Cats scratch Miller: Crawford sparks Waterford to win over Falcons

WATERFORD – As much as Sisyphus struggled to push that rock uphill every day in Greek mythology, so too did the Miller Falcons find the battle against the Waterford Wildcats Friday night.

After trailing by as many as 20 points early in the first half, the Falcons closed the gap to just two possessions on multiple occasions, including just a four point Waterford advantage in the third quarter.

But much like that massive boulder that always rolled downhill before Sisyphus could get to the top, that lead always found a way of bounding out of reach.

Leading by just four, the Wildcats went on a rampant 27-6 run to close out the third quarter as Waterford rolled to a 75-54 win.

“We got off strong. We got into a rhythm and then some dumb fouls and we changed some people and we lost our focus,” said Waterford boys’ basketball coach Tom Simms.

The focus was quickly regained, as the Falcons watched their bid to become the first team to knock off the Wildcats on the young season fade in a matter of minutes.

Following a basket by the Falcons’ Garrett Bartley with 6:15 in the third, the Wildcats rattled off 12 straight points and held Miller without a field goal for 3:52.

“That point in the game we figured out their press,” explained Waterford senior Eli Strahler.

Breaking down the Falcons’ press resulted in easy layups for the Wildcats, who hit on 31-of-59 shots for the game and were 25-for-44 through the first three quarters. Included in that figure was Trystan Crawford’s perfect 8-for-8 game from the field as he finished with 17 points and eight steals.

“Coach (Simms) has been harping us every day to drive the ball and not live out on the three-point line,” Crawford explained.

That tactic paid dividends from the getgo as Waterford hit on 8-of-15 shots and forced Miller into 11 turnovers in the first quarter as the Wildcats never trailed in the game and just twice led by less than two possessions.

“We started playing with a lot of intensity, pressuring the ball,” said Wyatt Porter, who finished with 11 points as one of three Wildcats in double figures in the game.

As good as the Wildcats were offensively from the field, there was one glaring spot where they struggled which was the free throw line. For the game Waterford hit on just 12-of-24 free throws while Miller was just 9-for-16, making the two teams combined a dismal 21-of-40 at the stripe.

“I can assure you tomorrow (Saturday) we are going to shoot foul shots,” Simms said.

The Wildcats opened the game’s scoring on an easy basket by Strahler, and while Miller tied the game at 2-2 on Hunter Starlin’s bucket at the other end, Waterford took the lead for good when Tanner Pottmeyer scored in the paint with 6:37 in the first.

Much akin to the third quarter, the Wildcats followed Starlin’s basket by going on a 14-2 run to push the margin to 16-4 on a basket by Cody Paxton, prompting a timeout from the Falcons.

At that point in the game, Miller had committed 11 turnovers to fuel the Wildcat offense.

Waterford would take a 20-8 lead to start the second quarter, but struggled as both Paxton and Pottmeyer headed to the bench in foul trouble. Miller was quick to capitalize on the absence in the paint of the two Wildcat forwards, as Elijah Rader tried to single-handedly bring the Falcons back into contention.

Rader tallied 13 of his game high 22 points in the second quarter as Miller cut a 20-point deficit down to just five, 29-24, with 1:57 before the break when Starlin hit a three off Rader’s assist.

The Wildcats regrouped and pushed the lead back out to eight by halftime as Mitch Ginther drilled a three off Strahler’s assist as time wound down in the half.

Opening the second half with the ball, Rader again sparked the Falcon offense as he hit a bucket in the paint off Starlin’s assist, and a steal by the Falcons allowed Bartley to make the score 34-30 with 6:15 in the third.

And as Sisyphus watched that boulder roll down the hill at the end of every day, the Falcons watched their chance at victory slip away as they committed eight more turnovers in the final six minutes of the frame. At the other end of the court, the Wildcats were making buckets like crazy as Waterford hit on 12-of-17 shots in the third.

“We played pretty well about three quarters of the game,” Strahler said. “But we always have a let-down quarter.”

Fortunately for the Wildcats, their let-down quarter Friday didn’t result in their first ‘L’ in the record.

Waterford held Miller scoreless from the 6:15 mark of the third till Cody McKnight hit 1-of-2 free throws with 3:25 in the stanza. Pottmeyer followed that by hitting a long two – which was credited as a three on the scoreboard – as Waterford tallied 17 of the next 21 points to lead 65-36 with 7:19 to play in regulation.

At that point, the Wildcat regulars headed to the bench as Waterford closed out its fourth win of the 2013-2014 campaign.

“The kids played real well. They’re starting to find themselves. We’re still working on growing up,” Simms said.