LEROY — They will meet in the Class C district boys basketball tournament this week. But Highland Conference rivals Evart (8-11, 5-9) and Pine River (12-8, 8-6) took it down to the wire Thursday to close the regular season with Pine River pulling out a 58-50 victory.

Hunter Esiline scored eight points in the first quarter for Pine River to pace the Bucks to a 19-15 lead. Danny Griffin, Carter Pritchard and Layne Nadig hit 3-pointers to keep the Wildcats close. Esiline hit two more drives to keep the Bucks in control in the second quarter. The Wildcats continued to struggle offensively and trailed 36-23 at halftime.

Pritchard scored early in the third to cut the Evart deficit to 37-31, but Pine River’s Mason Powell answered with a 3-pointer.

Trevin Ladd's 3-pointer at 2:56 cut the Bucks lead to 41-39. Pine River was up 48-44 going into the fourth.

Griffin's 3-pointer put the Bucks' lead to 48-47 at 6:10. Owen Gray followed with a putback for Pine River. Powell's free throw made it 51-47 midway through the final quarter and Gray followed with a layup.

Time would wind down the next two minutes without each team able to do much offensively. Pritchard's 3-pointer cut the Bucks' lead to 53-50 with 50 seconds to play and the Bucks were forced to foul. Matt Stone hit two free throws at 28 seconds left for a 55-50 lead, and Esiline hit two more with 15.2 seconds to go to secure the win

"It's another Pine River-Evart game," Pine River coach Brian Goodenow said. "We always have tough battles. We had big leads in the first half, but could not put them away. They always dig in and play very hard."

Esiline had 16 points and Powell 15 for Pine River.

Earlier this season, Pine River edged the Wildcats at Evart 61-59.

"We played a real good first half," Esiline said. "They started hitting some threes, but we had the seniors playing a good game. We take pride playing at home. I felt pretty good tonight."

Griffin led Evart with 21 points, while Pritchard added 12.

"Hopefully we can take how we played in the second half into district and come out on top," Ladd said. "The key is to play one complete full game of basketball."

The two teams will meet in the Class C district semifinals at Morley Stanwood on Wednesday. Evart defeated White Cloud on Monday and Pine River plays Evart for a third time. The winner on Wednedsay plays in Friday's title game.

"It would be another great game, I'm sure," Goodenow said.

"We've got the same record as last year, but we know we can win,"  Esiline said. "We just have to have our seniors pull through."

Pine River 72, Clare 61

LEROY — Trenton Holmes scored 20 points on Feb. 28, while Hunter Esiline had 18, Tristen Nelson 11, Mason Powell nine and Elijah Lewis eight for the Bucks (11-8), who were up 16-6 after the first quarter, 32-27 at halftime and 54-41 after the third quarter.

Nelson and Esiline had eight rebounds. Powell and Holmes had five boards. Powell had five assists.