Boys basketball: Gervais makes strides, picks up first win at Sheridan
The first four games of the season have been about incremental improvements for the Gervais boys basketball team.
After two blowout losses in the first week, the Cougars came back with a solid home opener against the St. Paul Buckaroos, losing 55-49 to set up a gutsy 58-57 win over Sheridan on Friday for their first win of the season.
It's been a learning experience for Gervais, both among the players and the coaching staff, which is looking for ways to juggle playing time among a large roster that features three teams' worth of players crammed into the varsity and JV programs.
"The first four games have been kind of a way for us to get to know where we're at as a team," Gervais head coach Ben Schultz said.
The season opening tournament at Vernonia to start the month was a bit of an experiment for Schultz and the Cougars, trying to figure out which rotations to use and how players would react to the speed of varsity basketball.
"I played everybody," Schultz said. "I wanted to see who we had and see how guys reacted."
Against the hosting Loggers, the Gervais offense played well but surrendered 91 points. The second night against Riverdale, the defense was better, but the team shot just 12 percent from the field in the second half and scored only 29 points.
"We couldn't hit water if we fell out of a boat," Schultz said, laughing.
Last week, the two halves came together and the Cougars played a complete game in its six-point loss to St. Paul on Dec. 6.
"We played tremendously better," Schultz said. "We just came together."
Although the shots weren't always falling against the Buckaroos, Gervais was making the extra pass, finding open teammates under the basket and on the perimeter. The Cougars missed a dozen close shots around the basket, but instead of getting angry at each other for the missed opportunities, it just galvanized the team to do better on the next possession.
"We're not finger-pointing," Schultz said. "We're willing to make that extra pass. If a guy is open, we'll make that extra pass and knock down that open shot."
Two nights later, Gervais broke through against the hosting Spartans, coming away with a big road win against a Sheridan team that had won the previous four meetings between the two former league rivals.
"The other night we played really well as a team and came together defensively," Schultz said, crediting posts Alexander Kalugin and Nicola Zarhkoff with helping to contain Sheridan's 6-foot-9 post Alex Rentsch. "They were on him, pinning him down, and they ate him up and they played really well together."
Kalugin finished the game with double-digit totals in points and rebounds, and junior wing Elvis Vallejo led the team with 19 points, connecting on four 3-pointers, including what turned out to be the eventual game-winner after the Cougars came back from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
It was game in which everything came together. Defensively, the Cougars were boxing out more, creating second, third and fourth chance opportunities. On offense, the ball was flying around the perimeter, finding open guys and creating scoring opportunities, leading to 3-point shots from Noel Vasquez and Daniel Hernandez.
"Unselfishness has been a key thing," Schultz said. "Slowly but surely, with all the games we've had, it's been a progression in getting better."
With the first win under their belt, the Cougars are looking to add more in the coming weeks before the team descends into their final season playing in the PacWest Conference before dropping down to the 2A classification.
"I think we got it," Schultz said. "We really want to make the playoffs this year, and I think that's going to be a possibility."