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Riverside tames Eagles

ASKEWVILLE – With three starters missing, Bethel Christian made a game of it for three quarters before succumbing to Riverside Christian, 68-46, Friday night.

Josh Caldwell came off the bench to pour in 15 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter and Michael Miller added 11 while Shane Tripp had 10. The loss dropped coach Joe Mizzelle’s club to an even 10-10 on the season.

Patrick Clark led Riverside with 27 points including nine in the fourth quarter. He also grabbed eight rebounds.

“I thought the boys stepped up and played real good,” said a disappointed Mizzelle after the game. “The freshmen that were in there contributed and for a while there it was nip-and-tuck but their size got us in the end.”

The first quarter featured a trio of ties as Riverside opened with a fast pace, but that also meant rushed shots by the visitors as Bethel was able to match their scoring with keen outside shooting.

The last tie coming on a Jim Perry layup where he challenged Riverside’s six-four center, Clark, with a driving lay-up off the glass and the free-throw afterward as he was fouled on the shot.

Riverside, however, answered with a three-pointer from Jonathan Goolsby and Bethel never led or tied again. Caldwell came in off the bench to provide a much-needed offensive spark for Bethel but the visiting Eagles closed out the quarter with a 13-7 run and had a 22-16 advantage after the first eight minutes of play.

The game became much more physical in the second quarter as both teams challenged each other in the paint with driving lay-up. However, that also produced a slew of fouls and Riverside was able to open up a 10-point lead.

Bethel had a chance to chew into that lead but the Eagles missed 6-of-9 free throws in the final two minutes.

With the score 32-26, Tripp got a layup off a steal to whittle Bethel’s deficit to four; but Caldwell made just 1-of-2 free throws on the Eagles’ next possession and three was as close as the home team could come.

They made it a three-point game again, 34-31, on a Tripp tip-in, but Jonathan Locklear got a steal and lay-up at the buzzer to put Bethel down by five at the break, 36-31.

Riverside pushed their lead out to 10 points twice in the opening minutes of the third quarter thanks to strong offensive rebounding and put-backs. It was 44-34 when Shane Hoggard scored on a three-point play and Clark picked up his fourth foul with two minutes remaining forcing him to sit out the remainder of the third quarter.

Austin Hunt, who tallied 19 points in the game, scored next on a three-point play of his own. Caldwell then got it back to nine, 45-36, and his four-in-a-row plus a pair of Tripp free throws left Bethel down five with the last quarter coming up.

With the score 48-42, Clark reentered the game and Riverside coach Dan McNeil protected his big center as his team went into their motion offense. The size advantage paid off with mismatches for Bethel on defense. Riverside scored on backdoor plays and it produced an 11-2 run allowing Riverside to open up a 14-point lead with four minutes to play.

Hoggard fouled out half a minute later and Bethel’s last inside defensive threat was done. The physical play continued and soon Locklear fouled out for Riverside and Caldwell followed for Bethel, which only scored nine points in the fourth. A couple of snow-bird back-door lay-ups made for the 22-point margin in the end.

“Young kids kind of freeze up a little when it gets late in tight games,” said Mizzelle shaking his head. He then nodded toward the Riverside crowd, “I won’t make excuses because we’ll see them again somewhere in the state’s (playoffs) and maybe I’ll have all my players by then.”

“We rushed things early, but once we settled into our offense it was game over,” said McNeil. “But they always play us tough every time we come up here and I know we’ll see them again.”