CRYSTAL FALLS—So close, so far. Forest Park’s boys’ losing streak hit six last week, and close doesn’t count. One break here, one friendly bounce there—who knows?
It didn’t happen last week, said Coach Chris Nocerini. But it’s bound to happen soon.
“When the points catch up to the defense,” he said over the weekend, “—and they’re gonna—we’re going to be fine. It’s going to happen.
“I just believe in those kids, and believe in the hard work they’re putting into it.”
At home on Jan. 31, the Trojans jumped away to a 17-7 first quarter lead on Mid Peninsula but couldn’t hold off the Wolverines at the end, losing 43-42. At North Central Feb. 3, the Jets took off 17-5 in the second quarter. The Trojans rallied within four but finally lost 51-44.
The two defeats drop the Trojans’ record to 4-9 overall and 2-6 in Skyline Conference play.
The game against Mid Pen came down to the final moments. “They made shots in that last minute-40,” said the coach, “and we didn’t. We had three opportunities to win the game, and the ball just wouldn’t go in for us. It was a tough loss.”
FP had a strong first quarter. “We were running the floor nice,” said the coach. “A lot of open-floor opportunities, lay-ups. We were beating them up and down the floor.”
Mid Pen got sharper on defense after that, switching to a zone defense that got the Trojans a bit too anxious about getting shots away. “If we move the ball around the perimeter, we’re fine,” Nocerini said. “But if we panic and take the first shot, it doesn’t work our way.”
The Wolverines got 21 points from Brett Branstrom and 10 from Evan Winkelbauer. Branstrom was a difference-maker on defense, pulling down 17 rebounds and shutting down the lane.
His free throw with 30 seconds to play put Mid Pen in front for good. FP’s final shots just wouldn’t fall.
Tyler Lovato led the Trojans with 12 points, Ben Painter had 10, followed by Jake Divine’s eight and Austin Snell’s seven. Michael Smithson had five assists, and Painter had four
The Trojans also played solid defense, pulling down 43 rebounds—Lovato had 11, followed by Smithson’s nine and Divine’s eight. “I told the kids, our goal is to get into the 50s. They got to 43, so …
“You can’t complain about much. It’s just the one big thing—the score.”
Painter’s play, said the coach, continues to improve after he missed the early season due to a broken collarbone from football season. “Now he’s starting to get his legs back. He’s only getting better every game, and it’s so good to see because the kid works so dang hard.”
At North Central on Feb. 3, the Trojans kept pace with the high-flying Jets for one quarter. But in the second, the Jets took advantage of turnovers and fast breaks and built up a 25-13 halftime lead.
During the intermission, Assistant Coach Dave Graff outlined some changes on offense, and made adjustments on defense. Helped by L.J. Burns’ two three-pointers, the Trojans rallied within four points midway through the fourth quarter.
“The guys are really buying into the man-to-man defense and controlling rebounds,” Nocerini said. He credited Painter for his hard work at point guard and Divine and Smithson for limiting Trevor Ekberg, a 6-4 sophomore, to five rebounds.
Burns, Painter and Divine each scored 10 points for the Trojans, Smithson added eight, and Lovato had six. For the Jets, Bryce Bilski led the way with 14 points, and Ekberg scored 11.
Keep in mind that the Jets are battling Carney-Nadeau for first place in the Skyline Conference standings. Nocerini liked how hard his Trojans played against them.
“When you can keep a team like that in the low 50s … I just keep telling the guys, Keep believing. When the offense catches up, you’re going to put this together.”
In fact, the coach noted, both Skyline title contenders—Carney on Feb. 24 and North Central on Feb. 28—will visit the Eddie Chambers Gym at the end of the season. The Trojan players, he said, are relishing the prospect of creating chaos in title race at the very end of the season.
That doesn’t sound like a defeated team, does it?
• The North Central game was the first of three straight on the road for the Trojans. They visit North Dickinson Feb. 7 and make the long haul to Rapid River on Feb. 10.
They return home Feb. 14, hosting Republic-Michigamme.
Wolverines 7 11 13 12 -- 43
Trojans 17 6 9 10 -- 42
Trojans 8 5 19 12 -- 44
Jets 8 17 18 8 -- 51