Galena boys escape against Sparks
RENO — Luke Babbitt had seen enough.
“We were losing,” the Galena Grizzlies senior said of a 35-30 deficit to the Sparks Railroaders with 6:30 to play Thursday night at Galena. “The offense wasn’t working. We were very sluggish. I just figured it was time to go out and try to win the game.”
Babbitt, with his future coach – Nevada’s Mark Fox – in the audience, scored 14 consecutive points in a four-minute flurry as the Grizzlies somehow turned back the Railroaders, 50-40, in the first round of the George Maldonado Memorial Classic.
“The ball always goes through him,” Sparks coach Dick Lee said. “We know that. He’s just tough to guard for anyone.”
Galena will meet Mira Loma of Sacramento, Calif., tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the semifinals of the Maldonado Classic. In Thursday’s other games, Mira Loma beat Lowry, 50-49, Mountain View (Arizona) beat Eldorado (Las Vegas), 66-56, and Douglas got by Sky View (Utah), 69-54. In today’s other games, Lowry will meet Sparks (3 p.m.), Sky View takes on Eldorado (4:30 p.m.) and Douglas will play Mountain View (6 p.m.).
“We just need wins any way we can get them,” said Babbitt, who scored 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Galena coach Tom Maurer knows his Grizzlies (3-4), the defending Class 4A state champs, stole a victory against the Northern 3A’s Railroaders.
“If Sparks makes a few more layups, they win this game,” Maurer said. “Dick Lee did a great job. We go way back. We’ve had a lot of great battles against each other. This was another one.”
“Yeah, we’ve had some battles in the past,” smiled Lee. “I’m just glad we competed. It’s like I told the team before the game. We didn’t come here to be fodder for Galena. I thought we might take our lumps against Galena and I’m glad we played hard.”
The Railroaders, now 5-3, took a 35-30 lead two minutes into the fourth quarter on a jumper by Albert Claypool from the corner. Claypool’s bucket capped a 10-0 Railroaders’ run over the final two minutes of the third quarter and first two minutes of the fourth quarter.
“Give Sparks a lot of credit,” Maurer said. “We play teams like Sparks a lot. They are an undersized team that plays their tail off. We should know how to play those type of teams. But we just were not good thinkers in this game.”
The Railroaders led 9-7 after one quarter and 19-18 at halftime thanks to poor shooting from the Grizzlies. Galena made just 3-of-17 shots in the first quarter and 8-of-32 (25 percent) in the first half. The third quarter wasn’t much better (5-of-13) though the Grizzlies did take a 30-29 lead into the final quarter.
“Galena High School basketball does not disrespect any opponent,” Maurer said. “That’s not what we do. Our kids played hard. We didn’t take this team lightly. We just didn’t play good basketball.”
Maurer, though, admitted that his team’s focus might have been elsewhere Thursday night.
“When we go out on the floor, it’s business,” Maurer said. “Lately, though, it hasn’t been that way. And that bothers me.”
Galena, thanks to Babbitt, made sure that six good minutes of basketball was enough to overcome 26 bad minutes.
Babbitt started the Galena comeback by hitting an 8-foot shot and drawing a foul to cut the Sparks lead to 35-33 with six minutes to play. The 6-foot-8 power forward then scored inside 15 seconds later to tie the game at 35-35.
After a steal and a layup by Juan Martinez gave Sparks a 37-35 lead, Babbitt drained a 3-pointer over Claypool for a 38-37 Galena lead with 4:30 to play. It was the Grizzlies’ first lead since the opening seconds of the fourth quarter.
Babbitt, though, was far from finished.
He then drove past Claypool and banked in a shot off the glass for a 40-37 lead with 3:12 to play. Garrett Womack then fed Babbitt for a dunk and a 42-37 lead with 2:30 to play. Babbitt’s streak of 14 consecutive points for his team ended at 14 on a 15-foot jumper with two minutes to play and a 44-38 lead.
The Grizzlies put the game away in the final minute as Womack scored off the glass off a feed from Babbitt with a minute to go. Scott Bristol closed out the scoring with a bucket off an assist from Markis Robinson with 40 seconds to go and a pair of free throws with 23 seconds left.
“We have a lot to learn from this game,” Babbitt said. “We have to know that we have to bring our “A” game every night. That’s what you have to do when you are the defending state champs.”
Babbitt, who made 13 of his 25 shots on the night (the rest of the team was 8-of-31), said the Grizzlies are still a work in progress.
“We’ve shown flashes this year,” Babbitt said. “But we haven’t played well for a whole game. Even the Reno game (a 63-59 victory 10 days ago), we didn’t play well the entire game.”
“This is going to take time,” Maurer said.
Lee is confident the Grizzlies will be one of the top teams in the Northern 4A by the end of the year.
“They are going to be so much better in February,” Lee said. “That’s what happens with Tom Maurer teams all the time. They will work hard and get better.”