took a 23-11 lead into the break. The Mustangs shot 1-for-7 from the floor in the second and committed seven turnovers.

However, the game wasn't out of reach. Mercer cut the deficit to single digits by the end of the third quarter.

Jake and Dae Mattocks combined to go 5-for-6 shooting from the free-throw line to start the fourth.

The free throws got the Mustangs deficit down to 39-32. They continued to chip away, and eventually, they got the lead down to 41-35 with three minutes remaining.

EFCA was sent to the free-throw line to try and extend the game. The Eagles converted 5 of 6 shots from the line to put the game away.

"I told the kids after the game how proud I am of them," Mercer head coach Joe Venasco said. "The game never seems out of reach for those kids. They give themselves a chance to win, and it's what we did tonight against a team that played very good, a physically dominating team."

Avery Collins led the Eagles with 24 points with three assists. Anthony Collins had 13 points with a game-high 12 rebounds.

Jake Mattocks scored 17 points with eight rebounds for the Mustangs. Dae Mattocks added 11 points, and Braden Balaski contributed eight points with three assists.

Mercer plays a press defense consistently. The press and fast tempo got the Mustangs into a flow in the second half. That style helped them force turnovers, but also the offense working downhill toward the basket.

"We're a better offensive team when we do that," Venasco said. "We were a little like that tonight, and obviously in the third quarter, same thing.

"We were just able to control the pace a little bit better. Hats off to Erie First Christian. They're a heck of a team."

The Mustangs still advance to the state tournament as the district runner-ups. They will play next Saturday.

"We're very excited. That game will be played at our home gym, which is awesome for us," Venasco said. "We're excited. Hopefully the community comes out and supports the boys one more time, and we'll see where we go from there.

"We have a lot to work on, but for one night, I thought we just played hard tonight. We played hard and I'm proud of our effort."

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D-10 CLASS 2A CHAMPIONSHIP

ERIE FIRST 12 11 13 13 49

MERCER 9 2 17 16 44

ERIE FIRST CHRISTIAN ACADEMY — Riley 1-0-0-2, Jong 1-0-1-3, Av.Collins 6-7-9-24, Liu 1-5-6-7, Galiera 0-0-0-0, An.Collins 6-1-2-13. 3-pt. goals: Av. Collins 5, Jong 1. Totals: 15-13-18-49.

MERCER — Haines 0-0-0-0, Miller 0-1-5-1, Palmer 1-1-2-4, Balaski 2-2-4-8, D.Mattocks 3-5-6-11, Cunningham 1-0-0-3, Grossman 0-0-2-0, J.Mattocks 7-2-4-17. 3-pt. goals: Balaski 2, Palmer 1, Cunningham, 1, J.Mattocks 1. Totals: 14-11-23-44.