By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
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Class 2B La Conner learned that lesson the hard way against the short-handed 1B Red Devils, falling 49-47 on a breakaway layup by Josiah Greene with 25 seconds to play at the Crush in the Slush tournament at Port Townsend High School.
Greene picked the pocket of the Braves top player, senior guard Hudson Zavala, just outside of the La Conner 3-point line and raced down the court for the right-handed lay-in.
It was a fitting capper for Greene, who had made at least two similar steal and breakaway plays earlier in the game, only to miss out on scores when his layups wouldn't drop.
With 25 seconds to set up their final play, the Braves were unable to get a good look at the hoop, instead relying on an ungainly Zavala heave from just right of the top of the 3-point arc that clanged off the rim at the buzzer.
La Conner had opened the game, much of which was played at a pace resembling a horse race, much better than they finished it.
The Braves ended the first quarter with a 14-0 run to take an 18-7 lead into the second.
An already shorthanded Red Devils squad saw point guard Abraham Venske hobble off the court clutching his ankle with 4:30 left in the opening quarter.
Neah Bay was already missing Tyler McCaulley, out with an ankle injury suffered against Sequim, and Jongi Claplanhoo, who also has an injured ankle.
“Continuity is a key for any team, but having so many guys out right now, different guys every week, is really affecting us,” Red Devils coach Gerrad Brooks said.
“But what has been a constant for us is defense. Right now, with the guys we have at practice, we are focusing on defense and getting those stops when we need them.”
Venske would return to the game in the second quarter, but his ability to lead the Red Devils' offense was missed during the La Conner run.
Zavala paced the Braves with 10 point in that first frame, driving to the hoop and cashing in on multiple layups.
Neah Bay's scoring drought stretched to nearly eight minutes before Zeke Greene knocked down a basket to stop the run and pull the Red Devils back within 10 at 19-9.
Venske checked back in with 4:10 left in the half, and Neah Bay worked the ball around to Ryan Moss for a 3-pointer and two consecutive buckets by Zeke Greene to pull within 23-19 with just over a minute to play in the second quarter.
The teams traded buckets and free throws before La Conner's Skylar Krueger blew past his man and scored on a layup for a 28-23 Braves lead at halftime.
Injury woes continued to affect Neah Bay in the third quarter.
Just over a minute after stepping out to knock down a 3-pointer to cut La Conner's lead to 30-27 with 5:35 to go in the third, Red Devil post John Reamer injured his knee crashing into one of the padded walls lining the baseline in the Port Townsend gym. Venske hurt his ankle running into the same wall in the second.
Reamer was helped off the floor by two teammates and would not return.
Two buckets by Neah Bay's Chris Martinez pulled the Red Devils within two at 33-31 with 1:45 left in the third before La Conner's Krueger answered with a 3 on the next possession.
Venske then scored on a tip-in to decrease Neah Bay's deficit to 36-33 heading to the fourth.
He kept up the scoring in the fourth quarter, first racing down the floor after Martinez saved a possession under the Neah Bay basket for a layup and foul to put the Red Devils within 40-38 with 4:45 left to go.
Venske then added a hanging bucket in traffic to knot the score at 40-all with 4 minutes left.
After a La Conner basket and a Braves turnover in the backcourt, Venske inbounded the ball, received it back and scored and was fouled on a layup. He missed the free throw but the game was tied again 42-42 with 3:30 left.
Three La Conner foul shots later, Zeke Greene hit a basket and Venske rebounded a Ryan Moss miss, took it strong to the hole and was fouled. He hit his free throw to put Neah Bay ahead 47-45 with 1:55 to play — the Red Devils' first lead of the game since the 5:45 mark of the first quarter.
Venske had 10 points in the fourth, and 14 in the game to lead the Red Devils.
“I stay on him [Venske] pretty tough because I know his potential. One thing about good players, they will step up in big moments, hurt or not. All our kids have that, really,” Brooks said.
It wasn't over just yet for the Braves. La Conner broke through Neah Bay's full-court press for a layup to tie the game at 47-all with just more than a minute left.
Both teams committed back-to-back turnovers in the final minute, with Josiah Greene called for a double-dribble in the back court after a Red Devil defensive rebound with 46.4 seconds to play.
Neah Bay again needed its defense to make a play to win the game, and got it in the form of Josiah Greene's steal and game-winning layup with 25 seconds left.
La Conner's final possession was a mess, with Zavala having the ball with his back to the basket before he turned and missed the potential game-winner at the buzzer.
“I never have to coach fire or intensity with these kids,” Brooks said of his team.
“They showed that today.”
Zeke Greene had nine, and Josiah Greene and Moss had eight points apiece for the Red Devils.
Neah Bay 49, La Conner 47
La Conner 18 10 8 11— 47
Neah Bay 7 16 10 16— 49
La Conner (3-1)
Zavala 17, Krueger 11, Sherman 9, Hulbert 4, Finley 4, Harris 2.
Neah Bay (3-1)
Venske 14, Z. Greene 9, J. Greene 8, Moss 8, Reamer 6, Martinez 4.