sports blog by andy shenk

Lightning Zaps Hornets

In At The Game, Other on December 29, 2012 at 1:10 PM

The Appleton North gym is long, bright, and open. Built in the early 2000’s, it received a hardwood floor in 2005. The donors that made the project possible are honored on a board hanging above one corner of the facility. With space enough to comfortably fit four courts side-by-side, the central basketball court feels small, awkwardly flanked on one end by a floor-to-ceiling curtain, and on the the other by empty space.

Prior to tip-off of Thursday night’s boys varsity game between the Appleton North Lightning and the Green Bay Preble Hornets, several hundred fans sat scattered about the two opposing bleachers that might fit 1500 at maximum capacity.

The lack of size on both rosters was apparent in warm-ups, though North had an advantage. Their tallest player clocked in at a generous 6’5, Preble didn’t appear to have anyone above 6’3.

A few ticks before 7:30, the crowd stood for the national anthem. The announcer asked for men to remove their caps and invited everyone to join in singing. No one did sing, at least audibly, anyway, though a young boy a row down from me respectfully slipped off his wool hat.

The game began with two scores followed by two failed possessions. Green Bay, despite several turnovers, strung together eight more points and led, 10-2, with 4:26 left in the first quarter. The Lightning earned plenty of second-chance points, but could not finish inside.

The last four minutes of the quarter swung back in North’s favor – a 12-7 run brought them within three points. In the second quarter, the home team puts its offensive malaise in the paint behind it for good, sprinting to a 34-23 lead with about three minutes until halftime. Green Bay lost its rhythm on offense, settling for long-range attempts that failed to drop, while the Lightning scored on a variety of backdoor cuts to their big men and offensive putbacks.

As the half wound down, Preble’s frustration on offense grew. Point guard Olentda Bryant penetrated the defense often, but an inability to finish plagued him. Sharpshooter Conner Kraft also missed repeatedly from outside. A 21-point swing from the first four minutes of the game saw the visiting team trudge to halftime trailing by 13.

Through the first half of the third quarter, Preble hung tough. Bryant hit some tough layups and distributed effectively. Still, North’s bigs could not be contained, with Lukashewich a terror down low. At 47-33, four minutes to play in the third, Green Bay, though weak on defense, had managed to keep pace. Then, in a three-minute flash, the Lightning spun off a 13-2 run by forcing Preble into repeated turnovers. Hornets coach Rob Darrow looked on grimly as the quarter ran down, finally calling a timeout after his team snapped the tail end of the run with a field goal – 60-37, 0:38 to play in the third.

Bryant scored to close the quarter, 60-39, but his team would come no closer the rest of the way. In the fourth, North built its lead to as much as 27 points, before settling for an 82-58 victory.

Two moments stood out in the final period. With North’s lead at 27, Bryant went down hard trying to twist his way through the paint for a layup. Play continued at the other end, until Preble regained possession. Bryant, meanwhile, lay alone on the opposite baseline, clutching his right arm and side in agony. On the initial impact, coach Darrow glanced at his senior point guard, then turned away to follow play on the other end. When time was stopped, he looked back to Bryant and finally hustled over to the still-writhing player. The team trainer came over, too, and they eventually helped him to the end of the bench, where he sat by himself for several minutes. None of Bryant’s teammates said a word to him, as far as could be observed, until he scooted over a few seats for the final moments of the game.

A bit later, one of North’s rarely-used reserves came in to close out the game. Senior Trevor Carli had the full support of the home crowd, including the student section, which stood for the final two minutes of the game, though rather muted as they had been the rest of the game. When Carli took a shot to the nose and started bleeding, the arena finally came alive. The senior’s bloody predicament earned the laughter of his teammates on the bench and the amusement of the crowd. He came back in for a short while after cleaning up and nearly scored under the basket, but the bleeding returned and he settled back on the pine for the closing seconds.

Carli’s Lightning improve to 4-2 (1-1 in FVA play), while the Hornets fall to 4-7 (2-3 in FRC play).

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