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The Braves get 19 points from Blake Gobel and make relatively quick work of the Cubs at Banks High School.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Banks' Bret Cameron dribbles up the court during the Braves' game against Newport Friday, March 1, at Banks High School. Cameron was one of a handful of players who stepped up in the absence of starting guard Dakota Bunn.Addition by subtraction? Not really, but the Banks Braves opened the 2019 state playoffs with a 57-42 win over Newport Friday, March 1, despite having to play without starting guard and Cowapa Defensive Player of the Year, Dakota Bunn.

Bunn, who twisted his ankle in practice the day prior, sat out in part as a precaution, but in his absence, Banks' Bret Cameron, Jared Evans, and seldom used sophomore Joe Buliga stepped up, filling the void and helping the Braves to a relatively easy opening round win.

"When we drew Newport we were a bit surprised because we thought they were a good team and higher ranked," said Cameron. "But we were up to the challenge and played well."

Cameron didn't fill up the stat sheet, scoring but five points while grabbing three rebounds. But the senior controlled the tempo and helped captain the ship against what was a very dangerous opponent.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Banks' Joe Buliga takes the ball to the hoop during the Braves' game against Newport Friday, March 1, at Banks High School."I thought we played really well in Dakota's absence," Cameron said. "I took it as an opportunity to lead the team. In the pregame speech we talked about having to have guys step up. Joe stepped up big time, Jared came in and started, and it was about guys stepping up."

Banks head coach Marc Roche said after the game that Bunn could've played in a pinch, but they preferred to rest him and as it turned out, it was the right decision to do so.

"We were going to try it today, but I'm glad we didn't," said the coach. "Bret played a great game, took control and played some great defense. Jared and Joe also gave us some great minutes, and the guys came ready to play. I was really proud of our guys' effort."

Banks got out to an 8-2 lead with a couple quick baskets from Jacob Slifka, a lay-in by Blake Gobel and a point-blank finish by Hayden Vandehey. But Newport answered with eight of the quarter's final 10 points to keep things close, 14-10, at the end of one. From there the Braves slowly inched away from the visiting Cubs, building a seven point halftime lead and making it 10 after two quick Vandehey scores to start the second half. At that point Banks turned to their defense, holding Newport to just seven third quarter points while Gobel and Slifka added to the home team's lead, highlighted by a thunderous one-handed Gobel dunk that pushed the lead to 14 and brought the Braves' crowd to their feet.

"In that second half we knocked some shots down and our defense really clamped down on them," Roche said. "Blake was good, Slifka made some shots. That was a huge stretch for us."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Banks' Blake Gobel throws one down during the Braves' game against Newport Friday, March 1, at Banks High School.The lead got as big as 18 in that third quarter, and 19 to start the fourth after a quick Evans score. But Newport whittled it down to 12 with three minutes to play thanks in part to the sharp-shooting of senior Justin Plechaty, who led the Cubs with 19 points. However, that's as close as they'd get, as Banks played the keep-away game to perfection down the stretch, holding for long possessions then finishing with scores at the rim against a desperate Newport defense.

Despite the lopsided result, there was hearty respect for the Cubs after the game and an understanding of what the Braves had accomplished in the absence of one of their team leaders.

"Newport is a lot better than their ranking and we had to give it our all or we were going to lose that game," said Gobel. "There were some little things in that second half that put us over the hump, and I was proud of how we played. After he (Bunn) went down yesterday in practice we talked about next man up, and who's next, and Jared and the rest of the guys did a heck of a job against a really good team."

Now, it's on to the state tournament for Banks where they'll look to rebound from last year's disappointment. After entering the event ranked number one and the favorite to win it all, the Braves were unceremoniously ousted in the semifinals in the wake of Dalton Renne's catastrophic first quarter injury. They've moved on, but the memory of what was ultimately an untimely bad break lives on, and they'd love nothing more than to wipe that slate clean with a deep run beginning with Thursday's quarterfinal game against No. 9-ranked Marist Catholic, who defeated Baker 52-46 in their first round game Friday night.

"We're excited," said Cameron. "Last year left a bad taste in our mouth with how things ended, so we're glad to be back and looking to play our best basketball starting with that first game."

Gobel led Banks with 19 points and seven rebounds, while Slifka tallied 12 points and 10 boards, and Vandehey added 10 points.

In addition to Plechaty's 19, senior Matt Beaudry added 12 points for Newport.

Banks is scheduled to play Marist in the state tournament's first round Thursday, March 7, at 1:30 p.m. at Pacific University.


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