Gritty Braves salvage split in tough tourney bracket

 

January 4, 2017



Though short-handed, it was La Conner’s Braves who enjoyed the upper hand in terms of roster depth in an emotional rematch victory over Nooksack Valley in Port Townsend on Friday.

The La Conner bench played a big role in a hard-fought 45-37 win over the Pioneers on the second and final day of the 10th annual Crush in the Slush Invitational Tournament.

Minus two starters – including leading scorer Budda Luna – who had played in a previous home loss to Nooksack, La Conner head coach Scott Novak revamped his lineup and was rewarded with solid efforts.

Junior guard Terrance Fornsby responded to an expanded role with a team-best 17 points and four assists while turning the ball over only once.

New starters James Hulbert and Charlie Cram totaled eight points and played key roles in an active zone that denied Nooksack good looks in their half-court offense.

Reserve frontliner Jeffrey Johnson helped stretch La Conner’s first half lead to double digits with a deft assist on a three-pointer by backup frosh guard Trey Casey, then added three buckets of his own before the break.

One of Johnson’s scores came on nice left-handed banker off a post-up deep in the paint. That stretched the La Conner lead to 28-10, its largest of the opening half.

The Braves held on despite a frantic Nooksack comeback bid – at times eerily similar to the one the Pioneers staged in La Conner earlier this month – to improve their slate to 3-4 going into Tuesday’s late NW2B date at Darrington.

The Braves return home tonight, Wednesday, to face 1A Meridian. La Conner hosts 1B Mount Vernon Christian this Friday. Both tipoffs are set for 7 p.m.

Despite the busy slate, La Conner head coach Scott Novak and his charges had time to savor their performance at Port Townsend, which included a very respectable 40-29 setback to 2A Bellingham High, which sailed through the tourney bracket undefeated.

“I really like this team,” Novak said Friday aboard the Keystone ferry, shortly after the Nooksack game. “I think they made some great strides over here.

“Terrence,” he stressed, “showed great composure by scoring 17 points and having just one turnover, and our freshman guards (Cram and Casey) did a really good job, too.”

Senior wing Brady Nelson got the Braves off to a quick start against Nooksack, draining successive treys on La Conner’s first two possessions.

Nooksack pulled within 8-6 late in the frame, but Fornsby responded with the first of his three three-pointers---which would match Nelson in that category.

The early Fornsby trey, a soft 15-footer by Johnson, and a Casey three-pointer highlighted an 8-2 La Conner run to close the period.

The Braves followed up with a 12-5 spurt in the second quarter.

During that stretch, La Conner was bolstered further by quality minutes from Scottie Miller and recent call-up Arlo Liddell.

Miller grabbed two rebounds and recorded an assist on an interior pass. Liddell thwarted a Nooksack scoring threat with a blocked shot.

The Pioneers, as is their penchant, rallied in the second half. They drew within 41-37 with less than three minutes to play on a Ty Rawls trifecta, and had a chance to draw still closer but faltered at the charity stripe.

Fornsby and Cram gave La Conner breathing room by combining on four clutch foul shots in the waning moments.

Shots had been hard to come by in the opening day meeting with Bellingham.

“It was tough to get open looks against them,” Novak acknowledged. “It seemed, by necessity, that we had to use the entire shot clock against them on every possession.”

La Conner’s NW2B rival Friday Harbor would feel the Braves’ pain on Friday. That’s when Bellingham stifled the Wolverines 57-39.

The Red Raiders held La Conner to just 32 per cent shooting, 12-38, from the floor. Tougher yet, the Braves had trouble getting to the iron – not earning a single trip to the foul line.

Second shot opportunities were virtually non-existent.

Superb defense kept La Conner in the game, however.

“The good news,” said Novak, “is that we met our goal of holding the other team to an average of 10 points per quarter. It’s just when that happens, we usually win the game.”

Nelson registered a double-double for the Braves, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He and Fornsby, who tallied eight points, each buried a pair of treys.

Cram added another five points, including a three-pointer. Miller and Cooper Zavala rounded out the La Conner scoring with two points apiece.

Bellingham’s Drew McFall led all scorers with 14 points, 10 in the first half.

“Overall,” Novak said afterward, “we did a pretty good job at this tournament. Our guys are developing a new identity so it’s still kind of a work in progress.”

The key word, especially after the win over Nooksack, being progress.

 

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