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Broncos start strong at District Tourney with back-to-back wins


February 15, 2018

GOING IN FOR TWO. Austin Thompson powers past Northwest Christian’s defense and up to the hoop for a two-point bucket for the Broncos on Feb. 8 at the District Tournament. -Journal photo by Katelin Davidson

The Lind-Ritzville/Sprague Broncos had an exciting outing in the first week of the District Tournament, and were able to secure two victories to improve their standings in the competition.

The Broncos first matched up against Wilbur-Creston on Feb. 6, a team they held to a single field goal during their meeting in the regular season. But the Wildcats were focused on avenging the league loss, and created problems for LRS, who narrowly managed to earn the District win with a buzzer-beater shot: 48-47.

Head Coach Dustan Arlt said it was the wildest finish to a game that he has been part of, but the Broncos were still able to secure the first playoff game win. Arlt said going into the game, he felt the team did not appreciate or recognize the athleticism of the Wildcats, and did not take the game seriously because of their substantial league win earlier in the year.

Overall, Arlt said the Broncos did not play well, while WC played their best game of the season. Arlt explained the Wildcats recently had two athletes quit their program, and it allowed the team to start fresh and play with a positive attitude, which made a difference on the court.

The Broncos started the game well, jumping out to an early lead, but they were unable to maintain consistency on the court. Arlt said the team could not find their stride, and while they kept shooting, the struggled to have their shots fall.

LRS managed to have a three-point lead at the end of the first quarter, 16-13, but the Wildcats held the Broncos to four points in the second quarter. Arlt said the Broncos had good intensity, but their attacks at the hoop did not transfer to points.

Arlt said if the team had been able to convert on the easier shots, the Broncos would have moved ahead in scoring early in the match up. But the Wildcats also made it difficult for LRS to score, applying strong defensive pressure throughout the game.

The Wildcats had a one point lead moving into the fourth quarter, and with five minutes remaining, the Broncos found themselves down by two. Arlt said the Wildcats stole the ball, made a lay-in with a foul but missed the free throw.

WC was able to pull down the offensive board and kicked it out to the perimeter, where they sank a 3-pointer and the Wildcats moved ahead by seven.

With their backs against the wall, Arlt said the Broncos extended their press and finally began to focus on the task at hand. Spencer Gering drained a three-point basket to close the scoring gap, followed by a 3-pointer by Bryce Kelly and a basket in the paint from Camden Smith.

The last two minutes of the game remained a one possession difference and through the defensive struggle on both ends of the court, the Broncos found themselves trailing by one in the final seconds of the game. Arlt said the team reacted perfectly to the intensity, with Shontz Yaeger forcing a steal and Austin Thompson hitting Bryce Kelly down court for a lay-in at the buzzer.

While the Broncos were happy with the District win, Arlt said he would have preferred not as close of game, but appreciated LRS’ determination and ability to battle through the deficit at the end of the game.

Arlt explained the team has a lot to take away and build on from that game, and hopes they can continue to handle the high pressure situations.

Smith led the team with 12 points and 17 rebounds, 10 of which were offensive rebounds.

Bryce Kelly and Thompson both recorded 10 points for the Broncos. Bryce Kelly also recorded 10 rebounds, five steals and six blocks.

Yaeger tacked on eight points to the LRS score and had four steals, while Gering had five points. Drew Kelly rounded out the Broncos scoring with three.

Arlt said the team again struggled to convert free throw opportunities to points, and shot 5-12 from the line. Especially against strong competition, Arlt said the Broncos need to make their free throws because it could be the difference of the game.

The Broncos moved on to face Northwest Christian on Feb. 8 and they were able to secure a 59-52 victory. LRS had lost to NWC by nine points during the regular season, and Arlt said the Broncos were focused on avenging their loss and determined to earn the District Tournament win.

Arlt said the Broncos went from their worst game of the year against WC to their best game of the year against NWC. The Broncos came into the game with confidence and got out to a good start with a five-point lead early in the game.

While the Broncos had a strong offensive presence on the court, free throws continued to be an issue as the team went 0-9 from the line in the first half. Even with the missed free throws, the Broncos had a three-point advantage moving into halftime.

Arlt said the Broncos talked about keeping up the intensity and playing until the final whistle during halftime. The team came out strong in the third quarter, and Arlt said he was improved with the Broncos’ performance at both ends of the court.

With help from Nelson inside the paint on rebounds and put-back points, the Broncos jumped out to an 11-point lead at the end of the third quarter.

The fourth quarter proved to be the test for the team, as the Broncos had multiple turnovers that the Crusaders converted to points. LRS implemented a press and continued in their man defense, as it had been effective all night.

NWC was able to cut the Broncos lead to four, but LRS refused to back down from the challenge. Arlt said the Broncos played composed basketball and were able to execute their offense, which proved to be the difference of the game.

Arlt said the Broncos benefited from a better mix of shot opportunities, as well as athletes stepping up to score for the team. Defensively, the Broncos were also able to hold NWC’s point guard and leading scorer to three points.

Nelson and Smith played well down low for the Broncos, Arlt stated, and they both remained aggressive at the hoop throughout the entire game.

Smith ended the night going 8-8 from the field with nine rebounds, and Nelson was 5 for 8 on shooting.

Arlt said he was proud of the team for executing their plan and applying the fundamentals they have discussed in practice during the District game. The Broncos moved the ball well and also improved at moving when away from the ball.

The NWC win is one of the largest victories this group of athletes have experienced in their high school career, Arlt stated, and he was proud of the quality game they played.

The back-to-back wins also provided the team with a break in competition, as they did not have to compete in Saturday’s consolation games. The Broncos returned to the hardwood on Feb. 13 to face Liberty, and a win would move them into the championship game on Feb. 17.

Arlt said Liberty would be a tough match up for the Broncos. The last time the teams met, Liberty earned an eight-point victory, but the Broncos were able to outscore them in the second half.

The keys to the game were blocking out, taking care of the ball and playing consistent for all four quarters. The Broncos have been plagued with struggling during one quarter of the game against good teams, and Arlt said they need to overcome and improve on confidence to earn the victory.

Arlt said he was looking for the team to have improved shooting, and for Nelson and Smith to build off of their prior game to have another strong performance.

If the Broncos faced a loss on Tuesday, Arlt said they would move into a game against Asotin or Davenport.

All of the District Tournament games are being held at West Valley High School. On Saturday, the All League teams will be announced before the championship game, with Bryce Kelly being named to the All League second team.


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