Pardon my hand! West Iron’s Michael Barker tries to get a shot away as Forest Park’s Austin Carlson defends.
CRYSTAL FALLS—Santa Claus delivered the best possible gift for Forest Park basketball fans on Dec. 16—a walloping of their cross-county rivals at the Eddie Chambers Gym.
After a quarter and a half of half-court ball, the Trojans suddenly went off to the races midway through the second quarter and left West Iron County far behind. A 15-point run late in the first half followed by a 19-2 third quarter powered Forest Park to a 53-29 win.
The Trojans followed that by rocketing past Rapid River 77-36 Dec. 19 to go into the holidays with a 4-0 record, 3-0 in the Skyline Conference.
Vs. West Iron, you can say that when the Trojans see blue, they “see red.” Forest Park coaches have said it themselves many times: Nothing motivates Trojan teams like seeing “Wykons” on the opponent’s uniform.
Early on, though, West Iron called the tune—Trojan shots were missing, and the Wykons snapped up the rebounds. West Iron led 6-4 after one and got to 10-4 about three minutes into the second quarter.
“We started out very tight,” said Coach Chris Nocerini about his team’s first home game. “Like no one wanted to make a mistake.”
Five Wykon fouls in the next few minutes gave Forest Park frequent stops at the free throw line, and 5 of 11 shooting plus Daniel Nocerini’s basket put the Trojans ahead 11-10. Then two baskets each by Mitch Bal and Nocerini took the lead to 19-11 by the end of the quarter. Austin Snell and Nocerini both scored six in the second frame.
The coach credits Bal with turning up the tempo. “He knows these guys, and Mitch said, ‘We’re going to push it.’ They pushed the ball right before half, and we had a nice spark.”
Baskets by Austin Carlson, Raymond Tomasik and Nocerini boosted the lead to 25-13 early in the second half. With West Iron struggling on offense, Forest Park kicked up the speed, forced turnovers and hit at a torrid rate to kick the lead up past 15, past 20, past 25. The Wykons finally got their bearings again in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of their 29 points.
Way too late to change the outcome, though. “We try to play tough defense,” said the coach. “And they did. The two guards sparked our defense up front. Once they started putting pressure on Iron River …”
Nocerini isn’t starting his freshman son, but Daniel still led both teams with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Snell scored nine, Carlson had eight, Lee Graff totaled seven and Tomasik scored six. Rebounds: Carlson 9, Graff 7. Just seven turnovers for FP. West Iron had 20.
Wykons 6 5 2 16 -- 29
Trojans 4 15 19 15 -- 53
Against Rapid River, the Trojans quickly opened up a 21-10 first quarter lead, on three-pointers from Snell, Jeff Johnson and Bal.
After that, they upshifted into their transition game, breaking out 11-2 early in the second quarter. FP led 34-17 at the break.
Seconds into the second half, Snell stole the ball, dribbled in and scored on a layup. That set the tone for a 24-9 quarter, with Snell leading the way. He scored 12 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter. Carlson backed him up with six of his 11.
“We’ve been waiting for Austin to start stroking the ball like he did last year,” the coach said, “and he did tonight. That’s Austin’s game. Then it seems all the other pieces just fall into place.”
In fact, five Trojans scored in double figures. Besides Snell and Carlson, Nocerini had 13, Bal had 11 and Tomasik scored 10. Hot hands: FP was 47% from the field, 58% in the second half.
Carlson led with 12 rebounds, and Nocerini had seven. Graff was top playmaker with seven assists, and Bal had five. “Solid team performance tonight, offensively and defensively.”
Rockets 10 7 9 10 -- 36
Trojans 21 13 24 19 -- 77
• The Rapid River game was Forest Park’s 2013 finale. Their season resumes Jan. 2 at Watersmeet.