Culver beats Gervais to make district playoffs
The Culver Bulldogs played in their biggest game of the year Feb. 11, with district league playoff hopes on the line for both Culver and the visiting Gervais Cougars.
Culver's 53-33 win secured the Bulldogs' fifth spot in the Tri-River Conference. The top five teams in the conference make the district playoffs, and Culver (7-8 TRC) will square off against the Sheridan Spartans (10-5 TRC) Saturday, Feb. 15 at Sheridan.
"We knew this was a game we had to get for the playoffs, and we did not want to leave it up for chance," Jordan VanAlstyne said. "We wanted to finish it here, secure a spot in the playoffs and work off of that. The jitters were really high, especially since it was senior night. We tried to just tuck that away and play the game."
"I told the boys, 'You need to control your emotions, have your emotions work for you, not against you,'" Spinelli said. "I have seen a lot of senior nights where a lot of kids get jacked up and too excited, not ready to play. At the beginning of the game, we missed some easy shots. I told them you get one senior night, enjoy it, enjoy the moment, and make it a good memory. Senior night, last home game, for the playoffs, there were a lot of things."
"I am proud of the way the kids battled," he said. "They did not always play smart, but they played hard and did well enough to get the victory."
Culver has played Sheridan twice already and lost 61-50 at home Jan. 4 and 58-37 Jan. 30.
The Bulldogs were up 16-11 at the end of the first quarter and 24-20 at halftime during their home game against Sheridan Jan. 4 but were outscored 24-11 in the third quarter.
In the game against Gervais, a team that was on the brink of making the district playoffs, Culver started all five seniors in honor of senior night. Cord Gomes, Jordan VanAlstyne, Clayton Mathews, Jaxon Maxwell and Austin "Moe Buckets" Williams were honored before the game.
Williams did not always play a lot of minutes for Culver, but he took full advantage of every opportunity he had in his last home game ever as a Bulldog.
"I coached all these kids through middle school and was their elementary school P.E. teacher, so I have known a lot of them since kindergarten," Spinelli said. "I couldn't be more proud of their development. Even since the beginning of the year, these kids have improved so much. These kids worked hard. Even at the start of the season when we were losing a lot of close games, they still showed practice with a great attitude. They did not blame each other, didn't quit the team like some kids did. They worked hard, played together, and I told them, 'If you trust the process, you will see some victories.'
"I am proud of their effort and determination," said Spinelli. "These guys have not had a lot of high school basketball success, so it is neat that they can end their careers going to the playoffs."
Culver executed their press break early, which led to an open Williams at the hoop. Williams caught the ball, made the basket and was fouled. Williams made his one free throw and energized the team and fans to give Culver a 3-0 lead.
"Being able to start for once, even though I haven't been able to play a lot in some of the other games -- there was one set of three games where I did not play at all -- so being able to start was the huge thing," Williams said. "The best part was being able to get the first points with an and-1. It was the best feeling to start the game off."
Mathews scored on a jumper the next play, but Gervais' Michael Toran scored on a post move. Coach Spinelli called a timeout with 4:26 left in the quarter, and the Bulldogs had a 5-2 lead.
Near the end of the quarter, VanAlstyne was able to steal the fall for an easy lay-in, and Mathews scored on a putback. Luke Spinelli hit a 3-pointer at the end of the opening quarter, and Culver had a 12-6 lead.
Spinelli scored on a putback to start the second quarter, and a few plays later, Mathews gave Culver a 19-12 lead with a basket down low.
At the end of the first half, Gomes scored on a putback, and VanAstyne had another steal and fast break. Culver went on an 8-0 run to end the first half and take a 24-12 lead at the end of the second quarter.
"Our execution this game was a lot better," VanAstyne said about the difference from the first time playing Gervais. "Our execution was poor, and we did not play as a team last time. This time, we built more of a team mentality, working more for each other. I feel like that was the main reason, and just having the mindset to end this game."
Toran was in foul trouble early in the first half for Gervais and did not play very much. He was the leading scorer in the first matchup against the Bulldogs during Culver's 56-51 victory Jan. 21.
"The game plan was to limit Gervais to one shot," coach Spinelli said. "No. 3 (Michael Toran) was their leading scorer with 16 points the last time we played them. We were in a zone we keyed on him and in man defense, we had to close out on him, force him right, since he is left-handed and have everyone else help out on him. We did a good job, and he got in some foul trouble, which took him out of the game for a good part of the first half. We knew Gervais had height and athleticism, so we needed to keep them off the boards."
Freshman Logan Macy made a fancy fake pass to teammate Luke Spinelli to fool a Gervais defender for an easy lay-in, and Gomes scored another basket down low as Culver took a huge 28-12 lead.
A few plays later, Macy hit a corner three, and Gervais head coach Ben Schultz called a timeout down 33-13 with 3:37 left in the quarter.
After the timeout, Auggie Guido drove hard to the rim for an and-1 basket, and Juan Esquival hit a corner three for Gervais to cut the Bulldog lead down to 33-19.
Spinelli hit another 3-pointer, this time at the end of the third quarter, and Culver had a 37-19 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
Spinelli hit a big 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, giving Culver a 21-point lead, and a few plays later VanAlstyne again scored on a steal that led to a fast break.
The Cougars were able to go on a small 5-3 run, and Culver called a timeout up 45-24 with 3:21 left in the game.
The high-energy, intense game got a little crazy at the end as Guido received two technical fouls, meaning he could not return to the game for Gervais.
Culver was awarded four free throws, and the player that was chosen to shoot them was Austin Williams. Williams made two of four, but on the next offensive play for Culver, Williams took a shot from behind the arc that found nothing but net.
"It was nerve-racking with everyone yelling, and I was hoping I would not mess anything up," Williams said. "I was really happy hitting that three. This feeling is hard to explain, being the first Culver team to make the league playoffs in a very long time, while being a senior on the team that did that."
The crowd went crazy, cheering for the senior who sealed the game for Culver.
"Austin is a great kid," said coach Spinelli. "He has been in the program all four years. Nicest kid, always helping take stuff on and off the bus. He is a hard worker in practice, always has a great attitude. Whether he plays two minutes or two seconds, he doesn't complain. He is a team-first player, and the kids love him, as you could see in the student section. He is really just an awesome kid, and I couldn't be more proud."
Williams finished the game with eight points for the Bulldogs, and Culver beat Gervais 53-33 at home to make the district playoffs.
"The feeling was great," VanAlstyne said. "When Moebucket (Austin Williams) hit that 3-pointer, I got goosebumps. It was great seeing him make that and really have the whole town behind us."
The Bulldogs started the season with a 1-8 record overall, but since winter break, they have gone 7-7.
"Last year we did not have the best record, so we did not really know how to win a close game," said VanAlstyne. "Later in the season, we had the right mindset to close out games, not letting the nerves get to us. We know we are a good team if we play our game, and that is what we were waiting for the whole season."
"The feeling of making the league playoffs was really a rush," he said. "This is the first time we have ever had a positive year. It was great knowing that our team was good enough to make the league playoffs, and we are hoping to not just go one and done. We are hoping to go into the playoffs and stay in the playoffs."
Luke Spinelli had a big night with 13 points, eight rebounds, four steals and four assists. Gomes ended the game with nine points and nine rebounds, while VanAlstyne added seven points and five assists. Mathews had six points for Culver, while Macy added eight points as four assists.
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