Saturday, January 22, 2011

Amazing comeback for Grinnell, great results abound for The System

Anyone who even casually reads this blog knows of my love for The System and the teams, coaches and players who run it. I wouldn't say I live and die with the results of their games, because that would be silly, yet I do care probably more than I should about the outcomes.

It makes writing about losses difficult. Fortunately, today isn't one of those times, as the past couple of days provided some of the most wonderful successes of the season for some of my favorite squads. For the first time I can remember, each team that I track that still is using this style exclusively is coming off a victory or two. Or, in the case of the NAIA women's team at Olivet Nazarene, eight of them.

Still, perhaps no story from the weekend is as impressive as the original System team, the NCAA Division III men's team at Grinnell. The Pioneers lost a tough one on the road Friday night, losing 119-108 at Beloit, and had another matchup Saturday against Lawrence, which came into this game with a 7-2 record in the Midwest Conference. One of those losses had come at Grinnell, so I certainly thought Coach David Arseneault and his team could sweep the season series with the Vikings.

Those hopes were diminished somewhat by halftime, when Lawrence took a 60-35 lead into the break. Lawrence shot 71 percent from the field in the first half and appeared on its way to keep the Pioneers winless away from home in the conference. The second half started promisingly enough for Grinnell, with Griffin Lentsch making a 3-pointer, and when the Vikings failed to get the ball across half-court on two consecutive possessions, Lentsch made another from long range to cut the lead to 19.

Just maybe ...

Well, I got called away from the computer and missed the rest of the game. I'm still kicking myself. Using that momentum gained from the quick start, and a lack of depth from a Lawrence team that went into double overtime the night before in a 89-89 victory over Knox, the Pioneers continued to stay after it. Still, the Vikings' lead was 89-75 with 7:55 remaining in the game, or should I say, remaining in regulation (plot spoiler!).

Grinnell then went on an 18-3 run, highlighted by four consecutive 3-pointers from Patrick Maher, Dominique Bellamy, Matt Chalupa and Lentsch. That made the score 89-85, and a couple of minutes later, Garrett Nitz and Matt Skelly each converted two shots at the free throw line to tie the score at 92.

After the lead changed hands a couple of times, Kale Knisley put the Pioneers ahead 97-96 with a layup with 1:20 left. Lawrence's Conor Klusendorf was fouled with 11 seconds on the clock, and after missing the first, he made the second free throw to force overtime.

It was all Grinnell in the extra period, and really, it should have been. By that point, all the Vikings' starters must have been exhausted. Tyler Crisman ended up playing 43 minutes (he played 44 against Knox) and Erik Borresen finished with 42 (47 against Knox). Lentsch opened overtime with a jumper to give the Pioneers the lead for good, and Brian McManamy followed that with a 3 to make it 102-97.

Lawrence got within three at one point but wouldn't get any closer, and Skelly finished off the incredible rally with a pair of free throws in the final seconds to make the final 112-103, Grinnell. Wow.

Lentsch led the way with 26 points, including six 3-pointers, and Chalupa added 17 for the Pioneers (9-6, 4-6 MWC). Maher scored 13, followed by Skelly (12 points), McManamy (11) and Bellamy (11). Maher and Bellamy led the defense with four steals apiece.

Here are the other numbers:

- Attempted 92 shots
- Attempted 53 3-pointers
- Rebounded 28 percent of the misses on offense
- Forced 31 turnovers
- Attempted 40 more shots than Lawrence (8-7, 7-3)

Klusendorf had 35 points for the Vikings and Borresen finished with 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists.

Grinnell returns home for a pair of games this week, hosting Monmouth on Wednesday and Lake Forest on Saturday. The best of luck to Coach A and his team, here's hoping they can keep it going.

Speaking of huge second halves ...

Coach Doug Porter and Olivet Nazarene were unstoppable in the final 20 minutes Saturday against Trinity International. The 22nd-ranked Tigers, who led only 35-31 at the break, put up 83 points following halftime to win going away on the road, 118-73, their eighth consecutive victory.

The seventh was one of the games I missed with my little hiatus. ONU (17-4) beat Calumet College of St. Joseph 105-91 Thursday night in a game that really wasn't that close. I watched a good part of the second half and Coach Porter's team was in solid control throughout.

Over the span of those two games, point guard Danielle Tolbert totaled 40 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists (only three turnovers) and nine steals to lead the Tigers. Lexie Heinold finally cooled off a bit in Saturday's W, making 1 of 9 from beyond the arc after shooting 32-for-64 in the previous seven games.

Here are the rest of the numbers:

- Attempted 96 shots
- Attempted 49 3-pointers (made 15 of 26 in the second half)
- Rebounded 38 percent of the misses on offense
- Forced 30 turnovers (20 steals)
- Attempted 27 more shots than Trinity International (13-11)

ONU returns to the friendly confines of McHie Arena on Tuesday to play Saint Xavier, one of the top teams in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Tip is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST.

The NCAA Division II women's team at Glenville State continues to get back on track, as well, winning its fourth consecutive game Thursday night by beating Alderson Broaddus 93-67 on the road in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Tenisha Wilson had 19 points and six steals for the Pioneers (12-5, 10-2 WVIAC), and Tiffany Huffman added 14 points. Autumn Davis also had six steals, and Miranda Reed filled up her stat sheet with five points, nine assists and five steals.

Here are the other figures:

- Attempted 79 shots
- Attempted 25 3-pointers
- Rebounded 39 percent of the misses on offense
- Forced 32 turnovers
- Attempted 13 more shots than the the Battlers (1-13, 1-10)

Coach Bunky Harkleroad and his bunch have a bit of a break in their schedule, next taking the court Thursday at Fairmont State. The best of luck to Glenville State.

Those wonderful Silver Streaks at Galesburg (Ill.) HS, the girls' team, got back on track in a huge way Saturday after a two-game losing streak, the second one a heartbreaking 51-48 loss at Rock Island that dropped coach Evan Massey's team into a tie for second in the Western Big 6, a half-game behind Rock Island.

To complete their Winter Classic, the Streaks played a doubleheader Saturday, hosting Normal U-High and No. 9 Champaign Centennial at John Thiel Gymnasium. Galesburg is ranked seventh in the state 3A poll, so the matchup with Centennial was a good one.

The Streaks won the opener against U-High 66-56, making 14 3-pointers in the process. The nightcap was even more exciting, particularly the opening 16 minutes, or as Coach Massey posted on his blog: "... Our first half was as good as we have ever played."

The score was 33-16 after one period and 55-36 at halftime, thanks in large part of 22 offensive rebounds -- IN THE FIRST HALF!

The Chargers (20-3) made their run, eventually getting to 69-65, but the Streaks (20-5) made 16 of 17 at the line in the fourth quarter to hold for an 84-74 victory. Point guard Tai Peachey had 10 assists and made all four of her free throws, and Jamie Johnson had 10 rebounds and missed only one of her nine free throws.

Great bounce back after two tough losses. Here is Coach Massey's description from his blog:

Coach Massey: "I think the key ingredients with this group is their humility and loyalty. Because of their humility, they accept personal responsibility for losses. They have an amazing desire to improve. I am really fortunate to work with a group like this."

And they're fortunate to have him as the coach.

Galesburg gets back at it Thursday night at home against United Township, which is tied for second in the conference with the Streaks. Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m. EST.

The boys' team at Eisenhower HS in Blue Island, Ill., won again Friday night, beating conference foe Argo 88-75. Here are the numbers, as reported by coach Mike Curta:

- Attempted 107 shots (goal is 80)
- Attempted 58 3-pointers (54 percent of total shots, goal is 40 percent)
- Rebounded 51 percent of the misses on offense (goal is 35 percent)
- Forced 29 turnovers
- Attempted 48 more shots than Argo (Wow!)

Here is Coach Curta's report: "Just cannot seem to wear an opponent down when they are on the verge of cracking ..... we continue to let teams off the hook and give them life when we stop the games due to our fouling. Kind of goes like this: we build a lead, lose our edge a bit, take some silly fouls, and as will happen ... the opposition finds some life and comes roaring back. To our kids credit they found a way to get the win, and have been doing so in our last three games."

There are worse things, right? It appears the schedule has the Cardinals (10-10, 5-3 South Suburban Red Conference) next playing Thursday at Oak Lawn. Best of luck to Coach Curta and his team.

At North Shore HS in Glen Head, N.Y., the girls' team keeps on keepin' on, winning its past two games by an average of 22 points. Perhaps even more impressive is the number of shots coach Keith Freund's team is putting up: in the two games this week, the Vikings totaled 130 and 139 shots! Seriously. For a 32-minute high school girls' game. This includes a combined total of 115 3-pointers in those games.

In the first one, a 74-56 victory at Seaford, Amanda Johansen went off for 17 points, 23 rebounds, five assists and eight steals, and she followed up that effort by finishing with 17 points, 17 rebounds, eight steals, eight blocks and seven assists when North Shore beat Great Neck North 85-69 at home Saturday.

Coach Freund's team is 9-2 overall and 6-0 in the Conference A-III out on Long Island. Best of luck to the Vikings the rest of the way.

Finally, I wanted to check back in with the women's team at Jackson (Mich.) Community College, where coach Andy Hoaglin is in his first season with The System. The Jets put up some more ridiculous numbers Friday night in a 101-55 victory over Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College.

According to Coach Hoaglin, the Jets (8-10, 3-3 Michigan Community College Athletic Association) took 150 shots and rebounded nearly 50 percent of their misses on offense. Great stuff.

Caitlyn Owens led the way with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Nicole Wurster had nine points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Congratulations to Jackson CC, and I wish Coach Hoaglin and his team success for the rest of the season.

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