The Eagles started out in the MCCC tournament with an early Thursday game at 10 A.M. against Manhattan Christian College. Emmaus lost earlier in a blowout down in Kansas after a hard fought match the night before against Barclay College. The Eagles were set to make sure that did not happen again.
In the first half, Emmaus stuck to the game plan and held on defensively to keep within striking distance. Manhattan looked surprised that the Eagles were not buckling and instead were fighting back. The biggest difference in the first half was Manhattan shooting 5-8 for 3-pointers while Emmaus was only able to go 2-8. However, because of their intensity on the defensive end, the Eagles entered the second half down only by 13.
"We were really impressed by how the team held their own against a team that was taller and more deeper," Coach Wilkerson explained. "They knew they could do better than their last performance against this team, and they went out and showed it."
The second half saw an increase in their 3-point numbers and a clamp down on Manhattan's 3-point shooters, who would only go 2-8 from downtown in the second half. The Eagles would only be outscored by 7 in the second half; though the final score was 81-61, Emmaus would play one of their best games of the season. Caleb Ruter led the team with 20 points while Skyler Sandry added 15 points and 3 assists.
"I had officials and other coaches coming up to me, telling me how impressed they were with how the team did," Coach Wilkerson added. "This is a result of hard team basketball and the dedication on the defensive end. I was very proud of their performance today."
Friday would bring another early game against Calvary Bible College, who the Eagles defeated earlier in the season. Emmaus got off to a fast start and saw their lead jump to 15 early on. However, a great individual performance by Aaron Wright on Calvary brought them back to within 7 at halftime.
The second half saw Emmaus throw a number of different players on Wright, who finished the game with 42 points and 19 rebounds. Calvary also went to a box and 1 on Ruter who responded with setting screens and getting others shots. With about 5 minutes left, Wright fouled out and Emmaus would push through to move onto the consolation championship on Saturday by beating Calvary 85-81. Caleb Ruter again led the Eagles with 26 points while Nathaniel Glidewell added a monster game with 22 points and 17 rebounds.
"Nathaniel was big for us today once they switched defenses on Caleb," Coach Wilkerson explained. "He played within the system and really showcased his talents on the glass. I was also proud of Caleb today who demonstrated growth in his ability to make his teammates better and lead on the court."
Saturday's consolation championship would see Emmaus face off against Faith Baptist for the third time this year. While the first game was a close one, the second saw the Eagles play their third game in 4 days and the result was a one-sided loss.
"I feel we match up really well with Faith and any game could go either way," Coach Wilkerson said. "Whoever plays 40 minutes of basketball usually wins it."
Emmaus jumped out to a quick 5 point lead but turnovers would bring Faith back and give them the lead. For about 6 minutes, Emmaus would go away from the game plan and the results were quick shots and easy points in transition for Faith. Faith would also score 15 points off of turnovers and the Eagles would go into the locker room down 10.
The coaches stressed a return to the keys of the game and the execution of good basketball. Emmaus had all it needed to win but would need to play that way.
An adjustment made defensively allowed the Eagles to hold Faith's two best players to 9 points total in the second half. However, Faith would keep the 10 point lead with about 5 minutes to play. Seeing that Faith was slowing the game down to preserve their lead, a change was needed. The coaches opted to double team immediately when Faith got across half court. This strategy worked as Faith would commit 5 straight turnovers and the Eagles would climb back in the game. Down 5 with about a minute left, Emmaus had probably their best possession of the year as they went inside to the post who passed it back to the wing and the ball was swung all the way around to an open Caleb Ruter who would knock down the 3 pointer.
With the lead down to 2 but the clock at less than 30 seconds, Emmaus had to foul and Faith knocked down both free throws. Needing a 3, a play was set up for Caleb Ruter who was triple teamed but Caleb Postma was able to get a good look. Unfortunately, the shot did not fall and Emmaus would lose 72-67. The game saw a balanced attack from Ruter, Sandry and Glidewell who had 20, 18, and 16.
"I was very proud of the team for fighting back and almost taking this game," Coach Wilkerson added. "Steven Delain came in and gave us some very good minutes, especially on the defensive end. We continue to take steps and with 2 games left before Nationals, our hope is the guys see the progress and commit to staying within the system for the whole 40 minutes. We (the coaches) are excited to see what can come once that happens."
The Eagles have a quick turnaround as they face off against Maranatha Baptist Monday at 6 PM.