Comets Launch into 2019 with Gutsy Conference Win
The Comets were glad to close the books on 2018 after closing the season with two losses and one win. Seventeen days after their previous home loss to Ashby Hillcrest entered the 2019 season with determination.
The Comets separated themselves from the Parkers Prairie Panthers six minutes into the game. Working to control the tempo against a fast and disciplined Panther team, Hillcrest earned a five point lead with ball pressure and strong defense in the paint by Senior Sander Frustol and Thomas Zwiers.
As the game wore on Hillcrest found themselves standing with a ten point lead after thirteen minutes of play. The methodical approach to aggressive and tireless defense transitioned to calculated passing and patience on offense. Going into the half Hillcrest wore down the Panthers, signs that the Comets weren’t resting over their Christmas vacation. With the Panthers undefeated in the conference, considered by many as a conference favorite, the Comets took their eight point lead into the locker room. Hillcrest looked to build on their intensity, hoping to pull their lead into double-digits in the second half with the score set at 16-24 in their favor.
The Panthers came out of the locker room and matched Hillcrest’s intensity. Working to close a grip on Hillcrest, the Panthers played higher in their perimeter defense, working to deny any Hillcrest ball movement. The Comets hang in tough, taking care of the ball with Seniors Nick Foss, Gabe Preston, and Logan Disabella, working the ball on the perimeter to find Hillcrest’s post players inside. Zwiers and Frustol patiently broke down the Panther's defensive front, stepping outside the three-point line continuously to bring the offense outside the lane, where Hillcrest worked to find high percentage shots.
Hillcrest pulled away again with a 9-4 run midway through the half, making the score 24-34. The Panthers worked to increase the pace of the game, but couldn’t find quick buckets on the offensive side of the floor, and found the Comets chewing up time on offense as Hillcrest looked for good shots and easy layups down the stretch.
Hillcrest struggled on the offensive side of the floor despite their patient approach. They shot an abysmal 32% inside the arc, 33% from three point territory. Their intensity on defense translated to strong takes at the basket, earning the Comets 23 trips to the free throw line where they hit 70% of their shots, the difference down the stretch as the Panthers closed the Comet lead in the final two minutes.
The Comets set into their offense with the scoreboard reading 34-41 with 1:40 on the clock. Frustol found himself outside the arc, a comfortable place for most of the night after hitting two three pointers to start the game. With the Panthers playing out on him to divert his shot, Frustol earned a trip to the line. He earned the most trips to the line for both squads during the night, making six of his nine attempts.
The Panthers chipped away at the Comet lead, finding hard shots in the paint as the Comet big men had their foul totals increase. The Panthers tied the game on a turnover by Hillcrest with thirty seconds left. A quick inbounds by Micah Foss to Gabe Preston earned Preston a foul. With the Panthers in bonus the game was placed in the hands of Preston, who would take three more trips to the line in the final seconds of the game, making all six of his attempts in the final thirty seconds to seal the victory for Hillcrest, 46-50.
While the Comets failed to shoot well, their defense carried the day. Hillcrest had 13 steals and 19 defensive rebounds, earning 32 trips to the offensive side of the floor without the Panthers putting any points on the board.
Frustol and Preston led Hillcrest with determination into the new year. Frustol earned his first double-double of the year, with a 12 rebound 16 point showing. Preston led the Comets in scoring thanks to his free throw shooting. Shooting 50% from the field, Preston was a perfect 8-for-8 from the line, ending his night with 19 points.
Hillcrest will take their win into an important practice on Friday before joining the Lady Comets for a double header against Park Christian on Saturday in Moorhead.