Dialing up the pressure
Wildcats defense emerging as key weapon
Twice in the last four games, the defense of Verona has stepped up to lead the Wildcats (9-4) to victory.
Against Billings, the Wildcats found themselves down 17 in the third quarter and rallied to a 58-52 win. And on Wednesday, Verona trailed by one point after the first quarter and coasted to a 73-60 victory.
“We focus a lot in practice on getting turnovers,” said Eddie Gutierrez, junior guard. “Coach [Brad Stewart] tells me and Anthony [Martinez] that we’re the Energizer bunnies of the team and we got to jump start things on defense. When you get a stop or steal, it makes you want to do it again and play harder.”
The Wildcats also turned in one of their best shooting performances of the season.
“Jasper really took it to us in the first quarter, especially on the boards,” Stewart said. “I think the second quarter was key when we held them to 9 points after giving up 19 in the first period. Then we got the game to an up-and-down pace, which we like, and I was proud of all seven guys that we put on the floor. I can’t tell you who scores what, but I can tell you what each guy did to help win this game.”
The Wildcats’ execution was exemplified by final possessions in the second and third quarters.
In each period, Verona, out of timeouts, ran a set play and executed buzzer-beating shots.
“As a coach, you look like a genius when those plays work,” Stewart said. “The one in the second quarter, Kolton [Pinkly] ran to perfection and hit an open shot. The one in the third was set for a man defense and Jasper switched to zone. I credit our kids for getting to the right spot and Caleb [Hillhouse] knocked down a tough 15-foot shot. Still, we are showing growth there.”
Stewart praised the work of Chris Werner, Dominic Fernandez and Austin Valdez, who all have seen their roles on both ends of the floor increase.
“I felt like we were the most complete as a team tonight,” Stewart said. “It started with our defense and Chris, Austin and Dom helped feed that and also hit shots. We need that every night from them to give us balance.”
Stewart said the team is still playing in spurts and he would like to see that extend to whole games.
“We’re kind of up and down instead of just being steady at times,” Stewart said. “Tonight, Eddie helped get us started and we raised our level of play. I want to see us start at a high level and stay there for four quarters.”
Scoring for the Wildcats: Hillhouse, 25; Pinkly, 20; Gutierrez, 17; Valdez, 8; and Martinez, 3.
Verona played Wright County Homeschool in the semifinal on Thursday at Miller. Results were not available at presstime.
The Wildcats will play on Saturday at Miller for either third or first. Game time is TBA.