Bookends are important for students, and even more for student athletes. The Comets played a bookended game in their season opener, controlling the game out of the gate, and in going on a 13-4 run to close the game to carry a banner into the season after graduating five starters last season.
With a new five standing around the circle at tip-off, some have positioned Hillcrest in a rebuilding year. Center Sander Frustol spent a majority of last season on the bench injured. Zak Zwiers and Eric Konynenbelt didn't see a lot of varsity minutes with the Comets stellar senior class last season. However, Hillcrest showed commitment to Preston's defense-first scheme, and it opened the game up for them early.
From the tip, Hillcrest sat in on defense, forcing turnovers and slowing the game down in looking for open shots. They jumped out to a double-digit lead early, with Pelican Rapids struggling to keep up with the Comet's intensity. Frustol proved to be too much to handle as he stepped into the low block. Frustol's presence in the paint forced Pelican to collapse in double-teaming the Comet 6'7" post. Frustol easily passed the ball around the top of the key. Ihrke was a beneficiary early, hitting two three-pointers to make a quick statement as Gabe Preston and Konynenbelt followed Irhke's lead in setting up for open shots.
With the Comets finding open shots in their in-and-out game plan, Zak Zwiers attacked the rim for rebounds. The move on the offensive boards was a carryover from Zwiers work on defense, where the Comets kept Pelican at bay by squelching second chance shots. Zwiers, Frustol, Ihrke, and Konynenbelt swarmed around the rim for much of the night, easily controlling second chance opportunities and opening up quick transition buckets. The Comets easily passed the 30 rebound mark relatively early in the game. it was an essential part of the Comet game plan as they struggled from the field in their season opener, shooting a measly 39%.
Frustol made a strong statement for the new look Comets who are displaying some height and a post game-plan for the first time this decade. Frustol was smooth on the floor, knocking down five field goals and shot 5-for-6 from the free throw line. Sam Ihrke brought strong leadership and smart play with aggression, providing 7 rebounds and 12 points.
The Comets' strong start found a rough patch in the second half where Pelican bounced back to take the lead with two minutes left in the game. Hillcrest clamped down, going on a 13-4 run to close the game, after being up 25-16 at the half. The 54-46 score shows some work Hillcrest needs to do in their second half defense, but their season opener was a strong showing, and they'll carry momentum from their finish to their home opener Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 7:15pm.