Central boys show tenacity in victory and defeat

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Hazen Loan takes a short jump shot in Central’s win against Starmont. Loan led the team with 16 points. (Photos by Bev Hamann)

Parker Vaughn dribbles the ball while Tommy Seeland sets a screen in the Warriors' game against MFL MarMac.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


It was a week of close games for Central’s boys basketball team, as the Warriors managed to hold off Starmont 51-45, but a late rally failed to close the gap in a 54-45 loss against MFL MarMac.


The Starmont game was evidence of the team’s growth, as the Warriors scored over 50 points for just the third time this season and shot an incredible 70.8 percent from the free throw line, going 17-24. Three players scored in double digits, with Hazen Loan leading the way with 16, followed by Dan McGreal and Evan Pensel with 10 points each. The other two starters, Parker Vaughn and CJ Polkinghorn, scored seven and three points, respectively, and Tommy Seeland added four points off the bench. 


Central shot a respectable 34.1 percent from the floor, but struggled from three point, making just four of 18 attempts. 


“One of the main reasons for our success throughout the night was our ability to get to the free throw line and convert once we got there. We have talked for the majority of the season about improving our number of free throw attempts because that has been an area we have struggled with in the vast majority of our games to this point,” head coach Brady Stramer explained. 


The team out-rebounded Starmont 40-20, with nine players coming away with at least two rebounds or more. Loan led the team with seven, while Vaughn and Seeland each had six, Elliot Kelly had five and McGreal, Pensel and Polkinghorn had four apiece. 


The offense also put up 12 assists, led by Pensel and Polkinghorn with three each. Vaughn and Abenet Lammers finished with two each.


The one problem area was turnovers, as Central turned the ball over 17 times, which was a byproduct of Starmont’s 1-3-1 zone defense, team size and overall strength. The Warriors used their quickness to overcome those challenges, though.


On defense, the Warriors collected six steals and three blocks, forced 11 turnovers and held Starmont’s top two scorers to 2-13 from the floor. 


“We played man to man defense throughout the entirety of the game. Our guys did a good job throughout the night of cutting off driving lanes and boxing out once a shot was attempted. When we do that, we take away easy shots near the basket for our opponents. Fortunately for us, they also struggled from the three-point line, but our ability to limit them to one shot attempt per possession was a huge key for us in coming out with the victory,” Stramer said. 


The following game against MFL MarMac boiled down to the third period, when the Bulldogs out-scored the Warriors 17-8. While the Warriors attempted to pull off the comeback, they fell short.


The difference in this game was once again free throws, but this time the Warriors were on the wrong end of the battle, only making seven of 12, while the Bulldogs shot an incredible 24 free throws and made 17 of them. 


The Bulldog defense also limited the Warriors to 16.7 percent on three pointers and 30.9 percent overall. The Warriors put up nine more shots, making two more baskets than MFL MarMac, but the free throw difference was insurmountable. 


Loan led the team with 21 points, but no other player scored in double digits. Vaughn had nine points, McGreal finished with four, Polkinghorn had three and Pensel added two. 


“Throughout the game, MFL played man to man defense and implemented a full court trapping press after they made shots. We did a great job of taking care of the ball and attacking their press. In the half court, we did a good job of moving the ball and not forcing passes that weren’t there,” Stramer said. “While we struggled to make shots throughout the game, which put us down 29-46 with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, at that point we were able to make a few shots, while continuing to get defensive stops. We eventually closed the gap to 45-49 with 30 seconds remaining after going on a 16-3 run over that five-and-a-half-minute span. Unfortunately for us, MFL proceeded to make free throws and we were unable to make deep three-point attempts down the stretch, which led to us ultimately coming up short.”


“Our fight and determination in the fourth quarter was great to see and showed the character that this team has,” he added. 


The Warriors actually won the rebounding battle, 38-30, with Loan leading the way with nine, while Pensel grabbed six. Polkinghorn had five, and Vaughn and Lammers finished with four. 


Central just couldn’t convert as well as the Bulldogs on second chance opportunities. The 21 fouls and 13 turnovers didn’t help matters, and neither did the lack of production from the offense beyond Loan. 


“There has been much more intensity on defense and our rebounding numbers have improved drastically over the course of those games. We are confident that we will get more shots to fall, but if we continue to play good team defense and win the rebound battle, we will keep taking positive steps forward as a team and will finish the remainder of our season on a high note. We look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead of us this week,” Stramer said.


The Warriors’ regular season ends on Tuesday, Feb. 9, at Postville. They will welcome Starmont for the Class 1A Substate 3 play-in round on Friday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m.

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