FIELD TWP- The bigger they are, the harder they fall.Never was that saying more true than last Friday in the North Woods boys’ home hoops opener, when the undersized Grizzlies put an oversized …
FIELD TWP- The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Never was that saying more true than last Friday in the North Woods boys’ home hoops opener, when the undersized Grizzlies put an oversized beatdown on the South Ridge Panthers, 88-61.
A pair of South Ridge skyscrapers, 6’10” Austin Josephson and 6’9” Slayton Stroschein, created a buzz in the capacity crowd during warmups, and teamed up with 6’4” Ethan Nelson, the trio appeared to present a big obstacle for the Grizzlies, whose tallest players are Luke Will and Kaden Ratai at 6’3”.
South Ridge won the opening tip and immediately dumped the ball in low to Stroschein, who scored an easy layup to put the Panthers up 2-0.
But when a long trey caromed off the rim on the Panthers’ next possession, the Grizzlies’ Louie Panichi grabbed the loose ball and streaked the length of the court for a layup to knot the score, and the game was on.
South Ridge called time out with the score tied at 13-13. Jared Chiabotti had dropped in seven points, including a trey, to keep North Woods in the thick of the battle, while Josephson and Stroschein had all the Panthers’ points.
From that point on, the Grizzlies’ performance on both ends of the court was exacting and unrelenting.
Ratai put the Grizzlies on top 15-13 with a nifty assist from Jonah Burnett on the Grizzlies’ first possession after the time out, and Burnett and Chiabotti scored on the next two trips down for a 19-15 lead. Burnett scored again on a 12-foot jumper to give North Woods a 25-19 advantage, and then stepped in front of a driving Josephson to draw a charge and send the big man to the bench with his third foul at the 7:50 mark.
At 6:07, Burnett started a streak in which he scored ten points in four consecutive possessions. Stepping to the line after being fouled on a shot, Burnett hit the first free throw and missed the second, but North Woods retained possession when South Ridge deflected the rebound out of bounds. Burnett was fouled shooting again and drained both charities this time for the three-point trip. The next trip down Burnett was fouled on a made bucket and converted the free throw. Then he was fouled again while shooting and went 1-for-2 at the line. On the fourth possession, Burnett dialed it up from three feet behind the arc for a trey that put North Woods up by a dozen, 35-23.
South Ridge closed the gap to seven, but North Woods stretched the lead to 16 on a three-ball by Panichi and another bucket by Burnett before South Ridge hit a late three to head into the half trailing the Grizzlies 46-33.
The Grizzlies’ swarming defense was outstanding as they built the lead, holding the Panthers’ twin towers to just four points in the final eight minutes of the half and limiting South Ridge to single shots with tenacious rebounding, which also contributed to the Grizzlies’ offensive surge.
South Ridge effectively worked the ball to their big men early in the second half, but North Woods countered with a barrage of threes from Brenden Chiabotti, Jared Chiabotti, and Will to go up 59-44.
Every time South Ridge scored, the Grizzlies answered and continued to build their lead. A goal tending call against the Panthers made the score 70-52, and Jared Chiabotti put the Grizzlies up 80-59 with a fast break score. Ratai and reserve Eli Smith each scored a pair of buckets down the stretch to finish out the 88-61 win, the first under the North Woods banner for new Head Coach Andrew Jugovich.
No statistic speaks better to the Grizzlies’ herculean effort than rebounding. Guards Panichi and jared Chiabotti, both listed at 5’10”, led North Woods in rebounding with nine apiece, just two shy of foot taller Josephson’s 11 for South Ridge, and the Grizzlies cleaned up on the glass, snagging 48 rebounds to the Panthers’ 37.
North Woods forced 23 turnovers that they turned into 28 points, while taking good care of the basketball themselves, committing only eight miscues.
Five Grizzlies scored in double figures, led by Burnett with 22. Jared Chiabotti was right on his heels with 21, Ratai had 12, Panichi had 11, and Will had 10.
“We want to outwork everybody and that showed tonight,” Jugovich said. “They were big, so we had to get them tired. I saved all my time outs until about 10 minutes left in the game because I feel our guys are conditioned enough with our rotation that they can run and gun with anybody in the section.”
Jugovich praised the play of Burnett.
“He is a really strong athletic kid, stronger than most people realize,” he said. “We’ve been working in practice that anytime he goes in he’s got to be strong, and tonight he showed his tenacity and his heart to take the big guys over and over again.”
The Grizzlies’ offense fed off their passing game, Jugovich noted.
“Our shooters shot well tonight, and I give a lot of credit to Brenden and Luke,” Jugovich said. “They were finding open guys, whether to take it to the basket and dish it to Kaden or finding the open guy in the corner or the wing. I’m really proud of them doing that tonight.”
The highlight of the Grizzlies’ 96-68 home win over Bigfork came early when senior Jared Chiabotti scored the 1,000th point of his career, and his seven-point journey to get there put his versatility on full display.
Chiabotti opened the Grizzlies’ scoring by taking a pass in the lane and maneuvering to the left baseline for a mid-range jumper. He inched two points closer to the mark when he came up with a loose ball on the Huskies’ end and streaked for a fast break layup. It was fitting that his defense set up the capper by stealing the ball from a Bigfork player. Pushing the ball downcourt, he pulled up behind the arc and drained a trey to achieve the milestone. Officials stopped play momentarily for his teammates, coaches, and fans to celebrate.
“I can’t be more proud of him,” Jugovich said. “A thousand points is a lot, and with everything he’s gone through with COVID seasons and small injuries and everything, I’m happy he can get it.”
But while the margin of victory was similar to that of the South Ridge game, the Grizzlies’ performance was markedly different. What appeared to be a rout in the making at 18-2 turned into a shockingly close affair aided in large part by North Woods turnovers and defensive lapses. Bigfork closed the gap to 39-30 at the half, and at the 12:48 mark of the second half the North Woods lead was down to 54-47.
But an NBA-range three-ball by Brenden Chiabotti seemed to wake the Grizzlies from their slumber, and when Burnett went on a tear by scoring ten points in about 90 seconds, North Woods had a 72-52 cushion and breezed from there.
Jugovich struck a distinctly different tone in his postgame comments.
“Probably 30 points of theirs at least came off our 30 to 40 turnovers. I give credit to Bigfork, they shot lights out, they played good defense. When we finally were able to break it down, that’s when we started pulling ahead, but it shouldn’t take until 10 minutes left in the game to start breaking it down.”
Jugovich said the Grizzlies’ lackluster performance was on him.
“We should have prepared more,” he said. “That comes from me. We didn’t prepare enough, and when we start off 18-2 and by halftime it’s 39-30, there’s stuff that we have to work on.”
Burnett scorched the nets for 37 points, and Jared Chiabotti drained 28, a combined two points shy of equaling Bigfork’s game total. Brendan Chiabotti hit for 12 in the Grizzlies’ win.
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