By Karl Younkman
The Wellington Crusader basketball team used balanced scoring and clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch to deny Clearwater High's comeback attempt and come away with a 64-58 win Tuesday night at the High School.
"It was a great way to start 2014 with the first homecourt win of the new year," a happy coach Brian Buchanan said after the game. The Crusaders first game after the Christmas break sees their record improve to 3-3 for the season.
Clearwater had no intention of going away quietly as the Indians cut into a 10 point Crusader lead after three quarters to trail by only 1 point with three and a half minutes left in the game. Wellington answered every threat the Indians made in the waning moments though, after seeing it's lead evaporate.
The game started with both teams employing aggressive man defense. Wellington forced 3 first quarter turnovers against the Indians and junior Austin Dunn was finding the range with two 3-point jumpshots to send the Crusaders to a 12-6 lead at the end of the period. Junior Colin Reichenberger used good floor management to notch 4 points as did senior Payton Baker for the quarter.
Wellington stretched the lead to 18-6 after a Dunn freethrow before Clearwater scored six unanswered points to make the score 18-12 with 5:30 left in the first half.
A 3pt. shot by Baker and then a steal and a layup by senior Parker Daugherty put the Crusaders back up 23-12 and they cruised to a 34-21 halftime lead. Wellington showed a sign of what would come by sinking 7 of 8 freethrows in the quarter.
"We're a good freethrow shooting team," coach Buchanan offered. "And we tried to move to the basket and create opportunities to go to the line." The scoring was spread even in the half with Reichenberger tallying 8 points, Baker and Dunn 7, and junior Trevor Nance with 5, Daugherty 4 and sophomore Connor Phelps 3.
Rebounds were even for the half with Wellington's 12 to Clearwater's 11 but the turnover margin favored the Crusaders 5 to 2.
After the halftime festivities that featured head football coach Tyler Ryan trying to make several halfcourt shots for charity, the play resumed with the Crusaders shifting to a zone defense to start the third quarter. Clearwater's Johnny Becker started to find the range with the outside jumper and the Wellington lead was trimmed to nine points with five and a half minutes to go in the period. The freebies at the line kept coming though, with the Crusaders canning 5 of 8 for the quarter. Dunn dropping three out of four and Nance making two to go with his field goal.
Clearwater pulled off a pretty lob pass that almost ended in a jam dunk with 2:00 left in the period to move the score to 42-30. Although the ball went in it had to circle the rim as the hops were not quite high enough on the Clearwater lad to make the highlight reel. It did look pretty though.
Page 2 of 3 - With the score standing at 43-33 to start the fourth quarter Clearwater started to pick up the aggressiveness a bit and after a nifty assist by Daugherty to Dunn to put the Crusaders up 47-36, the turnover bug started to bite.
"We were just not moving to the pass there for a time," explained coach Buchanan. "And we quit attacking for the early part of the quarter." The Crusaders committed 7 turnovers in the fourth and with the Indians using full court pressure the lead started to dwindle. Becker's 3 freethrows in a span of 3 seconds put the score at 49-48 with 3:30 left in the contest.
Nance's old fashioned three-point play put Wellington back up 52-48 and after a Dunn freethrow , Clearwater's Reed Van Deest hit a new-fangled three and the lead was 53-51. At this point the clutch freethrows started t kick in as the Crusaders answered every Clearwater push with a freebie and a Nance steal with a minute left and Dunn's 2 from the line put Wellington up 59-53.
Becker wasn't done though, and after another 3-point bomb by him, Dunn did a splendid job in breaking the Indian full court press and along with Nance and Phelps, did the work at the freethrow line in the last half minute to seal the win for the Crusaders.
For the night, Dunn scored 17 points, which included 8 of 11 from the line, 4 of 5 in the decisive 4th quarter. As a team, the Crusaders sank 27 of 35 freethrows, 11 of 13 in the fourth.
Nance scored 13 for the game along with controlling the boards and Reichenberger added 10 and Phelps 9. Daugherty and Paker scored 8 and 7 points respectively. Becker led Clearwater with a game high 23 points with Colin Neises adding 10.
Coach Buchanan was proud of his team and it's work ethic over the holiday. "During the Christmas practices they were here every day working," coach Buchanan said. "Our two seniors are good leaders for our young team."
The Crusaders travel to Augusta Friday for a crucial road test. "They have a solid team with quick players and good shooters, " said Buchanan. "We'll have to be ready."
Lady Crusaders fall 45-41
One of the better lady basketballers of the area brought her 23 point scoring average to town and served notice that she isn't going away to soon. 6'1' senior Bryna Vogel scored 29 points, 20 in the second half, to lead Clearwater to a 45-41 win over a scrappy Lady Crusader squad.
Wellington used solid defense and balanced scoring in the first half to stay within two of the Clearwater Ladies, 19-17. Carlie McComb, who by the way, gave a beautiful rendition of the NationalAnthem before the boy's game, scored 5 points to lead the Lady Crusaders in scoring for the half. Vogel knocked down 9 points to lead Clearwater.
Page 3 of 3 - At the beginning of the the third quarter the points were hard to muster for both teams and it was with 5 minutes left that Wellington scored it's first point of the period. Freshman Lauryn Snipes scored with a layup at the 3:10 mark to give the Lady Crusaders a 21-20 lead. And Holly Wright's freethrows at the end of the quarter knotted the score 26-26.
In the final period, Vogel started to assert herself. But not before Mirela Salvador wowed the home crowd with a behind the back layup drive that tied the score at 29 with 4:30 left in the game.
Then Vogel went to work. In the last three and a half minutes she sank 11 of 12 freethrows that included two 3 point plays. The Lady Crusaders were hustling to stay close with Snipes hitting two long shots and McComb, Kelsey Whaley and Salvador pumping in points around the basket. But Vogel would not miss and as a team, Clearwater shot in 20 of 30 freethrow attempts for the game. Vogel alone was 18 of 26.
"Vogel hurt us down low and we wee forced to play more zone than we like to," head coach Eric Adams said after the game. "And their transition defense didn't let us push the ball like we wanted to. We were forced to play a lot of halfcourt sets and we like to run."
Snipes led the Lady Crusaders with 11 points for the game followed by McComb and Salvador with 9 each. The young freshman Snipes has a bright future according to her coach. "She is going to be a special player in the years ahead.," predicts Adams.
Next up is Augusta and Adams has a message for the team. "I don't want to say it's a must-win game but it's one we gotta get," Adams said.
With the Lady Crusaders at 3-3 for the year, it's time to heed that message.