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Center sizzles in PVL debut

Cougars’ early pressure, hot shooting too much for Hillmen to handle
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Center High junior Christopher Smith looked right at home in Earl Crabbe Gym Tuesday night.
His Cougars were playing their first game in the Pioneer Valley League, but they performed much like they did last season in cruising through the Capital Valley Conference with an unbeaten record.
Smith poured in 29 points to lead Center past Placer 83-57. Chad Haysbert — the Cougars’ 6-8 senior center — swatted the ball to Smith on the opening tip for a layup and Center was off and running. The Hillmen simply could not keep up.
The Cougars raced out to a 9-0 lead and by late in the first quarter, the visitors led 21-5. Placer played well in the second quarter to stay in the game, but Center came out of the halftime break and re-established its dominance to pull away.
“We came out great at the start and then we started getting steals and then giving the ball right back to them,” Center coach Ray Gagnon said. “We were a upset with our defense at halftime. We were only giving up 46 points a game coming in and we were hoping to hold them below that. But overall we played pretty well.”
The Hillmen (7-10) struggled shooting the ball as Haysbert blocked four shots and altered many others. Sophomore Isaiah Pineiro was a bright spot off the bench, finishing with 14 points and five rebounds. Senior Josh Turney scored 11 and junior Cody Riggs tossed in 10.
Center’s full-court pressure forced Placer into seven turnovers in the opening quarter. The Hillmen cleaned up sloppy ball handling for the rest of the game, but could not stop the Cougars’ attack.
“They put us on our heels early,” Placer coach Mark Lee said. “After that we did a better job of seeing the floor and making better decisions. But we just had way too many defensive mistakes.”
Ten different Center players scored and the Cougars made ten 3-pointers as a team in the win.
Center’s hoops teams are re-acquainting themselves with several foothill squads. Gagnon coached the Cougars’ girls team when it played in the Golden Empire League that included Bear River and Colfax, among others.
“It’s almost like that league was now,” Gagnon said. “But we know it’s going to be a more competitive league than we were in and we expect a battle every night in this league. Every team is capable of beating any other team in the league.”
Center will take on Lincoln Thursday before meeting up with rival Foothill. Placer will visit Colfax on Thursday. The Falcons edged Foothill 58-57 Tuesday night.
Junior varsity
Placer 55, Center 49 — The Hillmen roared back to win their PVL opener as they scored eight of the last nine points in the game.
Michael McNamara scored four points down the stretch, including the go-ahead basket with less than two minutes left. Andrew Dahlin and Brennan Entz each hit two free throws in the final minute to ice the win. Dahlin finished with 19 points and McNamara added 13 for Placer.