CRYSTAL FALLS—Remember a few weeks ago when Forest Park boys Coach Chris Nocerini was upset that his team had played so few games?
It’s so different now. The last few weeks have hectic, the end of the season is getting near, and the Trojans are looking crisp.
They played three before the home fans last week and won them all: 64-54 vs. Florence on Feb. 10; 66-38 vs. Republic-Michigamme on Feb. 11; and 83-43 vs. Bark River-Harris on Feb. 14.
Forest Park enters this week 15-1 overall, 11-1 in the Skyline Conference.
The Florence game gave FP their only problems all week, as the lead changed hands six times in the first half. A pair of baskets by Kam Krajewski just before halftime put FP ahead 29-28 at the break.
Two baskets by Lee Graff and Jeff Johnson’s triple built an eight-point lead midway through the third quarter. The Bobcats battled back and got within one (47-46) on a pair of 3-pointers late in the third.
Not to worry: A 12-3 Trojan rally early in the fourth quarter put them ahead 59-49, and Florence couldn’t get within seven after that. Graff scored six in that sequence, cashing in passes from Daniel Nocerini, who also fed Austin Snell’s fast break.
Florence got 19 points from Michael Sword and 17 from 6-8 Connor Beaster, who sank four triples.
But FP got 16 from Graff (14 in the second half), 12 from Austin Snell, nine by Raymond Tomasik and eight from Johnson. Nocerini had 11 rebounds, and Tomasik had nine. Snell had five assists and Nocerini had four.
“We didn’t have the defensive energy,” the coach said, “but Jeff and Austin really brought the energy up in the second half by making them work.”
Bobcats 12 16 18 8 -- 54
Trojans 10 19 20 15 -- 64
Twenty-four hours later, the Trojans shot 41% against Republic’s zone in the first half and built up a 34-16 halftime lead.
FP’s two Austins—Snell and Carlson—shared the scoring lead with 12 points each, and Graff and Brett Smithson both scored nine.
Threes were a major part of the Trojans’ arsenal: Smithson sank three of them in the fourth quarter, and Snell and Johnson each hit two.
Besides his scoring, Carlson also claimed 15 rebounds, 10 on offense, lifting the Trojans to a 45-31 edge in boards. Snell had five assists. “A good overall team win for us.”
Philip Koski’s 14 points led the Hawks.
Hawks 5 11 5 17 -- 38
Trojans 14 20 11 21 -- 66
The Bark River game was a tale of scoring streaks—with the Trojans doing most of the streaking.
A 19-2 first quarter run helped FP to a 24-8 lead after one—Snell and Graff combined for 19 in the first frame. Bark River came back a bit in in the second quarter, cutting FP’s lead to 29-20. But in the last 2½ minutes before halftime, the Trojans struck back hard: a 13-0 rally based on fast transitions and nifty passing, including two baskets each by Carlson and Tomasik.
“It was all set up by the defense,” Nocerini said. “We moved very well and very strong.
Forest Park led 42-20 at halftime and went on an 18-5 burst in the fourth quarters.
Snell led with 17 points and had plenty of backup: Carlson, 13; Graff, 12; Nocerini, 9; Johnson, 8; Krajewski, 7; Mitch Bal, 6. Kyle Kleiman led the Broncos with 20.
Seven more triples for FP: Snell had three, and Johnson hit two. Three Trojans had three steals apiece: Snell, Graff and Johnson. Snell and Johnson also had six assists each.
“When Jeff and Austin bring that intensity, it seems that our bigger guys feed right off it.”
The Trojans had a fat 56-30 edge in rebounds, with Carlson getting nine and Krajewski eight. Nocerini said the Trojans played multiple defenses, “and both defenses looked strong—what you need coming down the stretch.”
Free throws? 18 of 26. From the floor: 39%. On threes: 47%. “We’ve been working our tails off on shooting.”
Broncos 8 12 11 12 -- 43
Trojans 24 18 15 26 -- 83
• The Trojans return to action with back-to-back road games this week: Niagara, Wis., on Feb. 20 and Carney-Nadeau on Feb. 21.
The Skyline Conference title will be on the line at the Eddie Chambers Gym, when the Trojans face unbeaten North Central Feb. 25, the last game of the regular season. A Trojan win ties them for the title.
The District 127 tournament begins March 3 at Ewen-Trout Creek.