P-C Boys’ basketball: ON THE BOARD
By BRANDON HURLEY
A seemingly minor sequence late in the second half defined the grit of a team in search of their first win.
Crisp movement from the Paton-Churdan offense found the ball in the hands of point-forward Charlie Minnehan, who calmly dropped a delicate bounce pass to Gage Behrens for an easy layup.
That sequence gave the Rockets the cushion they needed, a six point lead with 80 seconds left, as P-C snatched their first win of the year, a gritty, come-from-behind 69-61 victory over Glidden-Ralston at home.
Minnehan finished the game with 14 points, scoring in a variety of ways, a pair of three-pointers, driving layups, mid-range floaters while also hauling in seven rebounds to go with four assists.
A seven-point deficit quickly became an eight-point advantage for the once down-trodden Rocket squad late in the third quarter. P-C entered Tuesday’s battle with Glidden-Ralston on a three-game losing streak and in search of their first win. The resiliency proved pivotal in the Rockets’ comeback win.
“It’s huge. Those first ones are always big ones,” P-C head coach Chris Stimson said. “We had been in games but never were able to really finish it off. Tonight, things started to click and we had some guys step up that hadn’t. It was a matter of them believing in themselves. You want to make sure that you have five worthy guys out there that can count on one another.”
P-C would find that elusive victory on the backs of their seniors and another momentum-shifting sequence midway through the second half.
The Rockets poured in 39 second half points, including a decisive 15-0 third quarter run as the Rockets snatched a win in their home-opener, after playing three straight on the road.
It was a matchup of two of the conference’s most veteran and level-headed leaders, as P-C’s Jake Berns and G-R’s Justin Sparks combined for nearly 60 points, trading haymakers throughout the second half.
Ultimately, it was the hometown Berns, who tallied a big-time double-double (28 points, 11 rebounds) who led his squad to victory, slicing through the lane for tough buckets while snaring a handful of weak side offensive boards for back-breaking second chance buckets.
The delectable taste of the season’s first win is always delicious, especially if it took four tries to pull off.
Berns and Minnehan combined for 42 points and 18 rebounds as they finally got that proverbial monkey off their back.
“It feels great,” Minnehan said, relishing the victory on a familiar court. “Starting 0-3 then getting a big win at home, it’s nice to have.”
The senior calmly found his shots and didn’t force the issue, spreading the ball around when needed. He drove when the three wasn’t there and took the open shots that were given to him. That late sequence in the fourth played right into his own game plan Tuesday night.
“In previous games, I tended to take early threes, but this game, I decided I wanted to get to the line more,” Minnehan said. “I started to get aggressive and get to the hole and create for my teammates as well.”
Though Berns ultimately lugged the Rockets to victory with his swiss army knife-like repertoire, it was a five minute stretch early in the second half that made the difference. A seven-point P-C possession, which included a technical foul, an and-1 bucket and a corner three, swung the game, as the Rockets took a 50-42 lead. Though Sparks and his game-high 29 points would eventually tie the contest at 54 with three-and-a-half to play, the Rockets would never trail again, as Berns and Minnehan played off each other well to pull out the elusive win.
But it wasn’t the offense that kick-started the all-important run, Minnehan felt. A tightened initiative on the other side of the floor led to the momentum change.
“It all started on defense. That enabled us to get more efficient shots and it also gave us confidence,” the senior said. “It all started on defense and that should be our identity down the road.”
G-R led 35-30 at the break, but a technical foul and poor defensive rebounding allowed P-C to take a 45-37 lead late in the third.
G-R head coach Tyler Shipley frustratingly benched his starters prior to the run, hoping to make a statement, pointing to the lackadaisical performance on the defensive end. The offense was there, the Wildcats drilled nine threes and put up a fight until the end, but it was the effort on the opposite side that had Shipley upset.
“That was the only thing that was wrong. Our offense looked pretty good tonight. But I told our guys at halftime, if we don’t come out with intensity, I’ll just take you out,” the coach said. “I had to do that tonight and thought maybe that’d wake them up, it did a little bit but our defense wasn’t where we needed it to be.”
Berns’ heroic efforts continued to keep G-R at bay as his rebounding and driving ability, as well as clutch free throws, maneuvered the Rockets to a 6-0 run in a 30 second span, securing the victory. The confidence and poise his guys showed Tuesday satisfied Stimson and was a big key.
“I told the kids, be patient and value each possession,” the coach said. “We can’t have ill-advised shots or passes, we aren’t good enough yet. It’s a confidence-builder for our kids.”
Berns and Minnehan played well off each other all night long. When the Rockets needed to pull out of a slump, one of the two was right there for a big offensive rebound or a clutch three-pointer. That’s something Stimson had been waiting for two weeks into the season. He got that watershed moment from his two most veteran guys.
“Their leadership is unbelievable,” the coach said. “I can’t be more proud to have them. I’m glad they are working hard. They are doing it the right way and showing the younger kids. They’ve been very encouraging, picking them up when they have a bad shot. We are going to count on them all season long.”
Sparks did everything in his power to keep the Wildcats within striking distance, scoring 29 points on an array of threes and driving buckets. He capped off the effort with a double-double, snaring 11 rebounds to go with five made threes.
His presence was key as the Wildcats were without their leading scorer, Blake Pagel.
Berns bumped his scoring average up to 23 points per game through four contests, which is third in the RVC behind Ben Obert’s (CR-B) 25.3 PPG and Joe Weber of Boyer Valley (24.6). Minnehan is averaging 11.75 points per game while Berns is pulling in the second-best rebounding average in the league at 9.75.
The Rockets play four times in the next week, starting with Friday’s road trip to West Harrison. They then make a long, 90 minute trek to West Bend-Mallard on Monday before hosting Exira-EHK Tuesday, Dec. 19 and Boyer Valley the final day before winter break (Dec. 22). It’s a pivotal week of the season, Stimson said.
“This is a big builder. It’s a big stretch coming up,” the coach said. “It’s nice that we head north and west, hopefully we can build on this. You can’t come out and be flat and I’m going to continue to work them.”