by Beau Wicker
Pioneer’s boys basketball team has visions of a deep run in this year’s tournament.
The Panthers had a most auspicious start against arch-rival Caston on Tuesday.
Led by a classic performance by senior point guard Brandon Scruggs, the Class A No. 4 Panthers crushed the Comets 67-44 in the opening game of the West Central Sectional.
Scruggs scored a career-high 36 points to lead the Panthers (18-3). He was unconscious from 3-point range, shooting 8 of 11 from behind the arc for the game.
“Honestly I’ve never shot like that in my life, but lately I’ve been hitting more 3s than usual,” he said. “Then [Tuesday] I don’t even know how to explain it, I don’t know what happened.”
Scruggs was 9 of 13 from the field, 10 of 14 from the foul line and hit his final six 3-pointers of contest.
Not only did the Panthers have a player in “the zone,” they suffocated the Comets (15-7) with their man-to-man defense in the first half.
Pioneer held Caston to 4 of 16 shooting from the field with seven turnovers in the half to jump out to a 33-9 lead at the break.
“Our whole team played great defense,” Scruggs said. “It’s probably one of the best defensive performances we had of the year.
“So we were really pleased with our defense, and it seemed like we moved the ball around really well on offense and we were hitting shots.”
Scruggs hit a 3 on the run that gave the Panthers a 44-16 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Comets finally got some offense going and ended the third with a 16-5 run to get to within 49-32 entering the fourth.
But Scruggs opened the final quarter with a 3-pointer for his 30th point of the game. Matt Dorris followed with a basket in the post, and the Comets would get no closer than 18 the rest of the way.
Scruggs added a final highlight-play when he fired a crosscourt behind-the-back pass to Carter Skaggs for a slam dunk that made it 59-39 with 4:00 to go.
Carter Skaggs had 18 points for in the win. Dorris added eight.
“I was very surprised by the final score,” Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs said. “Caston’s a nice team, a solid team. They won 15 games this year.
“We felt fortunate we were able to beat them the first two times and we knew it was going to be a dogfight this time, and fortunately for us, Brandon Scruggs has a Pioneer jersey on. He was ready on both ends of the floor. I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s a kid that’s put a lot of time into basketball. He was amazing.”
Quentin Douglass led the Comets with 19 points. Corey Moss had 11 on three 3-pointers, and Dustin Offenberger scored six on a pair of treys. Daniel Scales chipped in five points and Jake Howdeshell added three.
“[Douglass is] a solid player and we had a hard time guarding him,” Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs said. “He gets going right, he does a good job finishing around the basket. A big key for us was really trying to limit their 3-point shooters and I think that was the biggest key in the game.”
That and the performance by Scruggs.
“He was a man on a mission and he just kind of put us on his back and carried us,” Pat Skaggs said.
Pioneer will face North White (10-11) at 6 p.m. Friday night in a semifinal game.
Host West Central upset Tri-County 56-54 in overtime. The Trojans (6-15) will face South Newton (2-17) in Friday’s later semifinal.