Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Braves Sports, March 7, 2012

Photo by Melissa Reynolds
Drawing first blood hurt Braves' State title bid
By Bill Reynolds
Spokane hasn't always been kind to La Conner during its many trips there in search of a State basketball championship.
Now add a wardrobe malfunction to the list of bad breaks that have stymied the Braves' quest for that elusive first title.
It's often been a story of blood, sweat, and tears for La Conner during three dozen State appearances, but perhaps no more so than this past week.
The Braves were leading eventual tourney champ Colfax 21-19 at halftime of their opening round game Thursday when La Conner was assessed a controversial – and, in the minds of many, bogus – technical foul for allegedly failing to properly swap out a bloodstained jersey.
Blood from the cut on an elbow of a Colfax player had rubbed onto the uniform top of La Conner scoring leader Landy James, making the change necessary.
Game officials insisted before the second half began that James leave the floor and don a new jersey.
Which he did.
James and his younger brother, Jamall, also a member of the Braves' team, briefly left the court and switched uniforms. All was good.
Or so everyone thought.
During the sometimes heated five-minute discussion that ensued – involving coaches from both teams – officials assessed a technical against La Conner because the two players hadn't exited all the way to the Braves' locker room to exchange jerseys.
The penalty, resulting in a Colfax trip to the free throw line and Bulldog possession, was for the uniforms being switched "within the confines of the arena," according to courtside observers privy to the confab in front of the midcourt scorer's bench.
Colfax converted a foul shot and scored on its next two possessions to seize command at 24-21, pretty much negating a 17-7 La Conner run that had come at the end of the first half.
Although a Landy James drive to the rack allowed the Braves to briefly regain a 33-32 lead early in the final stanza, momentum had clearly swung Colfax's way.
The Bulldogs closed with a 13-6 spurt triggered by physical post Justin Berarducci, who was to play a big role in Colfax's upset win over Northwest Christian in Saturday's tourney finale.
La Conner, 22-4, was eliminated from the trophy round Friday with a hard-fought 39-37 loss to Dayton, the second straight day the normally high-scoring Braves failed to break the 40-point mark.
La Conner head coach Scott Novak lamented afterward that the Braves' only prolonged shooting slump of the year came at Spokane.
The Braves shot just 14 of 43 from the floor and two of 16 from behind the three-point arc in their 46-38 loss to Colfax.
La Conner didn't help its cause at the foul stripe, either, converting just eight of 17 charity tosses.
Landy James (12), Spencer Novak (12), and Mike Wilbur (10) finished in double-digit scoring for the Braves. Bobby Poulton (2) and Sean Hulbert (2) rounded out the La Conner attack.
Poulton also led the Braves with eight rebounds, continuing his string of fine all-around performances in the post-season.
La Conner held Colfax shooting star Brandon Gfeller to 11 points on four-of-12 shooting.
Berarducci and Jay Hart added 11 and 10 tallies, respectively, for the victors.
La Conner, despite having taken an early 8-2 lead Friday, hit only 14 of 41 field goal attempts against Dayton. The Braves again struggled from the perimeter, missing all but two of their 18 three-pointers.
James again paced La Conner, netting 17 points. Wilbur chipped in 11 points, while Novak (7) and Hulbert (2) also landed on the scoring column.
Garrett Turner (16) and Hayden Fullerton (11) led Dayton, which likewise struggled (13 of 39) from the floor.
Despite the twin losses at Spokane, La Conner did add to its State-best total for State Tournament appearances.
Unfortunately, this year's tourney also marked the final go-rounds for La Conner seniors Wilbur, Poulton, Landy James, and Jared Fohn, who formed the nucleus of a Braves' squad that both started and ended the year among Washington's elite 2B programs.
And while a trickle of blood might've helped thwart La Conner at Spokane, Braves' fans say there's no denying the heart of a club that went undefeated in league play and defeated 3A Sedro-Woolley on the Cubs' hardwood.
In a related note:
*The annual Erik Tjersland Memorial-La Conner Alumni Basketball Tournament tips off this Friday, March 9, at Landy James Gym, with four teams vying for the 2012 crown. Games are set for 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7:15 p.m., and the 8:15 p.m. title contest.    

Photo by Karla Reynolds
Lady Braves hope to sparkle on softball diamond
By Bill Reynolds
The La Conner High girls' softball team is out to prove a rebuilding season can be Bliss-ful.
New Lady Braves' head coach Michael Bliss greeted a short roster with just one senior – Jazmin Snyder – to early season workouts this week on the La Conner campus.
La Conner will try to rebuild this spring after heavy graduation losses following a deep State playoff run a year ago.
"We have a young team," concedes Bliss, "but I think that can work to our advantage because if we stay together we have a chance of being a strong team not only this year but in the years ahead."
In many ways, Bliss is blessed.
Lacking depth, La Conner can still take the quality versus quantity approach.
The Braves can do so even at arguably the most important position on the diamond – in the pitcher's circle.
"Pitching," he says, "will be one of our strengths, as well as our infield play."
Bliss can count on polished hurler Emma Christianson to tame opposing lineups, blending a lively fastball and array of off-speed pitches with an ability to consistently find the strike zone.
"I definitely look at Emma as a leader because she's our number one pitcher," says Bliss. "I also think she has the ability and character to be a leader."
Bliss, who will be joined in the La Conner dugout by veteran assistant coach Peg Seeling, says he also sees that leadership role being shared with La Conner's small but skilled corps of returnees.
"I view them as strong leaders," says Bliss, "and I look forward to seeing how each of them develops over the year."
Two of those key returnees will be coming back from injuries, and eager to rediscover the groove.
Hayleigh Summers was on the shelf last year, while third baseman Taysha James was recently cleared for softball after sitting out the basketball campaign with knee issues.
Madison McCoy, Kaitlyn Cultee, Siomi Bobb, Kelley McClung, and Snyder bring versatility and experience to the table. Bobb and McClung will be transitioning from the hardwood, having played for La Conner High's girls' hoop team that qualified for Regionals.
They will be joined by another La Conner basketball team member, sophomore first baseman Lauren Reynolds, a transfer from Mart High School, in Central Texas.
"At this point," Bliss says, "I'm happy with the team and where we are as a group. I think these players have what it takes to compete."
As far as La Conner's competition goes, the first-year mentor is embracing a time-honored coach's mantra.
Bliss is going to take things one game at a time, if that.
"I think each team we play will present new challenges," he says. "As cliché as it sounds, our approach is going to be to take it one inning at a time, one day at a time, and focus on right now."

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