He entered the postseason fourth on the team in scoring, but Eion Kressin has become a focal point for the Macks on both sides of the court.
The junior forward has led the McDonell boys basketball team in scoring through three playoff games and he continues to anchor the paint for a stingy Macks defense as they get ready for a Division 5 sectional semifinal game against Athens on Thursday at Eau Claire Memorial.
“I think Eion he’s been good defensively all year but now offensively he’s been scoring a lot better,” McDonell coach Adam Schilling said. “It just gives us a whole other dimension that the other team has to guard us (inside).”
Kressin couldn’t have stepped up at a better time having his best performance of the season in a 47-44 win over Prentice to capture a regional title on Saturday. He led the team by scoring a season-high 20 points.
“I didn’t want it to end on me,” Kressin said after Saturday’s win. “I love this guys. I love playing with them so it was really one thing to keep me going, keep positive so I could keep playing with these guys.”
Now Kressin and Macks (16-9) have a tough task against a productive frontline for the Bluejays. While Kressin has been able to use his size advantage to the Macks benefit in the first three playoff games, Athens has the size to match up.
The Bluejays are led by forward Cameron Ford. The 6-foot-5 Ford averages 16.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game according to WisSports.net. He was also named unanimous first-team All-North Marawood Conference.
The Macks will need Kressin to match the physicality of the Bluejays frontline and force driving guards into contested shots whether he is playing the middle of a zone or helping off in a man-to-man defense.
“He’s not the type of center that blocks a lot of shots but if you look at his positioning he’s always in the right spot,” Schilling said of Kressin’s defense. “Some of our defensive stuff is built on getting up tight on guys and letting him come over and help out. He does a really good job of walling up, not leaving his feet, going straight up and down with his arms to make them make a tough shot.”
Athens also has forwards Seth Coker and Liam Weller who were both named second-team all-conference for this season. Coker averages 12.3 points, 7.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. Weller adds 11.8 points and 5.1 boards.
Athens (16-8) finished in a tie for third place with Prentice in the North Marawood behind Phillips and Rib Lake. The Bluejays won their eighth consecutive game by defeating Rib Lake 50-43 last Saturday to earn a regional title.
“They’re going to be a bigger, physical team,” Schilling said of Athens. “They’re going to have a good post player inside that is averaging almost a double-double every game he plays. Even their guards are pretty good size and stronger looking. It’s going to be a physical game. We have to be ready to match that. Our conference and our regular season schedule has really prepared us for a game like this.”
McDonell isn’t coming off its most impressive performance of the season, allowing a second-half comeback from the Buccaneers, but the Macks remain confident they can play well down the stretch in close games to come away with a victory if need be.
“We know what we need to do to win and it’s just keeping that consistently throughout the whole game and playing two strong halves instead of one,” senior guard Jaebin Bourget said.
It is all about cutting down on unforced turnovers which the Macks struggled with in the second half on Saturday, allowing Prentice to cut a 14-point deficit to just three by the end of the game. McDonell scored only two points over an almost eight minute stretch and senior guard Cory Hoglund said the team can’t let a scoring drought impact how they play on the other side of the court.
“(We have to) not to let big droughts like Saturday affect us scoring wise, not let that affect us in how we play,” Hoglund said.
McDonell’s defense stepped up to hold off Prentice forcing a contested jumper at the buzzer. The Macks have picked up their defense of late holding their last 10 opponents to fewer than 60 points and five of the past six at fewer than 50. If the offense goes through a drought or can’t fix the turnover issues, McDonell has the confidence the defense can give it a chance to still win.
“We’re confident in ourselves. We know we can get the job done,” Hoglund said. “We’re not worried about not performing at the level we need to be.”