MARBLE HILL -- Leopold senior Darren VanGennip said he is excited that new coach Shawn Kinder is placing a great deal of emphasis on improving the defense.
The Wildcats displayed a strong defense against Meadow Heights in the Woodland boys basketball tournament championship game Friday night.
But VanGennip's strong shooting was what really allowed Leopold to build an early lead and never trail in the game.
VanGennip scored 28 points, 20 of which came in the first half, as No. 2 Leopold beat the No. 4 Panthers 66-52 to win its first ever title at the Woodland tournament.
The Wildcats are off to a 3-0 start under Kinder, who came to Leopold from Delta High School, where he served as boys basketball coach.
"We're real excited about coach Kinder," VanGennip said. "He's a great coach and ... we've really learned how to play defense. Off the ball defense and help."
VanGennip and his teammates were all smiles as their families snapped pictures of them and gave them hugs while celebrating their first-place finish on the court.
"We were real excited to get the first championship," VanGennip said. "It feels great. The last three years I've played in it, we've gotten third. So it feels pretty good to get first for once."
Senior Larry Nussbaum added 16 points, and was a force near the basket.
Nussbaum also stressed the team has bought into Kinder's new man-to-man defense. The team played a great deal of zone defense last year.
"He focuses more on defense," Nussbaum said. "Our offense has always been there. We've always been able to play offense real good. ... Meadow Heights, they like to penetrate a lot. We just kept them from penetrating and get pressure on the ball. They didn't get near as many open shots from the outside as what they normally do."
VanGennip scored his team's first five baskets, including a 3-pointer, to build an 11-6 lead in the first 6 minutes, 22 seconds of the contest.
"I just had some open shots and I took them," VanGennip said. "I don't feel I have to score. I have other teammates who can score. But they look to me to score and they find me open and I take my shots and I do what I have to do."
VanGennip scored 13 in the first quarter alone. His team led 17-10 after one period.
Leopold never allowed Meadow Heights (3-1) closer than five points in the second quarter, and led 40-28 at halftime.
"He's a fine shooter," Meadow Heights coach Tom Brown said about VanGennip. "He's top-notch."
VanGennip was held to eight points in the second half while Leopold's offense struggled at times. Meadow Heights used some strong full-court pressure defense to create turnovers and fast breaks. But the Panthers failed to convert some of those fast breaks and trailed 51-38 after three quarters.
"We missed key layups, and when you miss a layup on a steal, it just cuts you down," Brown said. "I thought we caused plenty of turnovers. We just couldn't convert."
Meadow Heights used some more pressure defense to go on a 6-0 to start the fourth quarter and bring the score to 51-44.
But Leopold followed that with a 9-0 run to take a 60-44 lead and put the game away.
"To break the break the press, we just had to cut in and cut out, try to get the open spot and fill the gaps," VanGennip said. "Yeah, we had a little trouble doing that. ... After we figured out what we had to do, I think we did all right."
Brown said his team was a little tired after playing Thursday night.
"I thought we played real well [in the tournament]," Brown said. "We had a hard battle with Scott City last night, and I think our legs weren't there tonight. We reached and that's why they made a lot of free throws."
Kinder was excited to win his first tournament as Leopold's coach.
"It kind of sets the pace," Kinder said. "It gives us a little encouragement."
@z_agate_no tab_no indnt_bld ld:Leopold (66) -- Dustin Thiele 5, Wade Wiseman 6, Darren VanGennip 28, Larry Nussbaum 16, Anthony Seabaugh 10, John Bohnsack 1. FG 23, FT 16-23, F 12. (3-pointers: VanGennip 2, Wiseman 2. Fouled out: Bohnsack)
Meadow Heights (52) -- Dustin Hubler 12, Josef Brown 2, Derrick Wilfong 19, Luke Nitsch 12, Ethan Mayfield 2, Tyler Welker 5. FG 20. FT 11-18, F 24. (3-pointers: Wilfong 1. Fouled out: none)
Scott City 63, Zalma 57
The Rams held off a furious rally to capture third place in the tournament.
Skylar Cobb led the way with 16 points, while Shae Simmons chipped in 11 for Scott City, which hit 37 percent of its free throws.
Sophomore Justin Stotts paced the Bulldogs with 20 points.
@z_agate_no tab_no indnt_bld ld:Zalma (57) -- Stephen Simmers 11, Casey Sitze 6, Nick Smith 7, Kevin Walker 12, Andrew Tucker 1, Justin Stotts 20. FG 22, FT 12-28, F 20. (3-pointers: Simmers 1. Fouled out: Josh Freeman, Walker)
Scott City (63) -- Skylar Cobb 16, Cody Page 8, Shae Simmons 11, Tyler Glueck 8, Brennan Uelsmann 6, Caleb Anderson 4, Dylan Simpson 4, Jake Campbell 5, Kyle Lacey 1. FG 26, FT 7-19, F 24 (3-pointers: Cobb 2, Simmons 1, Simpson 1. Fouled out: Anderson)
Oak Ridge 38, Perryville 34
Brett Thomas scored 12 points and Garret Light added 10 as the Blue Jays won the fifth-place game.
Ben Prevallet paced the Pirates with 13.
@z_agate_no tab_no indnt_bld ld:Perryville (34) -- Andrew Martin 3, Ben Prevallet 13, Michael Backmann 4, Aaron Grebing 2, Brent Roth 6, Wade Leible 6. FG 12, FT 5-8, F 17. (3-pointers: Prevallet 3, Leible 2. Fouled out: Prevallet)
Oak Ridge (38) -- Caleb Elam 5, Garret Light 10, Brett Thomas 12, Ethan Sachs 3, Logan Mangels 6, Stephen Wright 2. FG 15, FT 7-22, F 11. (3-pointers: Elam 1. Fouled out: none)