RAPID RIVER - Jake Pearson seemed nearly unstoppable Monday night as he led the Rapid River boys to a 68-50 basketball triumph over the Engadine Eagles in a Class D district opener.
The sophomore center scored a career-high 26 points to go with 17 rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals as the Rockets improved to 12-9.
"Our guards did a great job passing the ball as always," said Pearson. "I tried to slash toward the basket and the guys were able to get me the ball."
The victory sends Rapid River to Superior Central to face the host Cougars (10-10) Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Pearson, often gaining position under the basket, sank 10-of-15 field goals and 10-of-16 free throws.
"Jake had a tremendous ball game," said Rockets' coach Craig Carter. "This is the best I've seen out of him, which is pretty exciting."
Although the Rockets led all the way, they were never able to relax. The Eagles (3-18) stayed within 10-12 points much of the contest.
"We never felt comfortable," said Carter. "We knew this would be a physical game, but our kids held their composure and played through it. Give credit to Elmer (coach Albright). He has his kids in that never-say-die attitude. This was a tougher game than the score indicates."
Engadine was within 42-34 late in the third quarter. But senior guard Darrell Kohli sank a 21-foot jump shot to put the Rockets up 45-34 with 56 seconds left in the period.
Rapid River then scored the first six points of the fourth stanza, taking a 51-34 advantage on a free throw by senior forward Jake Berglund.
The Eagles crept within 56-47 on a gifter by senior forward Connor Fritsch with 3:09 left to play but never got any closer down the stretch.
"I thought our zone slowed them down a little in the third quarter," said Albright. "Then, we were forced to go with a man-to-man. Although, we have a group that can play that defense. We just didn't have anything to stop Pearson. He can create mis-matches because of his size."
The Rockets led 14-5 late in the first quarter, but a 15-foot jumper by senior forward Mike Ramelis pulled the Eagles within 14-11 with 11 seconds left in the period.
Sophmore forward Hayden Hardwick then sank a buzzer-beating 21-foot jumper from the left wing to put the Rockets up 17-11 heading into the second.
"We wanted to get ahead early," said Pearson. "Had they gotten ahead, anything could have happened. In the second half, we got into more of a transition game and got some fast breaks."
Kohli added 11 points for the Rockets, who drained 23-of-51 field goals and committed 18 turnovers.
Fritsch finished with 18 points and junior forward Jeff Bomber added 14 for the Eagles.
"We played aggressively as we have all year," said Albright. "But we also made some mistakes that cost us. We gave up some easy points in the beginning and never recovered from that."
The Eagles were 16-of-67 from the floor and had 20 miscues against constant ball pressure.
"Our kids did a tremendous job with their ball pressure, which made it difficult for them to make accurate passes," said Carter. "Yet, we'd like to see even more of that."
Engadine 11 11 12 16 - 50
Rapid River 17 16 12 23 - 68
Engadine - Livermore 1, Beaudoin 2, Frisch 18, R. Miller 6, Bomber 14, Ramelis 7, N. Miller 2. FT: 14-24; F: 26; Fouled out: Frisch, N. Miller; 3-point field goals: Frisch 4.
Rapid River - Pavlat 5, Berglund 5, Froberg 8, Kohli 11, Pajnich 3, Hardwick 6, Pearson 26, Dalgord 4. FT: 18-31; F: 19; Fouled out: Hardwick; 3-point field goals: Kohli 2, Froberg, Hardwick.