The frustration of a 66-49 opening game regional loss to Eastland on Feb. 24 served as a microcosm of Forreston’s entire season.
“This whole season has been a grind,” Forreston coach Jonathan Schneiderman said. “The tempo of this game wasn’t what we needed it to be.”
From the opening tip-off, the Cardinals struggled to get in a groove and could never find any sort of team chemistry, as had been the case all winter.
Robert DeVries, who has been in and out of the line-up all year due to injuries, hit a 3-pointer to give Forreston a 5-3 lead. Eastland, behind sharp-shooting Dalton Shaner, then ran off 13 straight points to take control for good.
Blake Janssen, a 6-5 sophomore, converted two quick baskets off offensive rebounds as Eastland advanced its lead and made its physical presence felt. The prospects for Eastland look bright for the future, as its other big man was 6-4 freshman Brighton Haverland.
In the second quarter, the Cougars held Forreston to one point the first six minutes, while going up 28-9, the last two baskets from second and third chances.
“Usually, the most technical team wins the first quarter and the most physical wins the second,” Schneiderman said. “They won both.”
DeVries also got into trouble by trying to do too much on the offensive end. Three times he was called for offensive fouls.
“Robert’s very competitive,” Schneiderman said. “We’re a better team with him. Unfortunately, we never got established all year as a team with him.”
Wyatt Kerchner and Kaleb Reining had back-to-back buckets to pull Forreston to within 28-14, but the Cardinals could not make any stops on defense.
Eastland scored the next eight points to go up 36-14 as the third quarter began.
“Whenever Eastland plays Forreston, we have a ton of effort and it flowed tonight,” Eastland coach Tony Dunlap said.
However, from that point on and with Eastland regulars still in the game, the Cardinals began to find some semblance of continuity and played on par with the No. 4 seed Cougars.
And, this was no ordinary No. 4 seed. The Cougars came into the contest ranked No. 7 in 1A, in what many consider to be the toughest regional in the state with four 20-win teams.
DeVries started Forreston’s best run of the game with a 3-pointer, followed by a free throw by Aaron Shelton and five more points by DeVries. Nathan Schneiderman added four more points, but the 13-point run was interrupted by a 3-pointer by Shaner, who had 29 points on a variety of shots.
“We needed him not to have a good shooting night. He was definitely above average,” Schneiderman said.
A Reining 3-pointer cut the Eastland lead to 46-33 with a minute gone in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals would not get any closer as the teams traded baskets the rest of the way.
Forreston who finished a disappointing 9-15 and 4-7 in conference, played an all-junior line-up nearly the entire game.
“Our program needs to be rejuvenated,” Schneiderman said. “We’ve had a couple of run-of-the-mill seasons and that’s not acceptable. I’ll take the blame for that.”
After the manner in which Eastland physically dominated his team, Schneiderman realizes it will take more than having five starters return to be successful in 2014/15.
“We’ve got some skills, but need to be more physical,” the ninth-year coach (176-84) said. “In the off season, we need to challenge ourselves.”