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Grizzlies put scare in Bella Vista, lose game at end

Young Granite Bay boys team comes up just short
By: Kurt Johnson, senior sports editor
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The stands at Bella Vista High in Fair Oaks were painted red with fans sporting their “Destination Arco” shirts when the Granite Bay boys basketball team came calling Wednesday night. The upset-minded Grizzlies, the No. 14 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs, had the hearts of No. 3-seeded Bella Vista’s fans racing all night long as they threatened to make those shirts collector’s items after a first-round elimination. Staring down adversity along the way, Granite Bay fell just short in the closing seconds when a missed free throw left it on the short end of a 46-44 final tally. The score was tight throughout the contest as both teams delivered at the defensive end. The considerable disadvantage in size that the Grizzlies entered the game with became much more profound when senior center Doug Kircher went down just three minutes into the second quarter with an ankle injury. Kircher would not return. “The injury (to Kircher) was a tragedy,” said Granite Bay coach Jason Sitterud. “He has done so much for us and he deserved to go out with a strong finish.” The loss of Kircher’s size and senior leadership left the Grizzlies with a bigger mountain to climb, as the size discrepancy grew and Granite Bay was left with just one senior available to take on Bella Vista’s experience lineup. The senior post player had already pulled down six rebounds at the time he went down. The call was answered in many different ways, with junior guard Jake Riffice banging with the big boys to pull down four improbable rebounds and also with huge contributions from a number of young front line players. Starting forward Braden Young, a junior, was outstanding for the Grizzlies throughout the game, but was particularly strong after intermission when he scored all four of his points and grabbed all five of his rebounds. A trio of sophomores was critical to the Granite Bay effort, as forwards John Davis, Jacob Keys and Kyle Howarth gave Sitterud big minutes and huge production. While Keys and Davis have been an increasingly important part of the Grizzlies’ success over the past few weeks, Howarth was a new addition, having been called up from the junior varsity for the playoffs. “We had a special defensive package involving Howarth that we put in for this game,” Sitterud said. “We ended up using it a lot more than we thought we would, and he did a real nice job for us.” “Our young guys have been there for us, and we trust them,” Sitterud added. Bella Vista led 20-18 at the break, and then Granite Bay gained a 28-26 advantage at the end of the third quarter in a very low-scoring struggle. Scoring opened up in the final stanza as both squads stepped up the pressure, trying to will their way to the win. The Broncos were carried offensively by the same duo that has lifted them over and over all season. Senior forward Justin Haley was bigger and stronger than anyone the Grizzlies could send to defend him. Haley led Bella Vista with 21 points and seven rebounds on the night, and senior guard Tim Martin scored 16 points. Only two other Broncos put even a single point in the scorebook. “I thought we played a little tight,” said Bella Vista coach David Gonzalez. “A lot of that was due to the fact that Granite Bay played very well. They played hard and made some key plays both on offense and defense, but we made some plays when we needed to and won.” In contrast, Granite Bay had just one player in double figures, and got points from eight different contributors. Junior guard Ryan Motsenbocker scored 15 points to lead the way, but Riffice (seven), junior guard Erick Harris (seven) and Davis (six) all pitched in when called upon. The contest went down to the wire, and it was eventually decided at the free-throw line. With 1:35 remaining, Martin scored on a sensational reverse layup from behind the backboard to put the Broncos up 44-42. After Bella Vista came up with a defensive stop, the Grizzlies reciprocated, and when Young ripped down the Bronco miss at the 47-second mark, he was fouled. The junior stroked both charity tosses on the one-and-one opportunity to tie the game at 44-44. With 24 seconds to go, Haley drove baseline, and as Young attempted to cut him off, he was whistled for his fifth foul of the night, sending Young to the bench and Haley to the stripe. The 6-foot-5 senior dropped both ends of the chance and the Grizzlies took possession down 46-44. After running clock in search of the best shot, Granite Bay attacked with Davis taking the ball baseline, where he was fouled with just one second remaining. The sophomore saw the front end of the one-and-one rim out, sealing the Grizzlies fate. “If you told me I would be in a situation like that, down two with Davis on the line, I would take it again,” Sitterud said. “He is a great kid and great player.” The loss ends the Granite Bay season with an 18-10 record, and while the result will sting for a while, this is clearly a program on the rise. There were just two seniors on this roster, and so many juniors and sophomores played key roles all season long. “We are really looking forward to next season already,” Sitterud said.