ROYAL CENTER — Since Nov. 30, Caston and Pioneer have gone 19-2. Both teams entered Friday’s contest in Royal Center with unblemished conference records, and once again the victor would be in the driver's seat for a Midwest Conference title.
The contrasts in these two quality basketball teams are many. The Comets are small, but they make up for it with pressure defense and lethal waves of perimeter shooting. The Panthers are a deep team, and they use a routine size advantage well on both ends of the floor.
However, fans of both these rival squads would agree that the common denominator is hustle. But that Pioneer size advantage was the key factor in Friday’s game, along with some deadly outside shooting of their own. The Class A No. 10 Panthers outgunned the Comets 63-45, and now stand alone atop the conference standings at 4-0.
Jake Howdeshell got the Comets (10-5, 4-1) started with a 3 just 30 seconds into the game. But consecutive baskets by Mitchell Williams and Matt Dorris would give Pioneer (11-3, 4-0) its first and final lead of the game at the 4:58 mark of the first quarter. Carter Skaggs scored seven points in the period, including five straight to give the Panthers a 14-6 advantage. Howdeshell answered with another bomb as the quarter came to a close, drawing the deficit to five.
Pioneer thrived all night on runs,, routinely shutting the door on any Comet hopes of closing the gap. The second period started with a 7-0 run, which culminated with a cold-blooded 3 by Brandon Scruggs at the 5:43 mark. After free throws by Quentin Douglass and a Dustin Offenberger 3, the Panthers went on an 8-0 run to kick the lead up to 15 at the 1:49 mark. Offenberger answered again with another 3 as the period ended, keeping his team within striking distance at 32-19. The sophomore guard certainly did his part, drilling four 3s in the game and finishing with 12 points for Caston.
After a Dorris basket with 4:42 left in the third, the Panthers seemed to be in total control at 38-21. But, Caston put together an 8-0 run of its own, including back-to-back 3s by Howdeshell and Offenberger. Free throws by Douglass brought Caston to within nine to start the fourth quarter. He led the Comets with 13 points.
A string of Panther turnovers led to consecutive buckets by Douglass cut the lead to eight at the 6:00 mark. Scruggs answered with a long 3, ending the brief Comet run. He finished with a game-high 23 points in the game, including 11 in the fourth quarter. Moss brought the Comets as close as they would come, nailing a 3 to cut the lead to eight again. Following a technical foul on the Comet bench, Carter Skaggs hit the free throws, then scored quickly off a steal to extend the lead to 14 with just over two minutes to play. He finished with 18 points in the contest. The Panther lead ballooned to 20 after Alex Boonstra scored with :18 to go.
“Caston is a great team, so I knew they’d make a run at us,” Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs said. “We go as our seniors go. Stephen Whitlock and Matt Dorris played great defensively tonight and Brandon Scruggs hit some huge shots.”