Toledo Christian defenders surround Cardinal Stritch's Austin Adams during the second half. TC sank 13 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter to prevail, winning its 13th straight game.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
What looked to be a runaway turned into a dogfight at Toledo Christian, where the Eagles remained unbeaten in league play by holding off a resilient Cardinal Stritch squad 65-55 on Tuesday night.
Toledo Christian won its 13th consecutive game but had to fend off a rally by the Cardinals. The Eagles led by as many as 19 points in the second quarter, but the Cardinals cut it to three in the fourth.
Ultimately, Toledo Christian (13-1) hit 13 of 14 free throws in the final quarter to outlast Stritch. The Eagles improved to 8-0 in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference. They have not lost since their season opener when they dropped a 44-41 decision to Lake.
TC senior guard Eric Cellier scored 12 of his game-high 31 points in the second quarter, when his Eagles built a 31-12 lead.
Cardinal Stritch (8-7, 5-3 TAAC) closed the second quarter with a 16-5 run as Joey Cousino tallied 11 of his 16 points. Cousino hit a 3 at the halftime buzzer to make it 36-28.
The Cardinals then outscored the Eagles 6-1 to open the third and made it a three-point game.
“We talk about playing hard for 32 [minutes],” TC coach Dave McWhinnie said. “We went from being up [big], and all of the sudden the quarter flipped. They made a nice run right before half and that was huge. Before you knew it it was a ballgame. It was a dogfight the whole second half. Cardinal Stritch is a great program.”
Toledo Christian senior Dominique Pittman hit a 3 just as the third-quarter buzzer sounded for a 50-39 edge.
Cardinal Stritch sophomore Austin Adams tallied 10 of his team-high 22 points in the fourth quarter. His two-handed dunk cut the deficit to five points with 3 minutes, 50 seconds left and moments later made it a four-point game with a putback.
But TC converted on 7 of 8 free throws in the final 2:31 to keep the Cardinals at bay. Cellier knocked down all eight of his foul shots in the fourth.
“We knew Stritch was a great team,” Cellier said. “They were scrappy and they play hard. So we knew they had a a chance go come back. It's a tribute to them. We got up early and they made a run. It's a game of runs and we made more of them.”
Cellier had to sit for much of the third quarter after picking up his third foul.
He scored nine points in the opening quarter and his 3 with 1:48 left capped a 9-0 run that gave the Eagles a 17-9 lead. He opened the second quarter with another 3 as TC went on a 8-0 spurt over the first 49 seconds to seize an 11-point lead.
Toledo Christian, which finished with a 30-17 rebounding advantage, took control off the boards early in the second.
But Cardinal Stritch climbed back into it with a 22-6 spurt during the last part of the first half and early section of the third quarter.
“This group does not quit,” Cardinal Stritch coach Dave Rieker. “If I told them to run through the wall for me, they will do it. We had a five minute span where they went up by  and then we outplayed them the rest of the game. We cut it to three but missed two free throws. It was a matter of inches. But they are so well coached, when you get behind like that you're in trouble.”
Adams completed a three-point play to make the lead five with 4:44 left. But Stritch got no closer as TC finished 22 of 28 from the free throw line. Josh Winzeler was 4 of 4 from the line in the fourth.
“We just have a really good group of free throw shooters,” McWhinnie said. “They have great form. They've done it for three years. We close out games with those guys.”
Foul trouble and 13 turnovers by TC kept Cardinal Stritch close.
Eagles senior Ben Ivan had 13 points and seven rebounds.
Adams finished with a game-high eight boards, while Brooks Gasser finished with 10 points for Cardinal Stritch.
The Eagles next host Ottawa Hills on Friday.
“We are happy with how we are palying but we have some tough games coming up with Maumee Valley, Gibsonburg and Ottawa Hills,” Cellier said. “So there's a lot of work to be done.”