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Imblerís Trace VanCleave battles with Coveís Cameron McGowan during Saturdayís championship game at the Cove Booster tournament. Imbler won the title 39-34. BRAD MOSHER - The Observer
COVE — Imbler built up a big lead Saturday, then had to hold on tight to preserve a 39-34 victory over Old Oregon League rival Cove in the boys championship game of the Cove Boosters tournament.
Imbler made a fast impression, jumping out to a 9-0 lead before Brandon Batty’s two free throws with less than five minutes left in the first quarter.
By the first buzzer, the Panthers had a 13-6 lead.
By halftime, Imbler led 17-9.
That eight-point lead exploded to 15 in the third quarter when the Panthers went on a rampage. Cove actually closed the gap to four points with 4:10 left when Colton DeeMeerLeer hit a three-pointer — his fifth point in less than two minutes.
Trace VanCleave quickly made it a 24-16 lead after hitting one free throw, then hitting another basket while being fouled and hitting that free throw also.
Joe Griffin hit a shot, making Imbler’s lead 10 points with 2:21 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers then scored five more points with baskets by Garrett Bigej and Van Cleave — along with a free throw by Kain Shodin.
The biggest part of the Cove comeback came in the fourth quarter after Imbler coach Mike Mills gave his starters a rest.
With 2:46 left, Imbler had a 38-18 lead.
Then the Cove run started.
Carl Gray started it with a pair of free throws. Then Derek Murchison made the score 38-22 with just 2:06 left.
Jayden Moore’s three-point shot with 1:40 left cut the lead to 38-25.
Van Cleave cut the lead by another two points with 1:30 left, making it an 11-point difference.
After Bigej sank a free throw, it was 39-27 with just over a minute left.
Murchison made it a 10-point game with a minute left and Moore sank two free throws to cut the lead to 39-31 when he added two free throws.
Batty’s three-point basket with seven seconds left cut the lead to just five.
In the final three minutes, the Leopards had gone on a 16-1 run.
“They woke up against the bench,” Mills said after the game.
“Our main goal tonight as a team was to make sure everybody got a chance to play. We accomplished that and still were able to sneak out with a win.
“We still have a lot of football left in us. We’ll keep practicing and we’ll come around,” the coach added after logging his second win in the tournament. Imbler defeated 4A McLoughlin in the Cove opener by a 51-45 score. It had been the team’s first game of he season after a protracted football season that ended in the 1A semifinals.
Batty and Murchison both scored eight points to lead the Leopards.
Moore and DeMeerleer both added seven. Gray had four points.
For the Panthers, Riley Kretschmer led the way with 15 points. Van Cleave had six points, while both Shodin and Casey Robertson had five points. Eli Bowers and Bigej had three points each. Griffin finished with two.
Imbler hosts Notus (Idaho) Friday.