Galena set to begin play in Beach Ball Classic |

Galena set to begin play in Beach Ball Classic

Appeal Sports Writer

After playing five games against nationally ranked teams in their first nine outings, the Galena Grizzlies boys basketball team is ready to rev it into second gear.

The Grizzlies, 6-5 on the season, face Miami Senior (Fla.) today at 10:45 a.m. in the 16-team Beach Ball Classic, in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The Stingarees are led by sophomore point guard Edwin Rios, who is averaging 32 points per game and is ranked a four-star player by Miami Senior also features 7-footer Jose Ramos.

The Grizzlies upset nationally ranked Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.) in the George Maldonado Memorial Classic and lost to No. 2 ranked Artesia (Lakewood, Calif.), in the finals.

Having played Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.), Westchester (Los Angeles), Arlington Country Day and Artesia (twice) has seemed to forge a strong Grizzlies team. Galena is 2-0 in the High Desert League, beating Reed, 72-60, on the road and McQueen, 85-64, at home last week after its demanding early-season schedule.

“We have a big target on our chest,” said Galena coach Tom Mauer via cell phone as he was driving toward Myrtle Beach on Tuesday. “I feel that because we’ve been playing nationally ranked teams, everybody will try to take a look at us. It’s better to be the hunter than the hunted.”

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That and it’s better to be in first place at the end of a race.

Mauer is hoping that the Beach Ball Classic and subsequent three-game trip, Jan. 4-6, in Las Vegas, will prepare his Grizzlies (ranked the No. 1 team in Nevada by Sports Illustrated) to shift into third gear.

Third gear for the Grizzlies will be an attempt to outrace the Northern Nevada teams in the regular season and position themselves for fourth gear, a playoff run that Mauer hopes ends in Galena’s first state championship.

But Mauer has his players focused only on the road in front of them after a duel with the Raiders at Reed High School.

“It was interesting. I’ve never seen a Reed team so small,” Mauer said. “Yet they were a tough group. They were small and quick. In Reed’s case it didn’t feel like the floor was swept. We were flying all over trying to guard those guys. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do that (leave the floor unswept for an advantage). We played Reed at Reed. It’s good to get over that.”

Center Luke Babbitt is leading all Grizzlies with 26.3 points and 12 rebounds per game. He is shooting 54 percent from the field and 49 percent from 3-point land.

Babbitt is getting help from point guard Tristan Hill (10 ppg, 47 percent from the field and 49 percent from beyond the arc), Brice Crook (10 ppg), Eric Maupin (six rebounds per game) and J.D. Peters (five ppg).

“The team is starting to discover itself,” Mauer said. “I see things blending. I think they were more worried about their offensive numbers at first. Now they’re coming into the realm of things, coming together defensively, which I’ve been yelling about.”

Although the tough schedule has had its benefits on the one hand, Mauer said it’s taking its toll.

“I think we were tired after playing in the Maldonado,” Mauer said. “That’s not an excuse. When we get back, we’re going to get back in bed before we focus on league and the zone championship. It (resting) is something I’m looking forward to and I’m sure the kids are too.”

In the meantime, there is plenty to look forward to in Myrtle Beach.

“Winning that first game is really important,” Mauer said. “Like I told the kids, you’re treated better with meals. It’s nice to be in the winning bracket. To me, it’s another notch traveling and bonding, which we’re doing.”

On New Year’s Eve, Mauer and his players will travel to Charleston, S.C., for a little history lesson. They will also take in a Charlotte Bobcats game, visit Duke and North Carolina State and pair off for a softball game – winners get steaks, losers get hot dogs.

Mauer said due to his team’s late arrival – they weren’t expected to go to bed until 11 p.m. or midnight (eastern) after a cross-country flight through three time zones – Miami Senior would have an advantage.

The Grizzlies will have their first shoot-around at 8 or 9 a.m. (eastern) today, while Miami Senior arrived a day earlier and logged some practice time.

“I’m hoping Rios didn’t have his Wheaties,” Mauer joked.

Considered the No. 1 high school tournament in the nation, the Beach Ball Classic kicked off Tuesday at Myrtle Beach Convention Center, where it will end on Saturday. If the Grizzlies can get past the Stingarees, they will face St. John’s College Prep (Washington, D.C.) in the quarterfinals Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

The Cadets, 8-1, went 23-10 last year and were ranked No. 14 nationally by Hoops USA. They defeated Pinewood Prep (Summerville, S.C.), 61-42, on Tuesday, and are led by Chris Wright, a Georgetown signee, and Vlad Muldoveanu, a George Mason signee.

If Galena loses to Miami Senior, it will face Pinewood Prep, 11-2, Thursday at 10:15 a.m. in a consolation bracket match-up.