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Pirates shoot better, but one bucket short against Loggers

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POLSON — It wasn't the best of weeks for the Polson Pirate basketball team. The Polson boys struggled in a 60-50 win that they really should have dominated in Eureka Tuesday, then lost an important conference game at home to Libby 41-40 on Saturday night.

It's true that Eureka is a long road trip and that the Pirates were short-handed Saturday with Tim Rausch away for a baseball tournament. Both could be blamed for the lack of consistency in their play, but Polson's coaching staff isn't making excuses.

"We shot so bad (in Eureka). We were just flat," Polson head coach Brad Pluff said. "And Saturday night, we had chances to win."

In Eureka, the Pirates were sluggish off the bus and fell behind 8-7 in the first quarter. They scored 18 in the second half, thanks to four three-pointers — Kyle Bagnell hit two of the treys. 

Then Polson turned up the defensive pressure in the third quarter to go on a 13-5 run and build a 38-29 lead heading into the fourth. 

"Defense was the key with a half-court trap and got some easy buckets off it," Pluff explained. 

But the lead could have been even bigger if Polson would have hit some free throws. The Pirates, who normally hit 69 percent of their free throws, were 0-for-6 from the line in the third quarter and 1-for-12 from the stripe through three quarters.

They picked it up in the fourth, though, going 10-for-16 from the line as Polson put up 22 points to secure the 60-50 win.

Bagnell led Polson with 18 points, while Rausch had 17 points and three assists. Point guard Vince DiGiallonardo netted 13, plus earned nine rebounds and had four steals.

Forward Derrick Rathe had a big night in the paint, hauling in a team-high 15 rebounds to go with three points. Rathe's effort led Polson to its highest rebounding night of the year, with a team total of 47 boards.

"Rathe didn't score a lot but 15 rebounds is a big night for anybody," coach Pluff said. "Vince (DiGiallonardo) played well and was 3-for-4 from the line, along with a couple threes. Kyle (Bagnell) had a steady 18 and Rausch had a steady 13 ... and we just didn't play well. I don't know how they do it, but that's a good thing."

Pluff said they'd take the win, but it wasn't pretty.

"We seemed flat up there. I think we were lucky to win," the coach said.

The Pirates shot much better on Saturday night, but the Loggers shot a little better.

Polson's strategy was to use a zone to pack it in against Libby post Alex Cislo and force the Logger shooters — mainly Kelly May and Colton Cannon — to hit outside buckets against the Pirates' extended defense. That plan worked until Cannon started to connect from outside the arc, leading to a game-high 17 points.

"Cannon hit some big threes. We knew going in that he could do that. We tried to make sure guys were out on him and May, but we were slow rotating out on them at times ... Cannon made us pay," Pluff said.

After a 23-23 halftime, Polson came out in the third with a man-to-man defense to get out on Libby's shooters. The Pirates built a two-point lead (36-34) but Libby retook the lead in the fourth with a patient offense that ate up much of the clock. The Loggers scored seven in the final frame and held Polson to four points, all by Pirate post Tyler Krell who hit a bucket and two free throws.

Polson did have one last opportunity to win the game. Trailing 41-40 with 10 seconds left, DiGiallonardo had a good look but his 12-footer from the baseline wouldn't go down.

DiGiallonardo led Polson with 14 points and four assists, while Krell finished with a double-double 12 points and 11 rebounds. Bagnell saw a lot of defensive pressure but scored six, while Cody Fischer started in place of Rausch, scoring five points and hauling in 10 boards.

"We're averaging about 20 points in the fourth, but they are so patient with the ball and so disciplined. You don't get a lot of opportunities and there's not a lot of chances to score when they hold onto the ball for two to three minutes," coach Pluff said.

Polson did shoot better, hitting almost 30 percent from the floor. But, the Pirates only got nine free throw attempts, hitting six of them. That's where Rausch may have been missed the most.

"Tim's so aggressive to the basket. And we would have gotten to the line more," coach Pluff noted. "No excuse, though. We had a chance to win. We had a pretty good look at the end but it just didn't go down."

Libby's man-to-man defense and deliberate pace on offense was a potent combination that worked on Saturday.

"They took the air out of the ball for us. That frustrated the boys a bit. We're used to getting up and down, but we'll learn from it," Pluff said.

On the positive side, his bench — notably Fischer and Zach Camel — got some good minutes on a very big stage, which is perfect preparation for even bigger games down the road. 

The Pirates, now 6-3 overall and 2-1 in conference, will be back at it this week with a pair of games. After playing Flathead in Kalispell Tuesday, Polson hosts Whitefish on Saturday.

"That's a big one for us," Pluff said of the conference game against the Bulldogs on Saturday. "It's so tough to win on the road, and we've already lost one at home. We beat (Whitefish) up there, but we have to take care of them at home."



Polson 60, Eureka 50
Polson 7 18 13 22–60
Eureka 8 16 5 21–50

POLSON - Vince DiGiallonardo 13, Kyle Bagnell 18, Zach Camel 3, Tim Rausch 17, Derrick Rathe 3, Tyler Krell 6.
EUREKA - Kade Davis 2, Jesse Thompson 4, Andrew Sanders 2, Ryan Holder 11, Tanner Blankers 15, Andrew Derby 2, Josh Soderling 2, Caleb Curtis 2, Bryton Guckenberg 10.


Libby 41, Polson 40
Libby 9 14 11 7–41
Polson 8 15 13 4–40

LIBBY - T.J. Benson 4, Cree Maloney 2, Kelly May 4, Garrett Craig 3, Colton Cannon 17, Alex Cislo 11.
POLSON - Vince DiGiallonardo 14, Kyle Bagnell 6, Zach Camel 3, Cody Fischer 5, Tyler Krell 12.

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