Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Boys battle to three big wins over the week

“We’ve found success in a number of different ways”

by Than Acuff

The momentum continues for the Crested Butte Titans boys basketball team as they just rattled off three big wins over the past week, including a hard-fought win over Center, an unexpected blowout against Cotopaxi and an overtime win on the road at Sargent.

The Center Vikings were rumored to be the team to beat in the league as they returned nearly every player from a strong squad last year and had a successful start to their season.

But, as is the mantra of the Titans all season long, it doesn’t matter who they’re playing, Crested Butte is just going to play their game as best they can.

The game on Tuesday, January 28 against Center started out with Center taking a 7-0 lead while the Titans were struggling to put the finishing touches on great work on offense.

“We looked crisp and were getting good looks,” says coach Brandin Hamilton.

Those good looks and crispness ultimately played out as the Titans then erupted for a 24-0 run to go up 24-7 midway through the second quarter.

“It was amazing,” says Hamilton. “We just caught fire at both ends of the floor. They were calling timeouts and trying different things to try to stop us but long rebounds were turning into lay-ups for us and open threes were swishes.”

Center did eventually get their feet underneath them to find success from three-point range and by halftime, they had cut the Titans’ lead down to eight points.

While losing a lead like that and a swing in momentum can turn the rest of the game to the other team, the Titans are different this year and maintain their composure no matter what the situation.

“They’ve really matured in that way, they just play,” says Hamilton. “Once the dust settled we were still up eight points and it just kind of stayed like that.”

The Titans made one last run in the fourth quarter to build a nine-point cushion and carry that to a 48-43 win. Erik Wasinger led the Titans with 19 points, 15 from three-point distance, Grayson White scored nine and Ethan Bacani dropped in seven, while Alan Prieto proved pinpoint in finding gaps in Center’s zone defense with his passing.

Three days later Crested Butte was back at home to host the Cotopaxi Pirates on Friday, January 31. The Pirates bring a lot to the floor, most notably a 6’9” post player who has a penchant for dictating games and is a big reason, literally and figuratively, why Cotopaxi has seen so much success this year—until Friday, that is.

“Our scheme was to front him and get lob help on the backside and keeping him out of the scoring post area,” explains Hamilton. “It ended up we didn’t really get in his way as he still scored 25 points.”

The Titans opened the game on fire against the Pirates as Prieto hit a three-pointer from the corner to start things off and then Wasinger and Bacani connected for a steal and a series of quick passes to set up a lay-up. Cotopaxi called an immediate timeout, but the Titans got right back to business as White scored four, Wasinger and Carlos Franco each hit three pointers and Bacani dropped in a high floater on the baseline over the big man at the buzzer for a 17-7 Titans lead.

Cotopaxi’s top player started scoring more but Crested Butte’s defense left nothing else for any other player. Meanwhile, the Titans found success on offense in a variety of areas and from a variety of players. Deep threes, inside dishes for lay-ups and coast-to-coast runs were all in the mix. The one time Crested Butte looked to stall a bit, John Penney came off the bench to scoop in two reverse lay-ups and Crested Butte was out in front 32-18 at halftime.

That same rhythm continued for the Titans in the third quarter, While Cotopaxi continued to rely on their big man, Crested Butte continued to find success up and down the court, inside and out, but the game never felt in the bag until two minutes into the fourth quarter.

“There was a point where their player kept scoring on us so we knew we had to keep scoring as well,” says Hamilton.

Paced by a colossal effort from White on the boards and up and down the court, Crested Butte started pulling away further and when Wasinger scooped in a lay-up following a Cotopaxi timeout, the game was well out of reach and Crested Butte’s defense finished it off to hold the Pirates to two points down the stretch for the 55-36 win. Prieto led the team with 14 points while White and Wasinger each scored 11.

“Having three guys scoring in double digits is always good,” says Hamilton. “The whole team just really came out for that game.”

The team loaded the bus then on Saturday, February 1 to close out the week against the Sargent Farmers. This would be the final test of the Titans for the week as the Farmers are typically one of the tougher teams defensively in the league. And to be playing on their court can make matters even worse.

Hamilton admits the team was noticeably subdued prior to the game and feared that the tank had run dry from their previous two efforts. Fortunately, while the Titans offense was “a half step off,” their defense remained intact and the two teams were locked in a back-and-forth battle all four quarters. Missed free throws plagued the Titans down the stretch and Sargent’s hot shooter hit a three with seven seconds left to send the game into overtime.

“If we shoot like we normally do from the line, we finish with a nine-point win,” says Hamilton.

Again, resiliency came into play. While that last second bucket can devastate most teams, Crested Butte just went back to work in overtime, regardless of how the game ended in the regulation.

“To have that momentum shift like that can be a real pivotal moment in terms of team identity,” says Hamilton. “But we came out in overtime, played really good, aggressive defense and started boxing out better.”

Crested Butte then had the final say in overtime with the ball and nine seconds left. Hamilton called a timeout, drew up the play and Crested Butte executed finding someone on a backdoor cut for a basket and a 35-34 lead. Sargent came back up the floor one last time but the Titans defense did their job to deny a clear look at the hoop and Sargent’s last-second attempt missed the mark for the 35-34 Crested Butte win. Wasinger led the Titans with 13 points.

“We’ve found success in a number of different ways,” says Hamilton. “It doesn’t mater what’s going on, they just go out there and play good basketball.”

The Titans have two more big games this week as they hit the road to face Del Norte and then host Sanford on Saturday, February 8, with tip-off at 4 p.m.

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