While last year the Community R-6 boys varsity basketball team had its struggles, this season the squad is much improved.
As a reward for all that hard work the Trojans got to play Harrisburg on Saturday at Columbia College in the 8 a.m. contest of the Norm Stewart Classic, an asignment that consisted of 24 games in 48 hours and came with an overnight hotel stay at the events expense. But, that didn't mean the Trojans were expecting to get anything for free, and that's a good thing because facing head coach Kyle Fisher and the Bulldogs has been an uphill battle for everybody so far this season.
The way CR-6 responded to this challenge was by taking leads of 14-10 at the end of the first quarter and 25-23 in the second. Even though this meant head coach Matt Thomas and staff had done their homework prior to this matchup, by 5:58 of the third Harrisburg had tied the game at 31-31 and was leading 53-40 heading into the fourth on its way to defeating the Trojans 75-65.
"I told the guys we played about a 28 minute game. We had a stretch of about four minutes at the end of the third and the start of the fourth where they got us 30-15 in a game we lost by 10," said Thomas. "That little span where they killed us on the boards got us. We had 16 tunovers for the game and about eight of them happened in that span. That got us, but Harrisburg is a good team and they've got a shot at the Final Four. I thought we did a really good job for about three and a half quarters."
The end of this game became a battle from the free thow line starting with 1:22 and 1:04 left in the fourth when Cordell Hollensteiner and Bobby Jett each went 2-for-2. Christian Jenkins then hit a field goal and missed the ensuing free throw for the Bulldogs at 1:17 and Cody Karl went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe at 1:02.
That led to Jett sinking another set of free throws at :55.8 and Hollensteiner connecting twice from three point territory for the Trojans, only to see Harrisburg answer with Karl, Cade Combs and Kolton James combining to go 5-for-6 from the line at :54.2, :28.0 and :13.4, respectively.
"Having Jett this season has helped a lot. He brings a lot of offense and a lot of experience at what we're trying to do," Thomas said. "He's been very positive and he's growing to understand there are two ends to the floor. That's changed our offensive dynamic regarding what we're doing and what we can do."
The initial quarter didn't start out that well, but after Jett hit a field goal for CR-6 and a three pointer on back-to-back possessions, Harrisburg was trailing 5-3 when it called a timeout at 6:48. Combs, in turn, teamed with Scott Hill to go on a 7-0 run of their own for the Bulldogs, and while that could have been what turned the tide right there, because Hollensteiner sank another pair of three pointers, the Trojans were still up by four heading into the second.
"We talk to the guys all the time about communication and talking to each other on the floor, especially on defense," said Thomas. "They talk all the time during the day and then they get on the court and get quiet."
Fast forward to the third and leading by two, the Trojans started out with baskets from Hollensteiner, Evan Hartsock and Danny Kuda. In that same time period Combs had three points and Karl scored five, all of which set up the Bulldogs to post seven of the next nine points to go up 38-33 at 4:33. The momentum then continued to change thanks to six points by Karl and four points from Hill to widen the gap between Harrisburg and CR-6 to 53-40.
"We've got to get back to getting (defensive) stops. We wanted the game in the 50's. They scored 75. If we could've at least kept the game in the low 60's we'd have had a better shot," Thomas said. "We are so much more experienced this season than last. They know what I want and hopefully they understand what it takes to win. We trying to get there. If we keep playing like this we'll win a lot more games. This is the performance we have to have every night. Physical, tough and get up and down the court"