A Wild(cat) Opening Night

Prologue
Opening night of Czar Season 8 takes me to Columbia Heights.  The Hylanders get a tough opener as #9AAA Waconia comes calling to start this season.  Plenty of early season scouts in the building as Prior Lake, Concordia, Hopkins and Richfield were all looking on.  Hamline also checking out the talent.  For some unknown and strange reason, I pass up on the usual pizza and just go with Snickers.  As the night went on, that was definitely NOT a good decision.  But I don't pass up on 20 ounces of Pepsi on opening night. 

Beverage Consumption Counter: 44 ounces (1 day, 1 game, 2 scrimmages added on)

Pepsi: 32 ounces
Sprite: 12 ounces

Hot Dog Counter: 1

Song of the Day: Linus and Lucy (Peanuts Theme) - Vince Guaraldi

Game Time
Waconia comes out in a trance and can't handle the Columbia Heights press.  Tak Anwey with a bomb and a bucket for a 7-0 Columbia Heights lead.  Timeout Waconia at the 14:13 mark.  The hits keep on coming for Heights.  Jerrett Baptiste with a free throw, layup off a turnover and a steal for bonus free throws.  That was after being very active on the glass early.  Kick out to soph Khadeem Thomas for 3.  Waconia starting to break the pressure but they miss a bunch of bunnies.  Montroy Scott with the pull up jumper and then a deep 3 and the Hylanders lead explodes to 34-10 with 3:30 to go in the half.  Oliver Smith converts some easy buckets for Waconia late in the half and the Wildcats close the gap to 38-19 at the half.  Waconia with 9 layups and 1 late free throw.  No outside points, 12 turnovers by 1 count and almost that many missed layups. 

Anwey makes 2 free throws to start the half and then its all Waconia.  A high ball screen leads to a Joey Kortuem 3.  Then a skip pass for another Kortuem triple and he'll complete the trifecta from straight away after a Heights timeout.  Roch Whittaker involved inside during this run.  He goes to the pretty spin and lefty finish and adds another layup.  Heights has to take another timeout as the lead is down to 43-38 with 13:20 left.  A pair of missed free throws and Waconia capitalizes with a Josh Rands 3 (foreshadowing).  An Anway putback breaks a 4 minute drought from the field and stops a 23-3 Waconia run over 4:40.  Then a big moment as Baptiste gets called for his 4th foul on a charge with 11:17 to play.  Heights promptly turns it over and Whittaker converts another layup to bring Waconia all the way back to even at 45.

Cole Peters back in the game with 4 fouls (an early 4th in the 2nd half) and his layup just inside 8 to play gives Waconia their 1st lead of the game at 49-48.  Avery Talton would pick up his 4th just before that and coach Hayes would flip flop them most of the rest of the way.  Smith layup at the 5:05 mark for a 54-52 Waconia lead as no one pulls away.  Ernest Dixon's bucket at 3:57 allows Baptiste to come back in the game.  Heights looked lost on offense without him but they appeared to weather the storm as they were only -1 during that 7:20 stretch that he sat.

Baptiste has an offensive board kicked out to him, he gets the extra hop (almost never called and always a travel) and bangs home a big 3.  Kortuem counters with bonus free throws.  Baptiste with a man sized rebound but misses 2 critical free throws with 2:24 left.  That fouls out Peters.  Heights gets the ball back with a 2 point lead and spreads but a big time blocked shots gets Waconia the ball back.  Smith knocks down a right elbow jumper on a post kickout to knot the score at 60 with 1:15 left.  Heights holds and takes timeout with 45.8 left.  They hold for 1 and a tick-tack call on Talton with 3.7 left sends Scott to the line for bonus free throws.  He misses the front end.  Waconia rebound and takes timeout with 2 ticks left.  They get a decent chance on a baseball pass but can't get a shot off.  Off to overtime tied at 60.

Scott starts the scoring with a drive for 2.  Kortuem counters with another 3 at 2:55 of the OT.  Baptiste misses a tough free throw line pull up and then a pair of missed Heights free throws.  Waconia gives it right back after missing 2 freebies of their own.  Heights misses and Waconia takes time with 1:40 left, the ball and a 1 point lead.  You expect spread but Rands buries a no no no, great shot 3 with 1:20 left.  The Wildcats never lead by more than 2 before that shot.  Heights misses and the rest is free throws.  Waconia comes back from 24 down in the 1st half (and 21 down at the start of the 2nd half) to win 72-64 in overtime.

Post Game
Columbia Heights is 0-1 with the loss.  Tak Anwey with 16 points, Montroy Scott with 15.  Jarrett Baptiste with only 11 thanks in part to foul trouble and he approached double digit boards.  But he really wasn't a factor in the halfcourt game.  He wasn't going to post up against the big Waconia front line.  To counter that we didn't see him step away and try to take those guys off the bounce all that often.  Soph Khadeem Thomas with 3 important 3s off the bench.  Heights only has 1 more home game before the new year.  They go on the road for 4 straight, come home for 1 and then play in the Tartan holiday tournament.  Once they couldn't score and get in the press, plus a little moment shift, the entire complexion of the game changed.

Waconia is 1-0 with the win.  Oliver Smith with 18 points and a handful of blocks.  Joey Kortuem with 17 points all after halftime.  He made 4 3s on the night.  Roch Whittaker with a productive 12 points off the bench.  The schedule only ramps up from here.  They go to Prior Lake and St. Michael-Albertville for their next 2.  Then a road game at Richfield before their 1st 2 home games against Shakopee and Hopkins and a trip to Chanhassen.  All of that before the tough Eden Prairie holiday tournament.  Waconia used 11 guys in the 1st half and it didn't help, that's how ugly that half was.  Despite a overwhelming size advantage, the Wildcats didn't rebound well.  They'll have to dominate the glass to be successful.  Getting after their guards can really bother them too as shown in the 1st half.  Expect a team like Orono to throw some serious heat at them.

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