By Greg Gielczyk

CUSTER — It was a tough night for the Mason County Eastern boys’ basketball team on Friday night.
A slow start cost them dearly in a 68-41 loss to Traverse City Christian.
Host Eastern found itself in an 11-2 hole after the first five minutes. But the Cardinals managed to answer with nine points over the final stretch of the first quarter, including five from Clay Shoup and four from James Drake, to close the gap to 16-11 at the horn.
The Sabres, though, were red-hot from beyond the 3-point arc, finishing with 12 triples compared to five by the Cardinals, and that was the difference.
Christian had six different players make at least one 3-point bucket and that frustrated the Cardinals’ defense with so many solid perimeter shooters.
“That’s a pretty good team we played,” said Eastern coach Mark Forner. “They shot the ball very well. They are very athletic, obviously very well coached. Their 3-point shooting is the best we’ve seen this year.”
Eastern couldn’t keep pace and that led to some big runs by the Sabres, who put the Cardinals in a 13-point deficit, 34-21, at the half.
After that, the Cardinals were never able to get any closer than 10 points.
Nate Wing did his best to keep the Cardinals in the game, scoring eight points in the second quarter, including two 3-point shots.
“Nate Wing is just tenacious,” Forner said. “He is fun to watch. That is why he is an All-State runner and he brings that same level of competitiveness to the basketball court.”
Shoup, a junior, fired in two 3-point buckets and a deuce and scored eight points for the Cardinals in the third quarter. But the Sabres had a 15-12 edge in the period and took the floor for the fourth with a 49-36 lead. They outscored the Cardinals, 19-8 in the final quarter.
Leading the Cardinals were Shoup with 13 points and Drake with 12, while Alex Tyndall and Wing each scored eight.
Sabres sophomore Rece Broderick led all scorers with 23 points. Malachi Willis had 13 points for the Sabres, including a dunk.
Despite the loss, Eastern’s fourth in a row to start the season, Forner looked at it philosophically.
“We are young and coming,” he said. “We’ve had some adversity, but we are working through it. Eight of our first 10 games are on the road. We are trying to get healthy to play the back half of our schedule.”
The Cardinals travel to Big Rapids Crossroads on Tuesday for a West Michigan D League game.