HUGHESVILLE — Pilot Grove came out firing in the third quarter and eliminated Northwest 75-46 on Thursday in the Class 1, District 8 semifinal.
A Cortlen Austin 3-pointer had cut the Tigers’ lead to 26-25 to open the second half but Jake Leverton answered with back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers and Pilot Grove never looked back, outscoring the Mustangs 28-8 in the period.
“That’s one of the biggest shots in our game,” said Pilot Grove coach Derek Skaggs. “We really struggled in the second quarter and we’re a lot better shooting team than that. He came out and hit some big shots and really gave the other guys some energy and started doing some things defensively and turned them into layups.”
In the final game of his high school basketball career, Austin finished with 16 points. After a 10-point first half, the Tigers held him to six in the second on a pair of 3-pointers. Austin’s final basket came on a play where he fended off a steal attempt by Pilot Grove in the corner before taking an off-balance attempt from the corner which found nothing but net.
“I’ve said it before, but he’s another coach out there,” said Northwest coach Justin Wiskur. “In my 11 years of doing school sports, I’ve never coached an athlete like him who’s so athletic in every sport, has one speed — all out. We could be playing curling out here and he would go all out to be best he could at it and beat the other guy. We’re going to miss him a lot. I’m looking forward to coaching him one more season in baseball this year. He’s worked his tail off to get where he’s at.”
Austin’s reputation preceded him as Pilot Grove was looking to see what they could do defensively to slow him down.
“We tried to put more pressure on the primary two guards,” Skaggs said. “We tried to shut down Cortlen Austin. We knew that they run everything through Cortlen Austin and he’s a really good player for them. I think we were able to shut him down a little big and get some momentum.”
Ryan Rafferty finished with 10 points for the Mustangs.
Leverton had 26 points to lead a balanced Pilot Grove attack, hitting five 3-pointers. Colton Glenn scored 17 and Mason Schlotzhauer added 15. A 3-point play in the third quarter put Schlotzhauer over the 1,000-point mark for his career.
“Any of those five can step up and hit big shots when they need to,” Skaggs said. “That’s what makes this team who they are.”
Pilot Grove jumped out to a 24-14 lead in the second quarter, but Northwest bounced back, getting free throws from Rafferty and Austin and a Truman Leicher jumper to cut the lead to 24-22 late in the quarter. Down four at the half, Austin quickly cut that lead to one with a 3-pointer early in the third.
“We showed a lot of heart,” Wiskur said. “That’s what we’ve had all year. We’re not the most talented team on the floor every night but we don’t back down and our kids play hard. We prepared well for Pilot Grove and I thought the boys did a good job of carrying out that game plan in the first half.”
Helping Northwest over the first 16 minutes was defense, forcing 11 Pilot Grove turnovers in the half including Austin stepping in to take a charge and holding Pilot Grove to 1 of 13 shooting from the field in the second quarter after the Tigers hit 8 of 18 in the first.
“We went in a diamond-and-one on Schlotzhauer,” Wiskur said. “I think that took him out of the groove a little bit and gave our boys some confidence. You could see our confidence grow and grow. Even when we went to the 1-3-1, we got our hands on a lot of balls and clogged up the lane and made them shoot from the outside.”
Pilot Grove came out in a half-court offense, scoring six points in the first four minutes of the game, before running for most of the second and third quarters.
“When we slowed down, you saw a lot of hesitation in our game and that’s not something we show a lot,” Skaggs said. “The hesitation came from not shooting the ball very well. Figuring out that it’s not falling and we need to attack the rim.”
Pilot Grove will seek to defend its district title at 3 p.m. Saturday at Northwest.