Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Braves Sports, Feb. 15, 2012

Photo by Bob Wischhusen
Brave wrestlers grab regional crown
By Bill Reynolds
For the La Conner High wrestling team, it's been a weight-and-see type of year.
And by more than pulling their weight, the La Conner grapplers can now see how they stack up against the State's best.
Five of nine Braves' wrestlers have qualified for State trials slated Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome following La Conner High's Regional title performance this past weekend.
Led by Jimmy Garcia and Dahlton Zavala, the Braves captured Region top team honors in a tourney featuring all 2B programs in Western Washington.
Garcia placed first in Regionals in the 138-pound class.
Zavala did the same in the 160s.
Nathan Parke, 285, Cameron Wischhusen, 182, and William Zeimantz, 285 also qualified for State by placing in the top three of their respective weight divisions.
Parker was his group's runnerup, while Wischhusen and Zeimantz each placed third.
Two other La Conner wrestlers will also make the trip to Tacoma as alternates.
Kevin Aske, 138, and Todd Hoagland, 170, were fourth place finishers at Regionals, and could wrestle at Tacoma if others in their brackets are unable to compete.
And, were it not for a tough numbers game in the 132-pound class, La Conner's Ben Harper would be in Tacoma as well.
Harper fell just short of qualifying for State in what most mat side observers said afterward was the Region's toughest weight class.
"I'm very proud of the guys,"  said first-year La Conner head coach Barry Harper. "They really stepped up and wrestled well. We went to Regionals focused and ready to go. They really got after it and wrestled hard."
Harper had an inkling beforehand something special could happen at the Regional tourney.
"I knew going in that we had a chance to do well," he said Sunday, "so I'm not surprised we won it. We had a good week of practice and the kids are working hard and staying focused."
Harper's mission this week is for the State qualifiers to turn in another strong series of workouts and build upon momentum gained from winning the Regional championship.
"You want to wrestle your best at the State Tournament," he said. "That's when it really counts."
And, in Harper's view, conditions couldn't be more ideal for the La Conner wrestlers.
"We're peaking at just the right time," he said.
That, stressed Harper, is both in terms of his charges' physical and mental approach to the Tacoma matches.
"We have the mindset," he explains, "that every time we step on the mat we expect to win."
In a related note:
*La Conner High's Amber Drye placed a solid fifth in her division at the girls' Regional event and will also travel to the State Tournament as an alternate.

 Photo by Melissa Reynolds
Braves make quick work of Evergreen Lutheran
By Bill Reynolds
Speed kills.
Just ask the Evergreen Lutheran Eagles, whose tall and long frontline couldn't keep pace with the revved up La Conner Braves in Saturday's Northwest 2B Boys' Bi-District Tournament action at Landy James Gymnasium.
La Conner, 20-1, put the pedal to the metal and raced to a convincing 73-34 triumph, setting up a tourney semifinal date today, Wednesday, at 4:30 p.m. with Shoreline Christian in Mount Vernon.
Landy James led nine Braves' scorers with 22 points, hitting an array of shots from all angles, including a deep trey early in the opening frame that helped set the tone the rest of the night.
But 23 was the number that stood out most for La Conner head coach Scott Novak, after his club had safely taken the checkered flag.
That's how many turnovers the smaller, quicker Braves forced from the Eagles, who enjoyed a distinct size advantage up front.
Many of those Eagle miscues were directly converted to La Conner scores.
The Braves, with junior pivot Tyler Howlett sidelined with an ankle injury, compensated for their lack of a post presence by harassing the Eagles on the perimeter.
The ploy worked.
Evergreen Lutheran, 9-11, was rarely able to get comfortable in its half-court offense.
The Eagles, when they didn't turn the ball over, struggled from the floor. The visitors hit just 13 of 53 shot attempts.
The visitors were able to score more than 10 points in just one period, tallying 11 in the first stanza.
La Conner, by contrast, scored no fewer than 15 points in any quarter.
"We played really good defense and were able to force a lot of turnovers," Novak said afterward. "That was a key to the game."
So, too, was the brilliant point guard play of Mike Wilbur, who dished out five assists in the first half, by which time La Conner had sped to a convincing 36-19 lead.
"He played a great game," Novak said of Wilbur, who finished with 11 points. "And not only in terms of his stats, but also the leadership he provides."
Wilbur's backcourt partner, Spencer Novak, also landed in double figures by scoring 16 points, all but four coming after the break.
Novak meshed 10 points – including a long three-pointer – during an 18-5 La Conner spurt late in the third quarter that stretched the Braves' lead from 40-21 to 58-26. 
Versatile forward Sean Hulbert was credited with being the sparkplug that helped ignite the Braves.
Hulbert, whose minutes have increased since Howlett went down, scored eight points – four in each half – and was a constant presence at the defensive end.
"Sean was very active," said coach Novak. "He was diving on the floor for everything."
But, in the end, it was Evergreen Lutheran that took a dive – unable to withstand a Braves' scoring flurry that seemed to come from all directions.
As a team, La Conner shot 44 per cent from the field, 30 of 68, and converted 11 of 16 free throws.
James, who scored 19 by intermission, had plenty of company on the La Conner point parade.
Novak (16), Wilbur (11), Hulbert (8), Skyler Krueger (6), Jared Fohn (4), Bobby Poulton (2), Jamall James (2), and Bjorn Mejlander (2) all reached the scoring column.
Sam Shannon led the Eagles with 13 points.
The Braves are now geared up to face Shoreline in today's matinee tipoff at Mount Vernon Christian High School.
The winner receives an automatic berth to Regionals.

Photo by Melissa Reynolds
Lady Braves cross out Crosspoint at Bi-District
By Bill Reynolds
For the La Conner High Lady Braves, their best is yet to come.
And La Conner fans hope that could well be tonight, when the Lady Braves, 15-6, face highly-touted Bear Creek in semifinal action of the Northwest 2B Bi-District Girls' Basketball Tournament on the Mount Vernon Christian campus. 
La Conner advanced to the Wednesday tipoff at 6:15 p.m. by virtue of a gritty, hard-fought 44-34 triumph Saturday at home over upset-minded Crosspoint Academy.
"It wasn't our best game of the year," Lady Braves' head coach Scott Novak acknowledged after his club staved off a late Crosspoint rally. "But you have to give Crosspoint credit. They kept clawing their way back in it."
The Bremerton area team closed to within four points, 38-34, in the late going after having trailed by as many as 15 points in the second half.
La Conner's Aubrey Stewart proved the difference in the end, scoring six quick points in the waning moments on a variety of shots.
Stewart hit a short banker off an in-bounds pass, then delivered on a nice post-up move to give La Conner a six-point lead with just over two minutes to play.
Moments later, Stewart clinched the La Conner victory with a foul line jumper after having forced a Crosspoint turnover at the defensive end.
"I really liked the play of Aubrey Stewart," said Novak. "She had a great game for us. She really set the tone."
Stewart's late heroics helped La Conner rebound nicely from a home loss to Friday Harbor the week before in the Lady Braves' league finale.
Priscilla Ponce-Venegas paced the victors with 12 points, seven in the first half, when La Conner built a 20-13 advantage.
The Lady Braves' forced 15 Crosspoint turnovers in the first half, and 26 for the game.
La Conner's defensive intensity and efficient work on the offensive glass helped the Lady Braves overcome a 32 per cent shooting night, 18 of 56, from the floor.
The hosts' 33-21 edge on the boards translated into 17 more shot attempts for La Conner, a vital stat given Crosspoint's field goal percentage was nearly identical to that of the Lady Braves.
The Lady Warriors were 12 of 46 from the field, and both clubs sank six of 14 charity tosses.
La Conner managed to wear down Evergreen Lutheran by pounding the ball inside to Anna Cook, still rounding into shape after a mid-season knee injury, and Alyssa McCormick, who combined for eight points in the paint.
"I know we can play better," said Novak, "but what I'm really pleased with is the number of good looks we got. Those are shots that will fall."
Crosspoint, on the other hand, could get little to drop at the outset of Saturday's clash.
The Lady Warriors went scoreless the first five minutes, while La Conner's Nikki Finley buried the first of her two outside treys and Cook scored inside off a deft feed from Katie McKnight.
McKnight contributed six points to a balanced Lady Braves' attack, four of which came during a 10-0 La Conner run stretching from late in the first quarter to midway through the second frame.
But Crosspoint didn't go away.
Desiree Doughty hit five quick points, including a jumper from beyond the three-point arc, to reduce La Conner's halftime lead to single digits.
The Lady Braves seized command again in the third quarter, doubling the score, 30-15, on Crosspoint at the 4:15 mark, when Emily Anderson scored on a breakaway.
Yet, in a game of spurts, Crosspoint had one more left.
The Lady Warriors, behind Doughty – who tied Ponce-Venegas for game-high scoring honors – went on a 19-8 tear before Stewart iced the verdict in crunch time.

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