Tigers edge Golden Bears in a Christmas break defensive gem

Zach Geiser and Race King have at it in a defensive gem

Sometimes high school basketball games that take place over Christmas break are uneven and ugly. Things don’t seem to flow very well.

Waynedale’s invasion of Strasburg on Saturday, Dec. 30 at Strasburg High School had all of those symptoms, but it wasn’t a vacation hangover that made the game appear to be such a struggle, rather the defensive effort of both teams.

Both teams played hard-nosed defense, forcing the other out of any kind of offensive flow, and because of that, the two teams found scoring points at a premium.

The Tigers took an early double-digit lead, and the Golden Bears spent the entire game playing catch-up, which they almost did before falling 49-38 in a game that was anything other than a double-digit victory for Strasburg.

“Their defense had a lot to do with our struggles to score,” Strasburg head coach Adam Hall said. “We don’t see a lot of defensive schemes like they played on us tonight. They did a really good job in their zone and with forcing us way out top, and they got into the passing lanes.”

Waynedale head coach Kevin Stacy said this contest of the Inter-Valley Conference defending champion and North Division favorite Tigers and his Golden Bears, considered a top defender for the Wayne County Athletic League crown, was one that everyone was looking forward to, and both teams were looking forward to seeing how they stack up.

“I think there is a mutual respect here between two conference favorites,” Stacy said. “I think for the majority of the game, we went punch for punch with each other. I thought both teams really laid it on the line defensively tonight and made it difficult to create scoring chances. Hats off to them. They pressured us in a way that we hadn’t seen much of this year, but I felt like we handled it fairly well.”

Before the Golden Bears really buckled down defensively, limiting the Tigers to a meager six points in both the second and third period, Strasburg was able to build its double-digit lead.

Ryan Weaver got the scoring started for Waynedale, but then the Tigers went to work with Mitch Neidenthal’s five points being a major part of Strasburg’s 7-2 lead. Derek Reber buried a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to 7-5, but Race King answered that score with a three-ball of his own and then scored again on a drive. Jacob Farthing hit two free throws to make it 14-5. Zach Geiser stemmed the tide with a score inside, but Jerrod Willoughby’s corner trey lifted Strasburg to a 17-8 lead through one quarter.

The lead quickly grew to 21-8 to begin the second period when Andrew Cregan scored four points, but that was when the scoring ground to a near halt. A Farthing bucket on a great pass from Cregan would be the Tigers’ only other points over the final four-plus minutes of the half while Waynedale would get a Drew Hostetler 3-pointer, a Weaver drive for a score and two free throws from Manny Camacho to cut the deficit to 23-14 at the half.

The lead would stay right around nine points most of the third period, but Waynedale did carve into it just before the end of the period when Geiser penetrated for a nice and-one to make it 29-23 heading into the fourth.

Mitch Neidenthal would extend the lead back to nine with a drive and a free throw, but Weaver followed suit to make it 34-28. Cregan’s score in the paint extended the lead back to eight, but the Golden Bears then made their move. Weaver split a pair of free throws, Hostetler scored inside, Camacho hit a free throw and Reber, who had been saddled with foul trouble all game, hit inside to make it 36-34.

Waynedale had all the momentum and a chance to take the lead, but a misfire allowed Cregan to push the Strasburg lead back to four points with 3:39 to play.

Mitch Neidenthal canned a monster 3-pointer with 2:50 to play, giving the Tigers a 41-35 lead, but again Waynedale battled back with Kaiser hitting three free throws to trim the Strasburg lead to 41-38.

“We got it down to one possession against a good team on their floor, and that is all you can ask of your kids, especially after we fell behind early. We put ourselves into a chance to be successful, but sometimes the ball doesn’t go in when you need it to, and that is basketball. But I felt like we gained a lot from this game, and it is going to help us get better in the long run.”

After getting a stop on defense, the Golden Bears again missed an opportunity to tie the game on a three-ball with 1:45 to play, and then Farthing did what senior leaders do. He hit two key free throws with 1:38 to play, and then after Waynedale missed on two chances on its end, Farthing came away with the board and was fouled. He calmly hit two more charity tosses to extend the lead to 45-38 with 1:14 left.

The Tigers continued to haunt Waynedale, forcing it to eat up a ton of time off the clock before a Golden Bear miss led to a pair of made free throws for Mitch Neidenthal with 45 seconds left. In dire need of a quick score, things went south for Waynedale when Strasburg’s smothering defense forced them way outside. Waynedale would never be able to score, and the Tigers earned a hard-fought victory.

“They played great defensively, but I have to credit our kids because they played just as hard on defense and really held down the fort when we were struggling on offense, and we were able to close it out defensively by playing with a lot of heart and passion. We mixed up our defenses late in the game to try to slow the game down and make them think a little bit.”

Cregan, Farthing and Donald Seward spent the night trying to contain the high-scoring Reber. Reber battled with Cregan much of the night and quickly found a seat on the bench as foul trouble kept him out of the game for nearly the entire third period and much of the fourth.

“That really killed us tonight,” Stacy said of having his star in foul trouble, which eventually saw him fouled out with three minutes to play with the game still very much in the balance.

“Derek is averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds a game, so when he goes out, you have to find other guys to step up. I thought overall our kids did a nice job of fighting and clawing to give us a chance.”

As 2017 comes to an end, this game was a good one to provide plenty of reasons for both teams to be optimistic as they move ahead through their respective leagues and gear up for tournament play later this year.

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