By Scott Vanscoy (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Two of the top teams in the SWCL battled on Friday night. It was Homecoming in Crane and the Pirates, ranked No. 5 in Class 2, weren’t very hospitable to the visiting Blue Eye Bulldogs. Crane led from the tipoff, jumping out to a 17-9 lead in the first quarter, and never relinquished the lead. The Pirates controlled the tempo of the game, forcing the Bulldogs to play a game they didn’t want to play.
“I thought we did a good job tonight,” said Crane coach Kevin Smith. “We wanted to try to control the tempo as best we could. I thought we guarded well, we did a lot of that.”
Blue Eye managed to claw their way back into the game in the second quarter, outscoring Crane 12-11. Blue Eye’s Isaiah Mitchell had 10 of his 16 points in the second quarter.
“Early on I felt like they were speeding us up and we let the emotion of the crowd and the game get to us,” said Blue Eye coach Kyle Turner. “It felt like in the second quarter we finally started to calm down a little bit.”
Blue Eye trailed the Pirates by seven to start the second half and they knew they were on an uphill battle. Blue Eye stuck with a 2-3 zone most of the night and they managed to extend it out and guard Crane’s three point shooters. Crane only hit seven three’s to Blue Eye’s eight. The game started to get more physical in the second half but the referees let the boys play.
“They had a pretty good zone, it was extended wide, and they slowed us down, which, we play fast,” said Crane senior Tyler Campbell. “We were just getting competitive, that’s how the game goes. Staying strong mentally is very important for us. In recent years we’ve gotten a lot of technicals but we’ve been really good about it the last few years. We have got to knock down shots, got to full court press, and push the ball really fast and play together and as a team.”
Crane saw their lead grow to 10, 40-30 at the end of the third quarter. The fourth quarter saw sloppy play for the first two minutes, with turnovers and missed shots. Bulldog senior Jake Reagan made his first of four buckets in the fourth quarter to put Blue Eye down 40-32. A minute later, Crane’s Branstetter took the ball to the hole strong and was fouled on the shot, giving him an old-fashioned three point play. Reagan was on fire as he made two more shots but Brecken Vaught and Tyler Campbell answered with two threes of their own, stretching Crane’s lead to 13, 49-36 with 4:06 left in the game.
Blue Eye was forced out of their zone but Crane turned the ball over and Nathan Garnett hit a three and made two free throws, putting Blue Eye back within eight, 49-41 with 3:25 left to go in the game. Garnett then picked up his fourth foul on an offensive charge. He picked up his fifth foul a minute later. It was now that Blue Eye was forced to begin fouling to try to exchange free throws for possessions. Blue Eye’s Mitchell made a three to make it 49-44; it was now a two-possession game. Crane calmly shot seven free throws in the fourth quarter, missing none. The tactic worked for Blue Eye as they were exchanging two points for three.
With a minute left, Blue Eye made a three to put them down 53-47 and then 14 seconds later after two made free throws Blue Eye trailed by just five, 55-50. Blue Eye could not get any closer, however. Campbell scored a bucket after a Blue Eye turnover to give Crane the final score of 57-50.
“We’ve got to continue playing like we are tonight,” said Branstetter. “We’ve got to keep up the defense, we’ve got to keep up the hard work. Our goal tonight was to keep Nathan Garnett from shooting so many threes and also Isaiah Mitchell from shooting threes. Their bigs gave us a little trouble, they are very physical. We are shorter so we just play bigger than what we are.”
Blue Eye coach Kyle Turner knew it was going to be a physical and mental game.
“Crane does a really good job defensively on the ball,” said Turner. “In the third and fourth I thought we played at the pace we wanted to, we just didn’t execute. Give Crane a lot of credit, they did a good job, they’ve got a lot of really smart guards that transition well. Defensively they do a good job of jumping the ball, when they see opportunities they take advantage of it, and they’ve got multiple guards that really handle the ball well. When you get behind to them in the fourth quarter it makes it hard to come back with their guard play. We had a two-possession game and then didn’t execute a few times. Again, give them credit, Coach Smith does a very good job with them.”
Coach Smith knew going in it was going to be a battle between two of the top teams in the SWCL.
“It was a great game, and I knew it would be a tough one,” said Smith. “Blue Eye is a good team, well coached. I thought we did a good job most of the night doing what we wanted to do. I thought we did a great job with them on the glass and played a good, well rounded game. We didn’t end it like I wanted to, got a little sloppy at the end, but it was a good rivalry battle for us.”
Crane sits at 2-0 in the conference and controls their own destiny.
“Blue Eye’s going to be battling it out for top spot in the conference but hopefully we can keep pushing forward,” said Smith. “We have some good, tough conference games coming; Spokane, Billings. Tonight’s win pushed us to 18-2, so hopefully we’ll just keep pushing on. We’d love to have that 20 win mark but we want to win it at the end, when it really matters. We’re going to focus on two things right now; that’s win the conference and win the district.”
Blue Eye—Nathan Garnett-15, Jake Reagan-11, Hayden Forester-8, Isaiah Mitchell-16
Crane—Tyler Campbell-24, Zander Mayne-3, Brecken Vaught-8, Wesley Branstetter-16, Aidan Vaught-2, Jacob Woodward-4
Blue Eye 9 12 9 20 50
Crane 17 11 12 17 57