For a season-opener, the Davenport Assumption and Dubuque Wahlert boys basketball teams made Thursday's contest feel more like a season-ending playoff match-up.
Instead of feeling their way out of the gate, both teams went at each other in a highly entertaining game that saw the visiting Golden Eagles make a few more plays late to leave town with a 62-61 non-conference victory.
The rivalry between the parochial schools and familiarity from playoff match-ups was already on full display as the teams' energy and hustle stood out to go with 10 lead changes during the game, including four in the fourth quarter.
"I told the guys not many people are going to have a game like that right away," Knights coach Matt Fitzpatrick said. "It felt like a conference game or even tournament game. But it is two Catholic schools with similar type kids, and it is an important game to both programs. I thought both teams played really hard, and I was proud of our guys effort. We just needed to execute a little bit better in some places. It was just a few possessions and some little things. But that's what close games come down to."
Assumption entered the fourth quarter with a 43-40 lead, but the Golden Eagles, who switched defenses many times during the contest, turned up the pressure with a tough man-to-man defense that forced four turnovers from the Knights on their first five possessions of the quarter. Wahlert was able to pull ahead behind its defense on a basket from Isaac Ripley that made it 51-49 for the visitors with 4 minutes, 48 seconds left.
The Golden Eagles were led by Jacob Schockemoehl, who put up a game-high 26 points, but it was Ripley who made the difference when it mattered. The junior guard scored 11 of his 16 points in the final five minutes of the game. Ripley also made what turned out to be the game-winning free throws when he hit a pair of foul shots to push Wahlert's lead to 62-59 with 18 seconds left.
Assumption tried to free up one of its 3-point shooters for the tie in the remaining time, but eventually Anthony Valainis just had to get a basket, and he hit a lay-up with seven seconds left, but the Golden Eagles were able to run out the clock.
"When we needed it, Isaac really delivered," Wahlert coach Tom English said. "He is a streaky shooter, but he is a strong kid who also can drive and get to basket. He did a great job and and hit those two big free throws."
Valainis led the hosts with 22 points and six rebounds and the Knights did have balanced scoring. Sean Peeters had 14 points while Dylan Peeters added another 10 points. Grayson Heiser and Logan Ehrecke each had six points for the Knights. But Dylan Peeters battled foul trouble most of the game and missed a long stretch in the second half after picking up third foul with 3:23 left in the third quarter. Assumption finished the game with 17 turnovers.
"We had some deflections and steals that really disrupted what (Assumption) was doing in the fourth quarter, and I was really happy with the defensive effort late," English said.
The Golden Eagles also snagged some key offensive rebounds late that helped keep key possessions alive, and although Wahlert had 17 turnovers of its own in the contest, only two of them were in the fourth quarter.
It is small but key plays Fitzpatrick said his team just has to clean up.
"Those little things, having a careless turnover or not using two hands to secure a rebound which allows (Wahlert) to keep things alive. It all adds up," he said.