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Explosive third quarter leads Pintos to conference win against Southern Boone

by Evan Holmes | December 22, 2021 at 3:55 a.m.
Democrat photo/Evan Holmes Sophomore guard Ayden Bryant goes up for a fast-break layup in the third quarter against Southern Boone. Bryant scored a season-high 18 points Friday night.

The California Pintos basketball team faced off against conference rival Southern Boone High School at home Friday night for the second time this season.

In their first meeting Nov. 30, the Pintos came back from a 14-point deficit in the second half to defeat Southern Boone 53-46 and end a nasty 11-game losing streak to the Eagles. Though Southern Boone was looking for payback, the Pintos (8-1) came back after losing an early lead Friday, broke open the floodgates in the second half and cruised to a 66-50 win against Southern Boone (3-3), their fourth straight victory.

Before their second meeting with the Eagles, California took care of business by defeating the Centralia High School Panthers 61-52 last Tuesday night.

The Pintos entered Friday's matchup with confidence, having won seven of their first eight games. But they also knew that winning against conference opponents was very different.

The history books favored Southern Boone going into Friday's game, as the Eagles boasted a 14-9 record against California since 2009, including 11 straight wins against the Pintos since Dec. 18, 2015. The Pintos ended that losing streak Nov. 30.

In Friday night's game, the Pintos came out of the gate blazing, forcing the Eagles into two turnovers and a missed layup on their first three possessions. California capitalized on those stops by scoring six fastbreak points in the first 53 seconds of the game and forced Southern Boone to take an early timeout.

The Pintos had taken an early lead and they were determined to keep it. However, Southern Boone would not be easily shaken.

A couple of forced plays and turnovers had California in trouble and gave the Eagles a chance to get back in the game. The Eagles battled all the way back and took a 15-14 lead at the end of the first quarter on a buzzer-beating 2-point jump shot.

The Pintos may have let the lead get away from them, but they refused to let their competitive spirits be broken. Both teams punched back-and-forth in the second quarter, trading points, rebounds, turnovers and fouls for the entire eight-minute period. California sophomore guard Ayden Bryant led the Pintos' offensive charge as he continued to attack the rim and put up 10 points in the second quarter by himself.

With California ahead 30-28 in the final seconds of the half, the Pintos came up with a critical stop when senior guard Calen Kruger blocked Southern Boone's junior guard, Aiden Bukowsky, on a 3-point attempt. Bukowsky got the ball back, but put up an air-ball as time ran out. That stop preserved the lead the Pintos lost at the end of the first quarter and was a turning point going into the second half.

As the third quarter began, California came out just like they did in the first, forcing Southern Boone into tough shots and turnovers. Each time, one of the Pintos would release down to the other end for a high-percentage fastbreak field goal. Pintos head coach Brad Conway told his team before the second half began to make Southern Boone feel their presence and set the tone defensively. His team did that and more, as they frustrated the Eagles on both ends of the court.

With Kruger, senior forward Trevor Myers and Bryant leading the charge, California put together one of their best quarters of the night and outscored Southern Boone 22-5 in the third. They took a seemingly firm 19-point lead into the fourth quarter.

In the fourth, the same Pintos that had dominated the third quarter came out sloppy. The Eagles were a step ahead in every category in the fourth quarter and came up with every loose ball. Within just minutes, California's 19-point lead had been trimmed to 12 and tension began to creep in. After Conway took a timeout, the Pintos were still a little shaky, but they were able to keep Southern Boone at bay and secure the win at the free-throw line.

Calen Kruger led the Pintos with 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a block. Ayden Bryant had a season-high 18 points, five rebounds and four assists. Trevor Myers, who scored 30 points against the Eagles on Nov. 30, finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals.

California shot 50 percent from the field, 25 percent on 3-pointers, and 66 percent from the free-throw line. They held Southern Boone to a season-low 28 percent shooting, 19 percent from three, and 57 percent on free throws. In addition, California won the rebounding battle 44-30. Southern Boone's big three -- Carter Salter, Aiden Bukowsky and Mason Ahern -- scored 37 of Southern Boone's 50 points.

Conway said his team's 8-1 start to the season is evidence they're more comfortable playing in the system he introduced a year ago. Naturally, when any sports team is introduced to a new player system, it can take some time to adjust to that style and play through it, Conway said, but with a full year under his philosophy, California now understands that they can build a winning culture with what they have.

"I think defensively we're doing a lot of really, really good things. Offensively, our timing is still off a little bit on some things and there are times in the game where we don't always value our possessions," Conway said. "Offensively, those things are going to work themselves out. I did feel like we shared the ball pretty well with each other tonight, which ended in some transition plays. The things we're doing well, we want to keep doing those things. The things we need to work on, we've got to really concentrate and be locked in during practice and get better."

Conway said his team had an outstanding third quarter and did a nice job of not forcing the action and holding Southern Boone to either one shot or a turnover on most of their defensive stands. The 2021-22 Pintos team has had a habit of turning defense into offense when they are able to string together a series of stops, and Friday night's third quarter was no different, Conway said.

"I tried to challenge the guys and let them know that we want to defend and then we've got to rebound and have them be one and done. We've just got to execute at the other end," Conway said. "Like I said, in the third quarter, I thought we defended very well. We rebounded the ball really well. We've got to keep our focus. We can't lose our focus and allow them to crawl back in the fourth quarter, which they did. But the third quarter was our best quarter tonight."

The Pintos have one more game to play before the holiday break after a clash against New Bloomfield at home Tuesday. They'll stay on their home court for a matchup against Linn on Thursday.

  photo  Democrat photo/Evan Holmes Senior Trevor Myers hit all four of his free throw attempts against Southern Boone. Myers had 15 points, eight rebounds, two steals and a block against the Eagles Friday.

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