by Jason Herd
For the Pharos-Tribune
With two-thirds of the season in the books, most high school basketball teams have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses by now.
For the Caston Comets, the most indicative factor has to be their success at home. The Comets are 9-1 when playing in their newly renovated gymnasium, with their only loss coming to 4A power Lowell in the Caston Shootout championship.
Their weakness? Not playing at home. JR Howell’s squad has struggled away from the friendly confines, with a road record of 1-5 entering Friday night’s contest at Argos. Matching up against a quality Dragon team at 8-5 would be a solid test for the young Comets.
Despite coming off a lopsided loss to county rival Triton last Tuesday, Argos has certainly turned things around this year. With six regular season games remaining, they’ve already matched their win total from the previous three seasons combined.
Another strong second quarter output seemed to put the Comets in the driver’s seat. But the Dragons used their size advantage down the stretch, and their devastating fourth quarter run downed Caston, 63-49.
Senior guard Dominic Cataldo paced Argos out of the gate with 11 first quarter points. After Quentin Douglass’ 3 gave Caston a 10-5 lead, an 8-1 Dragon run ended the opening period. Argos extended that 13-11 lead with a jumper by Taylor Ogle to begin the second. Dustin Offenberger scored on a three-point play from an inbound layup, followed by a steal and layup by Douglass, giving the Comets the lead at 16-15. The duo wasn’t done there. Douglass sliced the Argos defense with another driving layup, followed by another Offenberger inbound hoop. The 11-0 run culminated with Douglass going high off the glass for a bucket at the 2:38 mark. The senior finished the period with eight points, and Caston held a 24-20 lead at half.
The lead went to seven after Brayton Jellison hit a baseline jumper to open the third. The sophomore scored 13 points on the night. Douglass continued to attack the lane and get to the foul line. Consecutive jumpers by Ogle tied the game at 28-28 midway through. Limited to only a defensive factor in the first half, Argos’ size began paying dividends on the offensive side in the second. Six-foot-4 senior Casey Johnson shook free for two layups inside. But a big Offenberger 3 at the 1:25 mark gave Caston some much needed breathing room, as they held a 37-33 lead after three quarters. Offenberger finished with 12 points.
As it would turn out, Johnson’s heroics were just getting underway. Nearly invisible for the first two periods, he scored the first five points of the fourth and gave Argos back the lead at 38-37. He scored all of his 16 points in the second half. Douglass spun in the lane and scored, giving Caston’s its final lead at 42-40. He scored a game-high 20 points in the contest.
Led by Ogle and Johnson, Argos would go on to outscore Caston 20-4 over the next four minutes. Ogle nailed two crucial pullup jumpers during the surge and finished with 17 points for the game. The Dragons were led by Cataldo’s 19.
“I thought that was the best we’d played on both ends through three quarters,” Howell said. “I think the biggest difference tonight was their experience. That group has played together for awhile and have taken their lumps over the years, but they’re finishing strong now. It’s disappointing to give up 30 points in the fourth after being in control for most of the game. We just fell asleep the last couple minutes.”
Caston (9-7) hosts Maconaquah Thursday.