Defense falters as Pacers drop season opener to Shawe

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For the past few years, Switzerland County varsity coach Brian Bowen says that his team has “hung it’s hat on its defense”. But last Tuesday night in the season opener at Madison Shawe; the Pacers failed to make the adjustments needed and couldn’t get a defensive stop when they needed one, and at the final buzzer fell by a score of 61-55.

“We’ve got to do a better job of guarding, and that’s across the board,” the Pacer coach said following the game. Our defense and our turnovers killed us. We had 12 and they had nine, but ours came at critical times; and we just didn’t do a very good job against their zone.”

Coach Bowen said that the Pacers’ failure to knock down outside shots made the Hilltopper zone defense that much tougher to negotiate through. Making matters more difficult was the fact that senior Travis Tackett didn’t play in the game due to concussion-like symptoms resulting from a collision in practice – but the Pacer coach didn’t use his senior sharpshooter’s absence as an excuse.

“It would have been nice to have him,” Brian Bowen said. “But we’ve got eight seniors and we’ve got a sophomore who’s going to be a decent player for us. We’ve got to be better than this. From a defensive standpoint, there are just so many things that we’ve got to be better at, and hopefully we’ll get there.”

The game started with Madison Shawe running off five straight points on a three-pointer by Dakota Jones and a pair of freethrows by Matt Armstrong. Switzerland County responded with a three-pointer by Keegan Kincaid; a three-point play by Brennan Bragg, and a freethrow by Brennan Bragg to move out to a 7-5 lead at the halfway mark of the opening period.

From there both teams battled back and forth, with neither squad able to move out to a comfortable lead. Switzerland County got two more baskets inside by Brennan Bragg and a three-pointer and a freethrow by Keegan Kincaid; and that was enough for the Pacers to hold a 15-14 lead at the first break.

After Nico Mingione opened the second stanza with a basket for the Hilltoppers; Switzerland County ran off seven straight points on baskets by Tray Meyer and Danny Schira and a three-pointer from Josh Hon. That forced Shawe coach Jerry Bomholt into a timeout, and after Michael Kring scored once play resumed, Brennan Bragg matched that and Tray Meyer picked up a steal and layup to push the Pacers up by eight with four minutes to play before halftime.

The Hilltoppers then made a run, getting six straight points to cut the lead to just two with less than two minutes to play. Brennan Bragg scored inside to stop the run; but pairs of freethrows by Campbell Higbie and Michael Kring tied the contest by 28-28.

With less than a minute to play, Danny Schira again converted inside to push Switzerland County back in front; but Michael Kring’s buzzer-beater tied the score at 30-30 after two periods of play.

The Switzerland County offense would falter in the third period, as the Pacers were outscored by their hosts by a 10-4 count. The only two buckets for Switzerland County came from senior Tray Meyer – with a scoreless span of more than five minutes in between.

After three periods of play, the Hilltoppers held a 40-34 advantage.

The lead swelled to nine as the final quarter opened with Nico Mingione hitting a three-pointer; but Keegan Kincaid matched that with his third trey of the game to keep the Pacers within striking distance. Shawe then posted four straight points to make the lead 10; but Brennan Bragg converted a three-point play to keep Switzerland County’s victory hopes breathing – barely.

After Shawe converted a freethrow and got a basket from Michael Kring, Keegan Kincaid connected on his fourth three-pointer of the night, drawing Switzerland County back to within seven with 2:26 to play.

From there to two teams bounced back and forth, as Switzerland County fouled in an attempt to get the ball; but the Hilltoppers made four straight charities to foil the plan.

Tray Meyer made two more shots and Noah Hughes had a basket, but the Pacer defense couldn’t get a hold when it needed one, so Switzerland County was merely trading points as the clock ticked away.

The final blow came with 49-seconds to play and Shawe’s Campbell Higbie at the line. The junior made the first attempt to extend the lead back to seven; but he missed the second attempt, but teammate Nico Mingione swept in and grabbed the rebound – taking the ball back outside to run more time off of the clock and costing Switzerland County a huge opportunity.

Tray Meyer would score down the stretch, but it wasn’t enough, and the Hilltoppers claimed a 61-55 win.

Making the victory even more significant is that it was the only time that the Pacers and the Hilltoppers will play each other this season, so Tuesday night’s game was a conference game.

Brennan Bragg led Switzerland County with 17 points; while Keegan Kincaid finished with 15 and Tray Meyer added 14. Danny Schira finished with four; Josh Hon had three; and Noah Hughes finished with two.

Disappointed with the loss, the Pacer coach also saw things in Tuesday’s game that work and practice can fix.

“We’ve just got to go back to work,” Brian Bowen said. “We’ve been working. We’ve had 13 practices, but we’ve still got a lot to work on. I think tonight was good for our guys, because hopefully they got their eyes opened tonight and they saw that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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In the junior varsity game, Switzerland County defeated Madison Shawe by a score of 32-19.

Blake Whitham led the Pacers with 10 points; while Adam Clark added nine and Zach O’Neal finished with six. Damon Robbins had four points; and Anthony Dennis contributed three points to the victory.