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ST. JOSEPH – In many cases, an overtime win against a winless team is not the best way to start a quest toward a third-consecutive tournament championship.
For Paxton-Buckley-Loda, its 57-53 overtime victory over Fisher in Thursday’s Leader Classic action was no exception. However, PBL head coach Scot Vogel saw his team’s close call as an opportunity to test its character.
“Games like that are not much fun from a coaching standpoint,” Vogel said. “I’m going to have gray hair before it’s all said and done if keep doing that, but at the same time, it’s good to see how our kids respond in those situations, and I thought we showed some toughness and some grittiness. Hopefully, we can make strides on it, but if we don’t come out with better urgency on Saturday, we’ll be a long day.”
The Panthers’ character was tested after Fisher tied the game at 44-44 with a three-point play by Grant Pointer with 9.8 seconds remaining in regulation. Weston Weber picked up his fifth foul on that play, leaving his team without his services for the overtime period – Axl Denault fouled out of the game as well.
Regardless, after Tate Estes scored the first basket of the overtime period for Fisher, PBL tied the game with a Drew Schrodt field goal and took a 49-46 lead on a Jay Eshleman 3-pointer. From there, the Panthers never trailed, scoring its next eight points on a Jeremy Walder field goal and a team collaboration of 6-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line, including a 3-for-4 effort from Tyler Rubarts.
“I’m proud of the guys for battling,” Vogel said. “We’ve got to stop making bad decisions on defense and things like that. We just made some terrible decisions there and put ourselves behind the 8-ball there. That put us in a situation where we either had to dig our heels in and respond or just lay down. I thought our kids responded. It wasn’t the prettiest thing, but the good thing about basketball is there aren’t any style points, so I was proud of the fact that our kids battled. We’re a young team, and I guess you could say it was good to see how we’re going to respond to that, and I thought our kids battled the whole time.”
For Fisher, the loss left it continuing its search for the first victory of the season after leading throughout the second and third quarters and up to the final 19.6 seconds of the fourth, when Schrodt nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer to put PBL up 43-41.
“We played well,” Fisher head coach Ron Ragle said. “We’ve had a lot of games like this where we just have to learn how to finish and how to win. PBL made the plays and finished and won the game. I think that just experience on their part. They’re used to winning. We’ve got to get there. Every goal we had set at the beginning of the game, I think we achieved except winning the game.”
The Bunnies controlled the majority of the game after erasing a 3-2 PBL lead with a free throw by Grant Pointer, a field goal by Tate Estes and six points from Hans Carmien, which put them up 11-5 before Weber ended the quarter with a driving layup to cut Fisher’s lead to 11-7.
The Bunnies outscored PBL 11-9, including a 9-3 run that broke a 13-13 tie to go into halftime leading 22-16.
“I was pretty disappointed with our effort when we came out,” Vogel said. “We had no energy in the beginning. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency. We didn’t play the style of basketball that we believe in. I thought Fisher really took it to us. They outplayed us in the first half and a lot of the second half, and finally our kids just stepped up. We just kept beating ourselves with bad decisions. I know that some of that’s going to come with a lace of total game experience with some of the guys, but it’s just one of those things where you’ve just got to make sure we continue to get better every game. Thankfully, we executed and hit some shots at the end there.”
In the second half, the energy turned up for PBL, as evidenced by a hustle play from Denault, who got shaken up by a collision while going after a loose ball in the frontcourt. The Panthers stole possession on the play, resulting in a Kyler Swanson 3-pointer that put PBL within one point at 27-26 with about five minutes left in the third quarter.
“It was a hustle play by both guys,” Vogel said. “Both guys went after the ball hard. That’s a hustle play and that’s what you get, and I thought as the game wore on, we did a better job of that, but we’ve got to make sure we do that from start to finish. That’s the expectation. There can’t be anything other than that.”
Fisher ended the third quarter leading 33-28. Schrodt started the fourth-quarter scoring with an offensive rebound to cut the deficit to 33-30.
Eshleman scored on a couple of driving layups to make the score 37-34 with 3:48 and 41-40 with 1:04 left in regulation.
While PBL chipped away at Fisher’s lead, the Bunnies were forced into some turnovers by the Panthers’ defense, including a five-second violation on an inbound pass attempt following Eshleman’s second layup.
“To be honest, we haven’t pressured the ball like we wanted to since the third or fourth game of the year,” Vogel said. “We’ve got to make sure we get back to where our strength is, and that is making other teams work offensively. We’ve gotten lazy with that at times, and that’s something we’ve got to make sure we keep emphasizing, and hopefully it’ll eventually click.”
Denault forced the Bunnies into another turnover in the frontcourt, which led to Schrodt’s go-ahead 3-pointer. Following the shot, Fisher turned the ball over again, leading to an Eshleman free throw prior to Pointer’s game-tying three-point play.
“Scot (Vogel) did a nice job,” Ragle said. There were two plays that I drew up, and I think I put my kids in bad positions, and we ended turning it over. I told them, ‘I’ll take the loss. Late in the game, I put you in a bad position.’ I’ll learn from it. They’re going to learn some things and we’ve just got to keep going forward.”
Schrodt scored a game-high 21 points to lead PBL, including seven in the third quarter. Eshleman, Rubarts and Jeremy Walder each tallied eight points.
Swanson had four points while Weber and Denault each added three points and Vaughn Gentzler contributed two points.
“Early in the game, I think we took some good shots,” Vogel said. There was a lid on the rim, it seemed like. I was just amazing. Shooting is what it is. It’s just contagious. If you’re making shots, everybody’s making shots. If you start missing shots, everybody starts tightening up. I thought we had good looks, but at times, I thought we just started thinking about it instead of just playing.”
For Fisher, Carmien and Pointer each scored 15 points. Estes added 14 points while Kyle Williams, Nick Thomas and Brody Farrar had six, two and one point, respectively.
“I thought they played well,” Ragle said. “I thought that was something we could take advantage of in the post because of PBL’s lack of size down there. Grant Pointer’s a sophomore. He’s starting to come on as a scorer for us. People are going to start paying more attention. He made some plays out there. We needed some other people to step up tonight. Kyle Williams had a lot of nice looks. Normally, he knocks those down. It just wasn’t his night.”
PBL (6-2) will take to the St. Joseph-Ogden court twice Saturday with an 11 a.m. game against Westville and a 5 p.m. game against Cissna Park.
“Every time we’ve challenged the kids, they’ve responded, and we’ll have to see how we come back on Saturday morning,” Vogel said. ‘The 11 a.m. game’s not an easy game to play. It’s one of those games where Westville’s going to be ready to go, and then you’ve got to turn around on a short layover and play Cissna park that night too, so we’ve definitely got to make sure we’re ready to play.”
Fisher, meanwhile, faces Cissna Park at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and Westville later that day at 3:30 p.m.
“I’m proud of my kids because their heads are up,” Ragle said. “They play hard. They’re going to continue to play, and they want to win more than anything as well, as I do. Each game, we try to take a step toward that, and it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it.”
St. Joseph-Ogden 84, Armstrong-Potomac 20
Unlike PBL, SJ-O had no problem with making short work of its Leader Classic debut against a winless team Thursday.
The Spartans ended the first quarter with a 25-5 lead before going into halftime with a 44-11 advantage.
“I’m really happy with the way we started. I thought we came out with a good focus and good energy,” SJ-O head coach Brian Brooks said. “We played well on the defensive end of the floor and turned it into some easy offensive buckets.”
The Spartans were so dominant that its reserves went in the game for the fourth quarter as the starters rested on the bench – and held the Trojans scoreless. SJ-O went on a 17-0 run in the fourth quarter to end the game.
“I thought our last group in really played really hard in the last eight minutes, Brooks said. “They took advantage of the opportunity to play and get some floor time at the varsity level.”
Armstrong-Potomac, meanwhile, can find solace despite its 64-point loss.
“We’ll use this as a learning experience, but one of the first things that came out of one of the seniors’ mouths in the locker room was, ‘We don’t have to play them ever again,’” A-P head coach Mike Twidwell said. “We knew it was going to be rough, but I didn’t think it’d be that rough. I was hoping that maybe they’d ease down a little bit on us. It’s tough. You can’t tell your kids not to score and stuff. I’m sure they had their second and third string in.”
Brent Schluter led SJ-O in scoring with 14 points. Corbin Hesterburg and Nate Michael each scored in double figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively, as 11 different Spartans contributed to the scoreboard.
Louis Acklin and Kyle Smith each score nine points while Brady DePratt tallied eight points. Dalton Walsh and Chase Patton each added seven points.
Aaron Woller contributed four points while Austin Baker and Rylan Housenga each had two points.
“It was good, balanced scoring all the way up and down,” Brooks said. “Our kids shared the ball really well to start the year. They did another good job of that tonight.”
For Armstrong-Potomac, Wade Rogers scored half of his team’s point total with 10 points.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Twidwell said. “That wasn’t much, though, when you score whatever we scored. Obviously, Wade’s our go-to guy. I think he takes it upon himself a lot. When there are problems, he just tries to create while everyone else is struggling. We had some struggles on the defensive end. We work and work on that defense. From a coach’s standpoint, we really need for them to figure out what’s going on and get on the same page with me. We’re going to keep working at it. I’m not going to give up on them. I’m pretty optimistic about everything.”
Shawn Johnson contributed six points while Corey Buhr and Balke Davis each added two points.
“Twenty-seven turnovers put us down,” Twidwell said. “We’ve just got to keep working at it. These better teams are going to make us better. I’m not sure tonight was one of those instances when you get beat that bad.”
SJ-O will continue its run through the Leader Classic with a 12:30 p.m. game Saturday against Chrisman and a 6:30 p.m. game that same day against Stanford Olympia. Armstrong-Potomac, meanwhile, hopes to rebound with a 2 p.m. game Saturday against Olympia and an 8 p.m. game against Chrisman.
“We’re just going to look to improve and try to get that first W in the column,” Twidwell said.