Defending state champs roll over Mustangs
RENO – The Galena Grizzlies weren’t the villains Tuesday, it just sounded that way.
With a large contingent of loud Damonte Ranch fans booing them at every opportunity – they were sometimes even louder than the Galena crowd – the Grizz mugged the Mustangs in the first quarter and put a beating on them in the fourth to take a 71-32 victory in the first round of the NIAA Northern 4A regional playoffs at Galena High School.
With the win over Sierra League four-seed Damonte – which was competing in its first-ever playoff game in its fourth varsity season (and fifth overall) – Galena, the High Desert League’s No. 1 seed, set up a rematch with the Douglas Tigers on Thursday.
The Grizzlies pulled out an exciting 56-55 nail-biter in the championship game of the regionals last season, but lost to the Tigers, 66-54, on Dec. 21.
Douglas defeated Reed 70-59 on Tuesday to advance to the semifinal matchup with the defending state champion Grizzlies.
Galena coach Tom Maurer addressed his team in the locker room following the contest, summing up what was fairly obvious throughout the one-sided game.
“Before the game I told you guys to act like a first-place team. Every one of you guys acted like that,” Maurer said. “More important, you played like it. Actions speak louder than words.”
And nothing could’ve spoken louder than Galena’s dominant first quarter, in which it scored the first 16 points and held the Mustangs scoreless for the first 6 minutes, 28 seconds.
Grizzlies power forward Luke Babbitt scored 10 of his game-high 24 points in the first quarter, in which Damonte missed its first eight shots from the floor and committed five turnovers before Kyle Brush ended the drought with a 16-foot jumper to make it 16-2.
“We were pumped up. It was win or go home,” said Galena senior guard Markis “Goose” Robinson, who scored 17 points. “We kept our intensity the whole game. That’s what helped us to win.”
“We were just really motivated for this game,” said senior forward Scott Bristol, who scored all 10 of his points in the second half on passes from Babbitt, who drew his defender out on Damonte’s box-and-one defense. “We proved we’re the No. 1 team in our league. We want to play hard.”
Things didn’t improve much for the Mustangs in the second quarter, either.
Galena built its lead up to 21-2 before Damonte’s David Howard converted a pair of free throws and the Grizzlies defense didn’t allow a field goal for the first 3:40 of the second quarter, when Josh Butler stole the ball and made a layup to cut the lead to 21-6.
The Grizzlies went on an 11-5 run to close the half with a 32-11 lead.
The Galena defense forced 16 Damonte Ranch turnovers, including 10 in a first half which saw the Mustangs go 4-of-25 from the field, as compared to 15-of-36 for the Grizz.
Damonte Ranch ended up shooting 25 percent from the floor (10-of-40) to nearly 50 percent (31-of-63) for Galena. Moreover, 11 of the Mustangs’ 32 points came from the foul line.
Jake Johnson led Damonte Ranch with seven points, followed by Kelton Hall and Josh Butler, each of whom scored six. The Mustangs closed their season 9-17, while Galena improved to 18-12.
“I challenged [Jake] Mansfield and Goose,” Maurer said. “Those two kids hadn’t shown how good they could be offensively and defensively. They did an outstanding job.
“And you’ll notice that Luke is so intelligent that he drew one kid away. We can play four-on-four. It loosens a lot of things. We got a lot of easy shots inside.”
Maurer pointed out just how airtight Galena’s defense was. Robinson held Damonte Ranch senior starting guard Reilly Heims to four points, Mansfield limited the explosive Hall to six and Babbitt allowed the 6-3 Butler to score only six.
Maurer also singled out Robinson’s overall play.
“My point guards just have to take care of the ball and play defense,” Maurer said. “I think Goose did that tonight.”
The Mustangs had their best quarter in the third, but was still outscored 19-15. The closest Damonte could get was 20, at 37-17. Galena put the game away with a 16-6 fourth quarter.
“They were a tough team,” Babbitt said. “They’ve got a couple of really good players. We knew they’d be tough and we’d have to play our best to win.”
Babbitt also said he was pleased with the way his teammates stepped up to open the playoffs.
“Anytime you go against a box-and-one, you’ve got to have different scorers,” Babbitt said. “They did a great job of putting the ball in the hole.”
Now it’s on to play Douglas, with the winner assured of being one of the two teams from the North that will advance to play in the state championships next week.
“We’re really motivated,” Robinson said. “Revenge is what we all need. Douglas wants to play us too. We want to prove ourselves.”
Maurer gave Douglas full credit for its victory over the Grizzlies in their first meeting this season.
“They had so much energy – they had great defense,” Maurer said. “They took care of the ball. They flat-out kicked our butt. We had our tail between our legs. But I think Luke said it best: The game will be played on the floor.
“I’d rather play them tomorrow than practice. I think both teams want to do the same.”
In other action, Sierra League No. 1 seed Reno defeated Spanish Springs, 79-47, and Manogue topped Hug, 57-48.
Galena will meet Douglas beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday and Reno will play Manogue at 7. Both games will be played at Spanish Springs High School.
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