Handling Riverbank on Wednesday, the varsity Cougar basketball squad then welcomed Ripon Christian to town on Friday, but took a loss to the league-leading Knights.
On Wednesday, the varsity boys built up a big 21-7 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. They outscored the Bruins in three of four quarters on the way to a decisive 58-34 win.
“The guys were ready for this one, wanting to avenge the overtime, at the buzzer loss at Riverbank to start league play a few weeks ago. We came out and played at a really high level. We did a much better job sticking to the defensive gameplan than we did the first time we played Riverbank,” explained head coach Nate Bartelink. “Throughout the entire game, our collective defense was playing at a really high level, holding their best three players below their scoring averages; limiting their touches and when they did get the ball, we made things difficult for them. I couldn’t have been happier with how we defended Riverbank. Our energy, effort and pace was where it needed to be. It was a good team performance. We felt very good about how we played and showed we were the better team.”
Jack Anderson had a season high 28 points, along with six rebounds.
“He continues to get it done at a very high level, even though entire defenses are geared towards stopping him,” Bartelink added. “I’m so proud of the player that he has become. I’m happy that all of his hard work is paying off, and everyone can see what can be accomplished through consistent commitment.”
In arguably his best game of the season, Ben Fletcher had 13 points, four rebounds, and four assists, showing consistent improvement after coming back from an ankle injury a few weeks ago.
Also contributing were Sammy Jimenez with six points, four rebounds, three steals; Zack Valencia, four points and 10 rebounds; Logan Huebner, four points and seven rebounds.
Back on the home court on Friday, Jan. 27, the Cougars took a 24-19 lead at the half on the strength of a 19-9 second quarter run, but RC turned the tables and took control with a 22-4 scoring advantage in the third. The Knights left the court with a 58-46 victory in hand to stay undefeated in TVL play.
“Their size, skill and schemes are tough to play against. Last time we played them, we knew we didn’t play our best game. We thought if we played with more pace on offense and were able to generate higher percentage shots, we would have a chance to have more success this time around,” said Bartelink. “We also know that we play better at home. Offensively, we started slow. We did not execute a few of the sets that were called and had a few missed opportunities. However, our defense was playing very solid.”
The defense sparked the offense and the Cougars had the strong run to get the lead headed to the locker room.
“At halftime, our message was to win the third quarter. That did not happen,” Bartelink said simply. “A few turnovers and a couple bad misses allowed RC to get in transition. The momentum of the game shifted as RC went on a huge run. As RC gained the lead, we were on our heels defensively. We were also forcing things on offense. We can’t afford to lose a quarter 22-4 against the best team in the league and expect to win.”
Logan Huebner had 15 points and eight rebounds against the Knights.
“He played at an extremely high level, with amazing energy and effort. Made plays on both sides of the court,” said Bartelink.
Jack Anderson added 11 points while Frank Barrera had eight points, all coming in the second quarter run for the Cougars.
“Our defense in both RC games has been good; we’ve held them to their TVL season low in scoring both times,” said the coach, adding that it was an overall strong game by his squad. “I could not be more proud of the guys. They could not have given any more effort than they gave. The players were gassed. They wanted it so bad. There were some tears and upset guys in the locker room. That means they care. If we can channel that effort and passion over the next few weeks, we can still do some good things.”
The team also hopes to get Ethan Garza back on the court soon.
“Not having him for five-plus games during league has been a challenge. Credit to the other players for stepping up in his absence, but we are a much better team with him on the floor. We need him healthy and playing well as we approach the playoffs,” Bartelink said.
At 5-3 in league, the Cougars are in a three-way tie for second place with Riverbank and Ripon. They are 15-9 overall.
The freshmen battled hard, but lost to Riverbank and Ripon Christian. The JV boys took a 46-36 win over Riverbank and lost a close battle, 54-50, to Ripon Christian, to end the week at 5-3 in league play.
“We held Riverbank to 12 points in the second half after we were trailing 24-19 at the half,” explained JV head coach Dave Anderson.
They trailed RC by nine at the half and came back to tie the game at 47-47 during the second half before losing by four.
Leading the freshmen against Riverbank were Kamari Castro, Theo Harp, Mason Fiser and Lizandro Torres, all taking a turn guarding Riverbank’s best player.
“Aydun Mello and Wyatt Riesenbeck were our leading scorers,” head coach Steve Largent said of the Wednesday contest.
The game against RC was another tough battle, the young Cougars holding the Knights to just 38 points after allowing 63 to the team the first time around.
“I was very pleased with the effort and defensive intensity,” Largent said.
The squads were to host Ripon on Tuesday, Jan. 31 and go on the road for games Thursday at Livingston, Friday at Hughson.
“As each of the last few weeks have approached, they were the biggest weeks of the season at that time,” Bartelink said. “This next week is now our biggest week of the season. That is our mindset.”