by Jason Herd
For the Pharos-Tribune
It has been a long, tough winter for everyone. School and work schedules left in shambles, endless travel advisories, brutal temperatures. And it’s not even February.
This winter has even expanded our vocabulary with terms like “polar vortex.” With another snow storm on the horizon, two Midwest Conference rivals managed to finally get on the court and do battle, despite the recent interruptions.
The all-time series between Pioneer and Caston in boys basketball was deadlocked at 50-50 entering Friday night’s matchup in Fulton. J.R. Howell’s Comets came away with a six-point victory over Pioneer in the Cass County Tournament semifinal on Dec. 4 and had won five of their last six games before stumbling at Rochester last Friday.
Despite both teams showing symptoms of limited floor time, Caston was able to stave off the Panthers with a 35-30 victory.
Caston moved to 8-6 and 3-1 in Midwest Conference play, while Pioneer dropped to 1-10 and 0-3.
Six-foot-3 sophomore Zach Mason took advantage of Caston’s size mismatch and scored six points in the first quarter, giving Pioneer a 6-3 lead. He struck again early in the second with an and-one in the paint, and it was apparent early that Caston had its hands full.
Caston freshman Eli Douglass nailed a 3 shortly after, followed by a layup by his older brother Quentin to give Caston the lead at 10-9 with 4:27 to play in the half. As cold as the weather outside, both teams struggled to hit open shots. But the Comets’ most important run came at the end of the second quarter, started by Dustin Offenberger’s layup and free throw with 39 seconds left. Jake Kingery then hit a leaning 12-foot jumper as time expired to give Caston a 17-13 lead at the half.
Pioneer answered to begin the third period, as sophomore Sam Kiser scored on a driving layup. Mason followed with a free throw and putback to tie the game at 18-18 with 1:28 to play. Brayton Jellison finished the period with a basket and two free throws, giving Caston the lead for good.
Eli Douglass opened the final quarter with a 3, extending the lead to seven. But Mason scored on consecutive baskets, including a putback off his own missed free throw to cut the lead to three. He finished with a game-high 18 points to lead all scorers.
Unfazed by the poor shooting around him, Eli Douglass drilled another 3 at the 4:33 mark. He led the Comets with nine points on the night.
Timely 3s were certainly the theme in the fourth, as J.P. Smith and freshman Keith Nies each connected from long range to keep the Panthers alive. But Quentin Douglass, Alex Howdeshell and Offenberger hit just enough free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
Caston hit just eight field goals in the game, and shot 26 percent. Pioneer was slightly better, going 13 of 42 for 31 percent.
“I expected us to be rusty and have some struggles shooting,” Howell said, “and with our offensive timing as well, and our conditioning I thought would be a factor and it showed. I thought the keys were going to be free throws, defense and turnovers. I knew with lack of practice that all of those things would factor into the game. With that being said I thought both teams played extremely hard and that is what rivalries are all about.”