It appears to be a three-horse race for the GAC Central boys basketball title this season, and Washington is off to an unbeaten start.
The Blue Jays, Ft. Zumwalt North and Ft. Zumwalt South figure to slug it out over the next month for the conference championship.
In the GAC Central, each squad plays the four other teams twice in a home-and-home series.
Washington (10-6, 3-0) knocked off Ft. Zumwalt North Tuesday at home, 62-52.
“It’s always tough playing on the road in the GAC Central, so if we can get these wins early at home, maybe that will give us the confidence that maybe we can squeak one out on the road,” said Washington Head Coach Grant Young. “Zumwalt North and Zumwalt South have been the top two teams and Washington third in the past couple of years. Getting this win will maybe help us get over the hump.”
Ft. Zumwalt North (7-6, 1-1) played without its second-leading scorer, junior guard Zach Glotta, who has a toe injury and was in a walking boot.
“Even if he played, we’ve been keying on two people with our matchup defense,” Young said. “When you have three or four shooters, it’s really tough because you spread your defense out. But you can key on one or two people. We’ve been working on that defensive intensity in practice. We have to keep doing that because that’s what gets us going.”
The Panthers’ leading scorer, senior guard Chaz Glotta, who averages 21 points per game, was held to 10 points against the Blue Jays.
“It’s a great win for the kids. We got the momentum in our favor in the first half. We held Chaz to 10 points, which was great. That was a total team effort,” Young said. “When we guard in our matchup, we’re a great team because our defense leads to our offense. That really sparked us in the first half. We were cautious in the second half with the lead.”
Glotta, who will play at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, surpassed 2,000 career points in the game.
“Not many kids get to the 1,000-point plateau. Getting to 2,000 points is something special,” Young said. “He’s going to be a really good player for Carbondale in college. He’s a really good kid who’s played a lot of basketball.”
Ronnie Suggs led Washington with 21 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. He was 14-17 from the free-throw line.
Brad Carpenter added 12 points, going 3-6 from three-point range.
Mike Morgan finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Jacob Mulkey and Dane Meyer both netted six points. Meyer added five rebounds and Mulkey had four.
Patrick Menke collected three points and four rebounds.
Isaiah West and Austin Subke both scored two points. Subke added eight rebounds. Christian Hardesty had two rebounds.
Ryan Daniel paced the Panthers with 16 points. Kris McCann added 12 points.
“We did it with our team defense, trapping them on ball screens, making them have to give it up and making other people beat us,” Young said. “Keeping the ball out of the best scorers’ hands is what we want to do, especially with how our matchup is designed.”
Leading 11-8 after one quarter, the Blue Jays outscored FZN 20-4 in the second quarter to take a 31-12 advantage into halftime.
Glotta had three fouls in the second quarter and four in the third quarter before fouling out in the fourth.
Trailing 43-25 after three quarters, the Panthers pulled to within 49-38 with 4:52 left, but Glotta fouled out soon after, which ruined any chances of a comeback.
Washington maintained the double-digit lead down the stretch.
“I’m proud of our kids holding them to only 12 points in the first half. That generated a lot of offense,” Young said. “We boxed out and didn’t give them too many extra chances. In the fourth quarter, we gave them some extra chances and they got some open looks.”
The Blue Jays hosted Ft. Zumwalt South (13-2, 2-0) Friday.
“I’m happy with our kids to get to 10 wins at this point in the season. We’ve played a tough schedule,” Young said. “We don’t have any easy ones from here on out. We have to be prepared for every game. We’re starting to see a little more emotion out of the kids. They’re playing with one another. It’s a team effort and they’re sharing the ball. That’s going to make us tough late in the season.”