CRYSTAL FALLS—Vacation time is over, and Forest Park’s boys are back at work, scrapping in a pair of wins on the road, at Bark River-Harris (73-60 on Jan. 13) and at West Iron (60-54 in overtime Jan. 16).
After playing just once since Dec. 19, neither win came easily. Coach Chris Nocerini sounded grateful to get a playoff intensity battle against the Wykons.
“We’ve got to get better in this atmosphere,” he said. “We need more of this. This is what’s going to make us better.”
The Trojans enter this week with a 7-0 record (4-0 in the Skyline).
The battle against the Wykons was nothing like that 53-29 cakewalk FP enjoyed at home a month earlier. It seemed like it at first: The Trojans got away to an early 10-2 lead and a 16-10 lead after one. Austin Carlson struck for six early points, converting short passes near the basket.
“But the minute Coach Schive caught on to it,” Nocerini said, “they started dropping a guard on him and doubled him up. So our guards had to take over and keep scoring points.”
West Iron came back in the second quarter, outscoring FP 12-7 to get within one, 23-22, at halftime. The Trojans built a seven-point lead early in the second half, but West Iron kept within range and rallied back to take the lead early in the fourth quarter.
“Nothing is easy here,” Nocerini said. “It’s usually a dogfight.”
From that point through overtime, it was a battle. The lead changed four times in the fourth. FP led by five (46-41) with 26 seconds left, but WIC 3-pointers by Andy Ridolphi and Adam Newby (at the horn) tied it 47-47, forcing overtime.
Discouraging. It had been since 2008 when Forest Park last won at the Greenlund Gym. But the coach said Johnson came up to him just before OT began. “Coach, it [Newby’s shot] doesn’t mean they won the game. We’re going to go win it right now.”
Ridolphi’s hoop put West Iron up right away in OT, but Carlson countered, Daniel Nocerini grabbed a Wykon miss and passed to Graff, who converted the outlet pass. Aren Newby’s hoop tied it 51-all, before Johnson scored back to back baskets for a 55-51 Trojans lead.
It was still 55-51 when WIC’s Ridolphi, the game’s top scorer with 25, fouled out with 40 seconds left. Forest Park put the win away with free throws by Graff, Johnson and Snell.
“It just came down to, we made a few more plays at the end,” the coach said. Snell scored 18 to lead the Trojans, and three teammates also hit double digits: Graff (12), Carlson (10) and Johnson (10).
FP had a big edge at the free throw line, outscoring the Wykons 14-3, but those 14 points came on 31 attempts—45%.
Trojans 16 7 10 14 13 -- 60
Wykons 10 12 8 17 7 -- 54
• At Bark River, Snell fired three 3-pointers in the game’s first minute, and FP moved on to an 18-6 first quarter lead. But the Broncos countered in the second (10 by Kyle Kleiman, eight by Brandon Willa) and rallied within a point at halftime, 35-34.
What about that second quarter, coach? “We slipped into something different,” Nocerini said with a half-smile. “We just wanted to see something different—a different defense.
“I came in at halftime and said ‘My bad!’ They didn’t say much to me—they kind of looked at me.” The Trojans went back out and outpointed the Broncos 20-9 in the third to lead 55-43 after three.
FP never trailed. “The kids played very hard. Another place we hadn’t won at since ’08.” The Trojans had struggled at Bark River in the past. This time, they had just 13 fouls all night and enjoyed a 21-12 free throw edge. (FP was 21 of 36 at the line, 58%.)
“Lee Graff and Mitch Bal had great defensive games. Mitch was all over the floor.” Graff was a rebound magnet. “Outstanding job for us.”
The Broncos made a little run in the fourth quarter until Daniel Nocerini went up to block Kleiman, and FP came back to score. “That was a big play. You kind of felt the air suck out of the gymnasium.”
Snell led with 25 points (four 3s, 9 for 9 at the line), Graff scored 13, Carlson had nine, Nocerini had eight (plus eight rebounds) and Johnson six.
Kleiman led the Broncos with 18, and Willa had 13.
Trojans 18 17 20 18 -- 73
Broncos 6 28 9 17 -- 60
• This week Forest Park is home, facing North Dickinson on Jan. 21 and Carney on Jan. 24. North Central and Carney are the teams to beat in the Skyline Conference, and FP hasn’t seen either team yet.
Two more home games back-to-back early next week: the rescheduled Kingsford game is Jan. 27, followed by Mid Peninsula on Jan. 28.