BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – A win just before the holiday break over Class 1A No. 10 New London has seemed to snap the Central Lee boys into shape.
The Hawks held off an athletic Cardinal team Friday night for a 55-43 SEISC South division win.
The win moves the Central Lee to 4-6 overall and now over .500 at 4-3 in loop play.
The Hawks started the season with a blowout win at Van Buren and then lost the next six games straight before ending the run with the 4-point win over New London Dec. 22 at home, starting the three-game run.
Central Lee takes on Fort Madison tonight in Fort Madison in the annual cross-county matchup.
Central Lee took advantage of some cool shooting as the Comets kept missing around the rim in the first 3 minutes of the game. A bucket by 6-2 sophomore Dawson Lewis at 5:18 of the first was the only basket in a run of seven that Cardinal converted.
Central Lee head coach Evan Swanson tried to slow the pace of the Comets out of the gate as the Hawks won the tip and ran a full minute off the clock in the halfcourt looking for a shot before Jaxon Betker would miss off penetration.
Kade Myher would get the Hawks on the board driving to the hoop on the next possession, and Betker would hit a couple free throws after that to go up 4-0.
The Comets would come back with a couple baskets after they got their bearings, and then take their only lead of the game at 6-4 off a jumper by Blaine Bryant.
Bronson Sargent, who tied two other Hawks for game-high scoring with 12, scored underneath to tie things up at 6 with 2:24 left in the quarter, and then he would put Central Lee up for good with another bucket on the next possession.
From that point on it was a streaky game for both squads.
At one point Central Lee made 11 straight field goals spanning midway through the second to three minutes into the third quarter before,falling down on a 2-for-11 run.
Swanson said the kids are winning ugly, but that’s what improving teams do. Central won just four games last season total.
“These are the games in the past we would have lost, to be honest,” he said. “That New London win did something for us and got us on track. We’re starting to win games and win them ugly.
“We’re not playing perfect, but we’re doing enough to win and that’s what matters now. It’s just putting the pieces together to win.”
With just a 1-point lead at 9-8, Central went on a 16-7 run converting on three possessions unanswered starting with a Dylan Stuecker 3-ball from the right wing. Senior Derick Denning would score on spin move inside to make it 14-8 and Myhre would convert a steal off a press breaker before Cardinal would get on the board.
The Comets would answer on three straight possessions to cut the lead to four at 18-14, after missing six of seven to start the period.
Alex Sandoval would get unstuck from the baseline and hit a 3 after missing his first two attempts, to set the halftime score at 25-15.
The Hawks would push the lead to 20 at 39-19 after starting the period on five of six from the field, while the Comets continued to struggle getting a basket to fall.
But a frantic 4th quarter put the game in jeopardy momentarily for the Hawks as Cardinal cut the lead to eight after a 14-2 run capped by a bucket from junior Ian Liles.
Sargent put a stop to the run when he missed underneath, but battled for the rebound and slipped it just over the rim while getting knocked to the floor. He would convert the foul shot and then Betker would add a couple free throws in the next possession to stretch the lead back to 13.
The Comets wouldn’t get much closer the rest of the way, despite Central going cold from the free throw line down the stretch.
The Hawks made just 3-of-10 foul shots as Cardinal tried to get back in the game in the final minute hacking away at Central Lee.
“Cardinal is really good team. We hit a cold streak and that happens, but the good thing is the boys were able to overcome it,” Swanson said.
“We played good at times, and I’m just proud of the boys for overcoming tonight.”
Myhre and Stuecker also has 12 for Central in the win. Sandoval, Betker and Denning all had five, and Kaleb Sanders had four on the night to round out the Hawks’ scoring.
Lewis led Cardinal with 10 points. Elias Elammari had nine.