With only one senior in the lineup Thursday night on its home floor, Huron needed a lot of youngsters to step up in order to have a chance against St. Mary in their Sandusky Bay Conference clash.
The underclassmen helped, but it was the senior that provided the punch to lead the Tigers to a 61-51 victory over the Panthers.
Brian Bollenbacher's leadership and court presence helped Huron (2-2, 1-1 SBC) withstand a determined St. Mary squad that chipped away at a 17-point deficit with just under five minutes to play to pull within 59-51 with 40 seconds left.
That wasn't a lot of time, but with the Panthers (1-3, 0-2 SBC) knocking down six 3-pointers on the night, they had the firepower to make it a game. Bollenbacher was calm at the line, though, making St. Mary pay when it had to foul by going 6 for 6 from the free throw line over the last 1:42 to keep the Tigers just out of reach.
He finished the night with a double-double, taking game honors with 17 points and adding 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-1 senior was a perfect 12 for 12 from the line, which was a good thing since the rest of the Tigers were 10 for 25. Overall, Huron shot just 59.4 percent on its free throws (22-for-37), but it was still better than St. Mary, which went 7-of-20 from the line (35 percent).
"We needed to make free throws, and Brian came through," said Huron coach Bobby James. "Brian stepped up and did a nice job of being a leader at the end. We needed someone to make those shots, and he did a great job."
Huron opened a 12-6 lead after one quarter, and steadily built on it from there. The highlight of the second period was a basket by Aaron Driftmeyer, who punctuated a baseline drive from the left side with a two-handed dunk that energized the home crowd. The 6-3 sophomore missed his free throw after Pat Sennish fouled him on the play, but the basket put the Tigers up 28-14 with 1:36 to play in the first half.
Junior Kyle Pisano was fouled at the buzzer to end the half on a 3-point attempt, making 1-of-3 free throws to send Huron in to the locker room up 32-17.
St. Mary struggled taking care of the ball with 12 turnovers in the first half, while connecting on 7-of-22 shots. The Panthers also misfired on their only free throw in the first two periods. When the free throw opportunities came in the second half, they just couldn't capitalize.
"That's not going to keep you in too many games," a frustrated Lyle Falknor said of his team's shooting woes. "As a group we have to get mentally tough. We have to step to the line and make baskets. It's not like we haven't shot a couple thousand times (in practice).
"It's a mental thing. We do a lot of pressure shooting with a lot on the line, but we have to find ways to transfer that onto the game floor. That's a big part of it, but the other part was our ball handling. There were a lot of tipped balls, and they got their hands on the ball too many times."
St. Mary is also struggling with depth, dressing just nine varsity players. All but seven of its points came from the starters, led by freshman Denarius Harris with 10 points, while juniors Alex Opfer and Joe Youskievicz each added nine. Harris also had six rebounds.
"It comes down to expectations," Falknor said. "What do you expect on the floor? It's the mental toughness, nothing more, nothing less. I'm not sure what some of them expect. We have to find the way to get the confidence to get it done, and we're going to work on that."
Driftmeyer, who came in averaging over 10 boards a game, was held to just four rebounds. He did reach double figures in scoring, though, putting up 11 while Pisano added 10. James said he is expecting some good things from his team this year, in spite of its youth.
"With a young team, you're just happy you win," James said. "We were up big, they came on and got it to eight in the third quarter, and our kids responded. We had three freshmen and three sophomores see the floor, and to come out with a big win is nice for us.
"We will definitely have growing pains, and will have to be patient. Just because you're a young team doesn't mean you can't be a good team."
ST MARY (1-3, 0-2)
Alex Opfer 2-4--9; Ethan Sennish 3-1-- 8; Andrew Carruthes 2-0 --5; Pat Sennish 3-0 --8; Denarius Harris 4-1 --10; Jack Milkie 1-0 -- 2; Joe YOuskievicz 4-1 --9. TOTAL 19-7--51
HURON (2-2, 1-1)
Kyle Pisano 4-2--10; Trae Graham 3-0--6; Aaron Driftmeyer 4-3--11; Cody Thompson 2-0--4; Sam Hemker 2-0--4; Brian Bollenbacher 2-12--17; Drew Endele 0-3--3; Nick Butler 2-2--6. TOTAL 19-22--61
SMCC 6 11 12 22 -- 51
Huron 12 20 13 16 -- 61
3-pt FG: St. Mary 6 (Opfer, E. Sennish, Carruthers, P. Sennish 2, Harris); Huron 1 (Bollenbacher)
JV: Huron 61, St. Mary 39.