Rick Tollefson knew there was reason to worry.
The Newark coach had seen seen host and fourth seed Somonauk upset top seeded Indian Creek 66-44 Thursday in the first semifinal of the Little Ten Tournament.
Now, his second-seeded Norsemen were trailing 39-38 with 3:13 remaining in the game after leading by nine (32-23) at the half.
“They were putting pressure on us (forcing six third-quarter turnovers) and took the lead (on a layup by senior Wes Kaiser),” said Tollefson, at a loss to explain his team’s six-point third period.
“We went to our press at the end. I figured if we were gonna lose, let’s at least break a sweat.”
It did the trick as sophomore Jack Clause scored seven straight points as Newark rallied to claim a 50-44 decision.
“The wheels fell off. We couldn’t even dribble,” said Clausel, trying to explain the team’s lull in the second half of the game. “And they started playing better. We played good defense in the first half but stopped.”
Tollefson had been hesitant to press the Bulldogs earlier because he wanted to protect his “bigs” and had a very short bench (seven players in uniform) with his junior varsity also involved in tourney play.
Clausel finished with a game-high 20 points and Newark got 14 from junior guard Matt Eike, including three of four free throws in the final 30 seconds that helped secure the win.
“I was very nervous (in the fourth quarter),” said Clausel. “I thought we were gonna blow it.”
Fellow Newark sophomore Evan Schomer, though, was held scoreless and took just one shot in the game.
Newark, now 16-7, will meet host Somonauk Friday night at 8 p.m. for the tourney title.
Paw Paw got 14 points from senior guard Nicholas Siemers and 12 from Kaiser, but falls to 12-6.
The Bulldogs will meet Indian Creek at 6:30 p.m. in the third-place game.