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The Bulldogs stuck around with undefeated Sheridan for three quarters, but the Spartans pulled away late for the win.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Culver's Jesse Kern, left, and Logan Macy try to dispossess Sheridan point guard Gavin Anderson during the Bulldogs' 42-34 loss on Saturday, Dec. 18, at Culver High School. It was the Tri-River opener for Culver.The Culver boys basketball team is still finding its footing, but the squad is getting better with each game.

The Bulldogs held their own with Sheridan in the team's Tri-River opener, but Culver eventually fell 42-34 to the Spartans at home.

"We're in a building year," said head coach Alex Carlson following the loss. "Our big thing each week is to say, 'Are we better than we were last week?' We had that conversation after the game, and we definitely said that (we are)."

It's hard to argue the point, too. While the loss does move Culver to 1-5 on the season, the eight-point margin of defeat was the smallest of the season to date. The Bulldogs had previously lost by 11 or more points in their first four defeats.

It may not be a seismic shift, but it is still progress.

"We got to learn some new things today, as far as what we need to work on to take that next step," said Carlson of what he's taking from the Sheridan game. "A big part of that is that we can win, we can be competitive. If we work and keep doing the things we are (doing), we'll give ourselves a chance to win. We've got to learn from that, but the way you learn is to play competitive games."

The league opener was certainly competitive — likely more so than Sheridan had expected coming into the game. The Spartans are currently undefeated at 6-0 (1-0 Tri-River), which made them seem a daunting foe for the Bulldogs.

Instead of shrinking in the moment, Culver rose to it. For three quarters, the game was neck-and-neck, with the score at 31-28 Sheridan after 24 minutes of play. The Spartans were bolstered by a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer; had that shot missed, the teams would have gone into the fourth quarter all even at 28.

Instead, the shot provided some momentum to a fiery Sheridan bench, and the Spartans came out hot in the final quarter. They scored the first six points of the period, building up a 37-28 lead from which Culver was never able to recover. The Spartans eventually outscored the Bulldogs 11-6 in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

While Culver held its own with the Spartans, there are many more difficult games ahead for the team.

"In our league, we have three of the top 10 teams — actually, three of the top five," said Carlson, noting that Tri-River compatriots Salem Academy, Western Christian and Kennedy are all highly ranked. "And Sheridan here is undefeated. So, there's not going to be too many easy nights."

Iron sharpens iron, though, and it is in that spirit that Carlson hopes the high level of opposition will help his own team develop.

"We've got to start competing," said Carlson. "Now is the time to take the step and say, 'We've got to win some of these games.' I think we've got a chance to do that. Again, though, I just want to get the message across: I am so pleased with the way we competed and played today."

As for junior Logan Macy, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points on Saturday, he shares in Carlson's optimism.

"I think we're pretty good," Macy said. "We're competing with teams and that's all that really matters for us as a group. Right now, all we care about is keeping up with everybody. We're not trying to care much about what the score is at the end. We're trying to compete with everyone to show that we're here."

Culver will have another chance to prove their mettle when the Bulldogs host Taft at 3 p.m. this afternoon.

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