CRYSTAL FALLS—The Forest Park boys basketball team of 2011-12 started coming into better focus last week, as the Trojans opened their season by splitting a pair of Skyline Conference games on the road.
They make their home debut this week.
“We’re starting to get an idea of what kind of team we’re going to be,” said first year Coach Chris Nocerini. “We’re trying to find an identity.”
In the season opener, Mid Peninsula had a big second half and defeated the Trojans 47-40 on Dec. 5, but the Trojans had the upper hand at Republic-Michigamme on Dec 8, coming home with a 57-32 win.
In the season opener at Mid Pen, the Trojans (1-1 both overall and Skyline) played a strong first half, outscoring the Wolverines 15-8 in the second quarter to claim a 23-15 halftime lead. “We were running the floor nice,” said the coach.
The plot changed in the third quarter, though, when Mid Pen got aggressive, seized momentum and didn’t give it back. The Wolverines outscored FP 17-7 in the third quarter and followed with a 15-10 fourth quarter.
“Defensively, we were fine,” said Nocerini. “The kids put a lot of heart and effort into their defense.” In the second half, he said, Mid Pen made some defensive adjustments, got back on defense a little quicker and rebounded better. The Trojans weren’t able to implement a Plan B.
“We need to come up with better ways of getting these kids in scoring positions,” the coach said. “As a team, we need to put a little more time into specific areas.”
It wasn’t a win, but the coach and team saw positive signs. Nocerini said he liked his team’s overall energy on the floor. “The kids really felt good about themselves after the game,” he added.
The coach noted Michael Smithson’s work in guarding 6-4 Brett Branstrom, who led the Wolverines with 22 points. “He’s 6-4 and has to be about 215, easy. Big, boy.
“He can play inside or outside. He’s got a total game. You figure, he’s been on the varsity since eighth grade, and he’s a junior. For the most part, Michael kept him in check.”
He also cited rebounding by Tyler Lovato and Jake Divine, Zach Painter’s defense and how sophomore Austin Snell handled himself in his first varsity game.
“Our effort from the kids—I couldn’t ask for any more. I was very pleased with our first night out.”
Branstrom led Mid Pen with 22 points, and Chad Branstrom, Brett’s cousin, added seven.
While none of the Trojans scored in double figures, four came close: Lovato and Aberly scored nine, Divine had eight, and Smithson finished with seven.
At Republic, the Trojans went in front early and had a 29-16 lead by halftime.
But it was the third quarter, when FP strangled the Hawks 18-3, that Nocerini enjoyed the most. “The kids came out in the third quarter and really responded well.
“It looked like a team. We were more organized in running our system and our set plays.” In the first half, they had the upper hand on Republic, but in the third quarter they were really working well and doing the little things correctly.
Nocerini said he is still trying to establish a starting five, using different combinations on the floor to see which ones work best together.
High scoring honors were split between L.J. Burns and Kody Thrasher, both with 14 points. Divine scored eight, Smithson had seven, and Lovato and Smell scored five each.
Divine led with nine rebounds, and Burns was credited with six steals.
The Republic game was also the first for Ben Painter, a senior who had been sidelined since late in football season with a collarbone injury. He got the green light from doctors at midweek, and now has to get his legs ready for the long haul and get used to running plays. His senior leadership, though, has always been there.
• The Trojans hosted West Iron on Dec. 12, the first of three straight home dates. Rapid River visits on Dec. 15, and Florence closes out the year on Dec. 19.
Trojans 8 15 7 10 -- 40
Wolverines 7 8 17 15 -- 47
Trojans 14 15 18 10 -- 57
Hawks 7 9 3 13 -- 32