A year ago at Douglas, Spanish Springs’ Connor Naisbitt threw in a half-court prayer at the buzzer as the visiting Cougars stole a late victory. There were no such dramatic heroics Tuesday night in the season opener for both schools. But that doesn’t mean Spanish Springs didn’t give Douglas all it could handle.
Despite falling behind by 17, two minutes into the third period, Spanish Springs put together a furious second-half rally, closing to within two points on multiple occasions in the final period, before getting handed a 65-57 defeat.
“Coach Penney does a great job here at Spanish Springs,” sixth-year Douglas coach Corey Thacker said. “He knows what we do. We’re good friends off the court. Nobody is talking about Spanish Springs, but I know them. They’ll be one of the best teams.”
SSHS coach Kyle Penney was frustrated with the loss, but knows it did not come at the hands of any slouch.
“Douglas is a good team,” he said. “They’ve got good posts, good guards. Every time we’d get it to two, it seemed like they’d make a three.”
Douglas sharpshooter Austin Evans hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Tigers a 38-21 lead with 6:37 to go in the third period. That’s about the time things started to get a little more interesting.
Spanish Springs ripped off an 8-0 run, capped by a pair of Hunter Fralick free throws with 4:46 left in the third. That trimmed the Douglas lead to single digits, 38-29.
Douglas extended its lead back to 12, 46-34, on a layup by Jaden Mustacchio at the third period’s 2:59 mark. Spanish Springs responded with 12-2 outburst during a four-plus minute stretch that bridged the third and fourth periods. Cougars post Austin Damoth ended the spurt with a layup at the 6:08 mark of the fourth quarter. That left Douglas clinging to a 48-46 lead.
Douglas did not roll over and play dead. The Tigers answered on their next possession with a four-point play. Evans buried a trey from the corner, was fouled and canned the foul shot, pushing the DHS crew back ahead 52-46.
“Austin hit some big shots,” Thacker said. “There were times when we had four shooters on the floor and we hit some big shots, but so did they.
“The second and third quarters, we were terrible. We had 16 turnovers in the third quarter alone. It’s a league game and it’s early in the season, but we didn’t want to use our timeouts. We wanted the kids to play through it. We stayed calm and we battled.”
Spanish Springs still had some fight left. The Cougars got back to within two on two more occasions. A Zach Shaw 3-pointer made it 56-54 with 3:11 left and 45 seconds later TJ Macauley converted two free throws to make it 58-56.
Spanish Springs never could get into a tie or take the lead. After Macauley’s free throws, Douglas guard Pat Johnson drilled a trey and the hosts could get no closer than four the rest of the way. Douglas’ all-state forward candidate, Hunter Myers, who has already committed to play his collegiate basketball at Harvard, made four straight free throws in the final 37 seconds and helped the Tigers hold on for the eight-point league victory.
Still, Spanish Springs did a decent job on Myers defensively. He was held to 12 points on the night. Evans buried four 3-pointers and led the Tigers with 13 points. Johnson chipped in 11.
Douglas dominated play in the first half. After Fralick knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner for the Cougs, the SSHS hoopsters led 8-7. They never led again. Douglas exploded with a 16-2 run to forge ahead 23-10 less than two minutes into the second quarter.
“We didn’t have a good first half,” Penney said. “We didn’t have good tempo or good movement. We talked about it at halftime. In the second half, we were a little more aggressive. We created more opportunities on defense.”
Spanish Springs did stop the bleeding enough to trail by 11 at the break, 32-21.
The winter debut for both teams was a Division I Northern Region crossover league contest and it seemed to have playoff intensity.
“I think we did a good job with our game plan,” Penney said. “Both of us had our main guys in foul trouble. This was two good teams here tonight. Douglas for sure is a great team and we’re flying under the radar. We’ll see what the future holds for us.”
Spanish Springs returns to the hardwood Friday night for another crossover league game, at Wooster at 7 p.m.