The Hopewell-Loudon seniors hadn't won a season-opening game during their careers at the school. Chieftain coach Adam Smith admitted after that playing at Calvert wasn't an ideal location to end that streak, especially bringing in a young team.
But the Chieftains built a 17-point second-half lead, then withstood a furious Calvert rally in the final minutes to leave with a 70-61 victory in a non-league game between the two Midland Athletic League rivals.
"We have sophomores and juniors who have never played varsity before. Calvert's got a game under their belt," Smith said. "For this environment to be our first varsity experience, that was impressive. We wilted there at the end a little bit, but I told the guys they earned that 17-point lead to blow. We earned that lead, it allowed us that little cushion at the end."
Smith said a season opening win over an arch rival goes a long way in setting the tone for a strong season.
"It's big," he said. "Especially with a young team, it's always nice to get out of the gate strong. Plus, it's Hopewell-Calvert, that's a boost in itself."
With a great deal of youth on both rosters, it was perhaps the most veteran player on the floor who dominated the night. Hopewell-Loudon's Alec Gregg poured in 23 points, including 13 during a second-quarter stretch in which the Chieftains turned a seven-point deficit into a 10-point halftime lead.
Gregg knocked down three 3-point shots in the quarter, and teamed with sophomore Garret Sendelbach, who scored nine of his 11 in the quarter, to take control of the game.
"We do got to cut down on some turnovers, but other than that, we were just clicking," Gregg said. "We were finding open lanes. We were attacking out of traps. We just both knocked down the shots we could."
Calvert led 16-11 after one, and bumped the lead to seven on a basket by Mike Bennett.
Then turnovers began to mount for the Senecas while Gregg and Sendelbach took over.
"Second quarter, we come out and we missed shots and turned the ball over," Calvert coach Ted Willman said. "And with those missed shots and turnovers to start the second quarter, they scored on nine of their first 10 possessions of that second quarter. That was huge. We got behind a little early. Our guys, we haven't gotten to the point yet where we're good enough to play with leads, and executing on both ends of the floor."
Gregg and Sendelbach combined for 22 of Hopewell-Loudon's 25 points in the period.
Smith was pleased with the play of two of his sophomores, Sendelbach and Tyler Imes, but said each has areas to work on. Imes scored Hopewell-Loudon's first eight points of the game and tallied 13 on the night despite missing significant time with foul trouble.
"Garret has potential, we got to get his turnovers down. He's a sophomore, catching up to the speed," Smith said. "And then if our big guys would stop fouling when they were on the floor; Tyler Imes came in, played a heck of a game. If he could've been on the floor for the length of the game, just think about what he could've done. We got to work on the defensive end with Tyler so he can stay on the floor."
Hopewell-Loudon kept its foot on the gas to open the third quarter. Calvert missed its first five shots of the period. Meanwhile, a Gregg 3-pointer, sandwiched around baskets by Imes and Ryan Lommerse pushed the Chieftain lead to 17.
"We tried to mix it up as much as possible," Smith said of the defensive game plan that prevented Calvert from finding many open shots. "We know they're playing without Nick (Warnement). That's a lot for any team to adjust to. We tried to mix it up a little bit, tried to get aggressive, get after them. We didn't want them to get comfortable with one defense."
Calvert was able to get the lead down to 10 heading into the fourth, but couldn't get within single digits until under two minutes remained in the game.
Austin Ball spurred a late Calvert rally. Three quick layups trimmed the lead to five with 1:04 to play.
"He made some plays down the stretch, defensively and offensively," Willman said.
However, Hopewell-Loudon held off the rally, thanks in part to going 15 of 18 from the foul line in the final period.
A layup by Bennett got Calvert back within five for the final time with 40 seconds to play, but the Senecas couldn't get any closer.
"When you're down 13 or you're down 18 like Friday, it's real easy to get beat by 20-plus," Willman said. "These guys, they'll fight. They'll fight tooth-and-nail to the end. And that's a good sign. You can get better when guys are willing to work and put forth that effort."
Ball led Calvert (0-2) with 19 points. Bennett and Jared Thompson each scored 12 while Brian Gruss chipped in 11.