The Lions first league win of the season came in thrilling and improbable fashion last Friday evening.
Cottage Grove (5-12 overall, 1-2 league) headed to Elmira (4-12, 0-3) on Jan. 24 looking to break through in the win column after starting the Sky-Em season 0-2. With an injury-depleted roster and early foul trouble plaguing their chances, senior guard Daetryl Berry took matters into his own hands after the game went into overtime, sinking high-pressure free throws and putting the cherry on top with a game-winning, buzzer-beating layup that earned the Lions the victory and stunned the Falcon fans in attendance.
The game was close throughout all four quarters, but the intensity truly began late in the final period when sophomore Jayden Cameron hit a three from the left elbow with 28 seconds remaining to tie the game at 45.
The teams traded baskets in overtime until the Lions found themselves in dire straits: down 51-49 with under a minute remaining and Berry at the free throw line needing to sink both to have a chance at a win. Up to that point, the team had made just four of their nine free throw attempts.
“I looked at Coach [Seth] Hutchison when I was shooting the free throws and I was kinda shaking,” Berry said after the game. “I was like, ‘just gotta breath’, and I hit [both] and felt so much relief.”
Berry’s clutch free throws tied the game at 51 and, after stopping the Falcons on their next possession, he got an opportunity to do something even bigger.
As time ticked away, Berry brought the ball upcourt and, in lieu of settling for a jump shot, made an executive decision to try to finish the game aggressively. Berry used the same strength he employs as the running back of the football team to barrel his way into the paint, flipping the ball up towards the hoop amongst a sea of taller defenders. The shot went in, the clock expired and the Lions won.
“Usually in practice when I get the ball low enough, I’m a little bigger dude, so I just did what I do best and got to the hoop,” Berry said. “It wasn’t even designed for me. I was supposed to hold the ball,” said Berry.
But, with time running out and limited options, Hutchison audibled and instructed his point guard to attack. The game-winner gave Berry 15 points in the game along with seven rebounds and three steals. He was only 3/6 from the free throw line overall, but he hit the two that mattered most.
“I attribute all that to him,” Hutchison said. “He took on a leadership role for us tonight. He was positive with his teammates all night … He was inspirational for us. He attacked the basket really tough for us.”
The unexpected ending was made even more exciting by the fact that a few factors were working against the Lions from early on. Due to injuries, Cottage Grove only had seven players dressed in uniform for the game. This lack of depth was exacerbated by early foul trouble, including for senior Zach Anlauf who was pulled in the first quarter with three fouls.
“That really put us in a bind right there after we were doing so well,” Hutchison said. The Lions got out of the gate to an early 12-7 lead, but the advantage was done in once the referees’ whistles began sounding.
“We were playing physical, we were going to our advantages, throwing it inside and they couldn’t handle us inside. Then we started getting away from that … but they responded really well. They held their composure. They kept fighting and battling.”
Cottage Grove bounced back in the second half to limit their fouling and creep back into the game, creating the opportunity for Berry to make the bus ride back home a happy one.
Also with strong performances for the Lions was Cameron, who finished the game with 17 points and two steals and sophomore Carter Bascue, who added nine points on 4/6 shooting with seven rebounds.
The other senior on the team along with Berry, Zach Anlauf, once again made his presence known both on and off the statsheet. After recovering from early foul trouble, he finished with 12 points and six rebounds, but more importantly was a +12 in 28 minutes of play, meaning that Cottage Grove outscored Elmira by 12 points during the 28 minutes that Anlauf was in the game. The next highest player for the Lions was +2.
Cottage Grove’s next game will likely be its toughest test of the season as they head to Marist (13-3, 3-0) on Fri., Jan. 31 to take on the third-ranked Spartans.
After the adrenaline-pumping finish of the boys game, the Cottage Grove girls (12-5, 3-0) took care of business against Elmira (2-14, 0-3), winning 55-29 to earn their third consecutive victory and fifth in their last six games.
The Lions were once again spurred on by a balanced effort from entrenched starters Ema Gardner, Matty Ladd, Gracie Arnold and Mikaela Blomquist. Ladd and Arnold, in particular, combined for 17 rebounds and nine steals and, as per usual, used their height advantage to create problems inside for the Falcons’ defense.
Cottage Grove’s Fri., Jan. 31 game against Marist (8-6, 3-0) will pit two teams undefeated in league play against one another. The winner will take sole ownership of the top position in the 2020 Sky-Em standings.