Jake Divine rises above several Nimrods to fire a shot during the Trojans’ 64-61 win at Watersmeet Jan. 5.
WATERSMEET—After leading by as much as 21 points late in the first half, Forest Park’s boys team had to work hard to rescue its first game of the new year, a 64-61 overtime triumph at Watersmeet.
But a win is a win, and Forest Park improves to 4-2 overall after its first game in 2½ weeks. The Trojans remain 2-1 in Skyline Conference action.
“That was fun,” said Coach Chris Nocerini a little later. “A good team effort. A great experience for me, the other coaches and the team.”
Helped by nine points from Austin Snell, the Trojans broke loose in an 18-5 first quarter and expanded their lead to 30-9 late in the second quarter. That’s about the time the Nimrods started playing harder. Two baskets by Damen Baldwin and one by Christian Garrison cut the gap to 30-15 at halftime.
In the second half, Watersmeet moved faster and played more aggressively. The Nimrods were also making shots: Israel Bolton hit a pair of threes to trim the lead to six, 40-34, after three. Another Bolton three and Garrison’s two-pointer sliced the gap to one, 40-39, early in the fourth. Watersmeet got closer at the free throw line, hitting four straight, and Garrison’s three tied the game 46-46 with 3:30 to play.
“We were standing,” the Trojans’ coach said. “Our wings were not crashing the boards. We were watching. They wanted the ball simply more than we did.”
From there, it was a sprint for the wire. Kevin Ivey’s hoop gave Watersmeet its first lead, but FP’s Tyler Lovato got it right back. Garrison’s hoop put Watersmeet up 52-51 in the final minute. Two time-outs later, with under 20 seconds left, L.J. Burns passed to Jake Divine in the lane, and FP led again, 53-52. Garrison was fouled in the final second and went to the line with a chance to win it. But his first shot missed; he made the second. On to overtime at 53-all.
Early in OT, Divine and Ivey traded baskets. Michael Smithson and Garrison swapped free throws: 57-57. Then the Nimrods’ Marcus Bain drove through the left side to score. With a minute left in OT, he did it again, and Watersmeet led 61-58.
Time for a big play, and Smithson delivered. From right in front of the FP’s bench, Smithson fired a three—and hit the twine. It’s 61-61. “I was standing right behind him when he had the ball,” Nocerini said, “and I said Shoot it!
“After the time-out, I grabbed him and said, Why don’t you listen to me some more?”
After that, it was free throws. Divine was fouled—a miss and a make; Trojans, 62-61. Bain was fouled—missed both. Burns was fouled—made both; Trojans, 64-61, with 21 seconds left. Watersmeet couldn’t connect on a three and a two, called time for a final shot, but FP’s defenders stifled the three-point attempt, and the Trojans had an exhausting, exhilarating win.
“It was fun,” said Nocerini, who had put Ben Painter on Bain in the final seconds. “Ben came in and stopped him cold.
“Jake [Divine] came up with some big rebounds at the end, and that three-pointer Michael [Smithson] hit down there. Tyler Lovato had a beautiful steal at the end, and L.J. Burns ... I can’t say enough about all of them.”
Both teams had four players scoring 10 or more points. For Forest Park, Divine led with 14, and Snell, Smithson and Lovato had 11 each. Bain and Garrison led Watersmeet with 16 each, Bolton scored 11 and Peter Lievense had 10.
Divine led his team with 11 rebounds, Snell had eight, and Lovato had six. Derek Aberly and Snell had five offense rebounds. Assists: Smithson with six, Painter with three. Steals: Lovato and Divine, three each.
FP shot 36% overall, Watersmeet 38% (23% in the first half, 52% in the second; they made 6 of 14 three-pointers, 43%). Remember, the Nimrods will be at Forest Park for the district tournament in March.
As for that 2½-week break between games, it wasn’t exactly idle time. “Some alumni played against us,” the coach said. “You may know their names: Erik Peterson, Bryan LaChapelle Jr., Taylor Bartczak, Jeff Hegstrom, Christian Valesano.
“It was nice they were there. They worked with the kids. It was a friendly, up and down. ‘Why don’t you try this?’
“You can coach all you want, but when it comes from a former player who was successful at Forest Park, it was huge.”
• The Trojans host Kingsford Jan. 10 in their only game this week. The schedule finally starts picking up pace next week: FP travels to Bark River-Harris on Jan. 16 and to West Iron on Jan. 19.
Trojans 18 12 19 13 11 -- 64
Nimrods 5 10 19 18 8 -- 61