by Clyde Hughes
For the Pharos-Tribune
First-year Pioneer coach Austin Cowley had hoped for better but admitted after the Panthers 71-41 loss to Lafayette Jeff in their season opener Wednesday at the Crawley Center that the Bronchos' pressure was hard to contend with.
The shorter Jeff team applied a fullcourt press that forced 10 first-quarter turnovers — 14 in the first half — that made it difficult for Pioneer to right the ship, trailing 36-20 at the break.
“We lost every single minute off our varsity last year,” said Cowley. “The guys we have with varsity minutes were the 11th and 12th guys who are now our one and two guys. This was a good experience for us all around.”
Pioneer’s team of newbies faced a withering Lafayette Jeff press that allowed the Bronchos guard and tip balls away from Pioneer dribblers, leaving the Panthers facing a 25-5 deficit after the first quarter.
“That’s the most pressure we’ll see on our schedule,” Cowley said. “Our next game is against Caston in the Cass County Tournament. This game gets us ready for that. Obviously we wanted to play a little bit better and not lose by 30. I would say that height will give us some advantage throughout the year.”
Brad Biggs came off the bench for Pioneer to score eight of his team’s 15 points in the quarter as the Panther seemed to find a solution to the Bronchos pressure in the second quarter, outscoring Jeff 15-11 in the second period.
“Biggs is a kid who didn’t play last year,” Cowley said. “He would have been a junior on a very senior-heavy team. I’m glad he came out this year. He’s not as far along as some of the other kids because of that year off but he’s going to give you that kind of effort night in and night out. He’s going to Navy, so he knows what it means to work hard and he’s not going to back down from a challenge. He came in and gave us a lift.”
Whatever momentum Pioneer had at the end of the second quarter, though, dissipated as the Bronchos ratcheted up their defensive pressure to race out to a 18-2 run over the first five minutes of the third quarter (54-22) before taking their foot off the pedal a bit.
“We have little size and a lot of hustle,” said senior Trevor Mays, who scored 10 points. “We worked hard to get shots; the guys who are supposed to be taking shots. That’s what we do in practice what you saw tonight.”
Jeff’s Darian Collins led all scorers with 18 points followed by Quarin Hood’s 16.
The Bronchos led by as many as 34 points (66-32) before Jeff coach Scott Radeker started to clear the bench.
“Shooting is going to be the strength of this team,” Radeker said. “We have three or four guys who can get hot for us at any given time. Our rebounding was good. It wasn’t last week in our scrimmage so that was a little bit of a surprise. Overall, these guys played a lot like I expected them to play, so it was a good night for us.”
The Panthers play the Comets next Wednesday at the Berry Bowl.