Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Braves Sports, Feb. 29, 2012

Photo by Karla Reynolds
Braves to battle Colfax in state tourney

By Bill Reynolds
La Conner High Basketball Team head coach Scott Novak believes you've got to play the best to be the best.
That's why he slated tough non-league games during the holiday break at Adna and Toutle Lake, where the Braves earned a hard-fought split four hours from home.
Novak's scheduling now seems brilliant, in hindsight.
La Conner, 22-2, makes a seven-hour trip this week to Spokane, where the Braves will face one of the state's top 2B players in Colfax star Brandon Gfeller.
Gfeller, a versatile 6-3 guard, leads Colfax against La Conner in tomorrow's first round of the 2012 State 2B Boys' Basketball Tournament, with tipoff at the Spokane Arena set for 3:45 p.m.
Gfeller scored 18 points, three above his season average, in Colfax's recent 76-38 Regional romp past Oroville.
He also grabbed six rebounds and dished off five assists for the Bulldogs, whose 13-3 league record was good enough for second place in the Bi-County loop.
Brady Ellis led Colfax, 19-5 overall, with 20 points, while three-point specialist Kyle Johnson hit three straight first period treys to help bury Oroville early.
Novak considers Johnson, a 5-11 guard who averages 13 points per game, a consistent deep threat.
Colfax, which placed fifth at last year's State tourney, also returns 6-3 lunch bucket forward Justin Berarducci, who regularly scores 11 points per outing.
"He's a skilled, hard-nosed player," Novak says of Berarducci, who pretty much symbolizes head coach Reece Jenkin's Colfax roster.
Many, including Novak, compare Colfax's style to that of La Conner's.
"They're very similar to us," he said Sunday, following the WIAA tourney draw, "in that they are very guard oriented."
The Braves' three primary perimeter shooters – Landy James, Spencer Novak, and Mike Wilbur – all scored in double figures during La Conner's Regional triumph Friday over Mossyrock.
From the Braves' perspective, there should be few surprises at this year's tourney.
The field includes both Adna and Toutle Lake, whom La Conner played during the regular season, and Northwest Christian, winners of five of the past six State crowns.

Photo by Melissa Reynolds
Tradition trumps new State format; Braves enter elite eight
By Bill Reynolds
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
When the La Conner Braves in 1947 earned the first of their more than three dozen State Tournament berths, they featured a high scoring frontliner named Landy James.
Fast forward to 2012 and La Conner is again going to State and again will be led by Landy James – this time the namesake grandson of the iconic Hall of Fame coach for whom the Braves' gym is named.
The current James scored a game-high 22 points, including four straight perimeter treys, as La Conner, 22-2, advanced with a 67-60 Regional comeback win Friday in Mount Vernon over Mossyrock.
One thing that has changed is tomorrow's state tourney format.
An eight-team bracket has replaced the former four-day, 16-team tournament.
The Braves qualified for this year's elite eight by downing a club whose top player ironically bears the name of another storied La Conner hoops family.
Mossyrock's Riley Alvord recorded an impressive double-double – 14 points, 11 rebounds – including an offensive putback that gave the Vikings a seemingly safe 23-12 lead midway through the second period.
"Alvord is probably the best player in District Four," Braves' head coach Scott Novak acknowledged, "and Mossyrock is a really great team."
But, as things turned out, Mossyrock was not quite good enough to best a refocused La Conner squad coming off its poorest outing of the campaign, a double-digit Bi-District title loss to Bear Creek.
After a quiet opening frame, James helped trigger a 21-13 second quarter La Conner run that allowed the Braves to lead Mossyrock by four,  29-25, at the break
James hit three treys during the spurt, which was triggered by back-to-back acrobatic driving bank shots by La Conner point guard Mike Wilbur.
Wilbur, another third generation Braves' standout, was nothing short of sensational. He joined James in double-figure scoring, finishing with 19 tallies, and dished off three assists.
One of those was a pinpoint Wilbur pass to Sean Hulbert for the bucket that enabled La Conner to reclaim the first half lead at 24-23. 
Backcourt partner Spencer Novak added 17 points for the victors, including three treys---two coming in the decisive second half.
The Braves, who were stymied a week earlier by Bear Creek's length and double-teams out of an active two-three zone, rebounded with perhaps their finest outside shooting effort of the year.
La Conner drained 11 of 16 shots from beyond the three-point arc.
That allowed the shorter Braves to yield post-ups down low to Mossyrock, which found itself on the short end of three-for-two exchanges while trying to make up a deficit that reached 10 points (52-42) when Wilbur hit his last trey early in the final stanza.
As has become a recent pattern, Bobby Poulton, Sean Hulbert, and Jared Fohn emerged as unsung heroes for La Conner.
Poulton scored seven points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
He also erased Mossyrock's initial 2-0 lead, countering an Alvord jumper with a three-pointer that set the tone for La Conner's hot shooting the entire night.
"Bobby definitely does the blue collar work for us," said coach Novak, who also praised the work of Hulbert and Fohn inside against Mossyrock's bigger frontline. "We were undersized against Mossyrock, but our guys really battled."
The Braves also helped themselves at the charity stripe, converting 12 of 15 foul shots.
That was another factor helping La Conner offset Mossyrock's 35-24 edge on the boards.
But the number that ultimately mattered most Friday night was 39 – the amount of times in school history the Braves have now been part of the state tourney field.

Photo by Melissa Reynolds
Pe Ell pulls plug on Lady Braves' season
By Bill Reynolds
You couldn't blame the La Conner High Girls Basketball Team for being in a foul mood Saturday night.
First, they learned technical difficulties had nixed the previously scheduled webcast of their Regional Tournament contest five hours away in Longview.
Then, once the game got under way, La Conner couldn't seem to catch a break.
The Lady Braves were forced into 13 turnovers and earned just one trip to the free throw line in a tough, physical 45-31 elimination loss to Pe Ell, abruptly ending upset-minded La Conner's season with a fine 17-8 mark.
Pe Ell had come into the game having lost 48-46 to Adna (22-2), a club coached by La Conner alum Jeff Beasley and 48-40 victors over La Conner in a late December non-league test at James Gym.
La Conner was hopeful Saturday the Adna game had taken something out of the Lady Trojans.
It hadn't.
Pe Ell played aggressively on the defensive end, and a loosely called game worked in its favor.
The Lady Trojans held La Conner to 14 of 43 – 32 percent – shooting from the floor, and just three of 16 from beyond the three-point arc.
Katie McKnight, who led the Lady Braves with nine points, was one La Conner player who managed to break free of Pe Ell's defensive vise.
McKnight hit four of seven field goal attempts and meshed one of La Conner's three outside treys. 
Aubrey Stewart added eight points and 10 rebounds to continue her string of solid post-season outings for the Lady Braves.
Nikki Finley (5), Anna Cook (4), Kelley McClung (3), and Priscilla Ponce-Venegas (2) also landed in the La Conner scoring column.
Finley and McClung each drained three-pointers for the Lady Braves, while the versatile Ponce-Venegas was awarded the team's one and only foul shot attempt on the night.
Ponce-Venegas, McKnight, and Cook also dished off assists for La Conner – not an easy task as Pe Ell defenders were able to quickly seal off passing lanes.
Lady Braves' head coach Scott Novak, who had hoped to take two La Conner teams to State this week, consoled players and fans afterward.
Among those was his daughter, Katie, a freshman shooting guard among the deep nucleus of players returning next year for La Conner.
Coach Novak could, however, take solace in knowing the Braves' boys team had secured a State berth tomorrow, Thursday, at 3:45 p.m. in Spokane opposite the Colfax Bulldogs.
As for the La Conner girls, Novak knew beforehand their potential route to Spokane would be much tougher – and longer.
Both figuratively and literally.
"We knew going in," he conceded last week, "that it wasn't going to be an easy road as far as getting to State."
As a third seed to Regionals, the Lady Braves were sent Saturday to Longview. That meant the team had to bus Friday night, immediately after the boys' Regional win in Mount Vernon over Mossyrock, to the Centralia-Chehalis area in an attempt to cut down Saturday's travel time.
In the end, though, La Conner fans preferred focusing on how far the team had come since November in terms of its development.
The Lady Braves finished a surprising second in Northwest 1A/2B standings to Friday Harbor before enjoying its two-week playoff run.  

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