Spartans overwhelm Hillmen

By: Ray Hacke, Journal Sports Writer
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It wasn’t San Juan’s high-scoring Ball twins that gave the Placer High boys basketball team the most trouble Tuesday night. It was the other Spartans who shared the scoring load who brought down the Hillmen 62-52 in the Kendall Arnett Tournament semifinals. “We were gambling on that,” Placer coach Mark Lee said. The gamble backfired. Placer (5-9) succeeded in limiting senior center Jamie Ball, who came into the tournament averaging 23 points per game, to nine points. Ball’s twin brother Julian, a senior guard, came in averaging 17 points and was held to a team-high 16. “Coach Lee had a great strategy,” Spartans coach Eric Wohlenberg said. “In the first quarter we were standing around getting frustrated, and (Placer) did a nice job of getting physical with (the Ball twins).” Lee praised guards Anthony Amara, Michael Jensen and Matt Ross for limiting the Balls’ field-goal opportunities. “We did a nice job on them, (but) we put them at the free-throw line too much,” Lee said. “They were 12-for-13 at the free-throw line, and that hurt us.” That was particularly true in the second quarter, when Julian Ball converted all of his free throws in the span of a minute to put the Spartans ahead to stay. What ultimately doomed the Hillmen was the fact that the Spartans’ other players took advantage of the scoring opportunities Placer’s defensive strategy created. Forward Vadim Polezhako scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for San Juan (12-2), and fellow seniors Chris Daniels and Dion Stroughter added nine points apiece. “We kept telling Jamie and Julian, ‘Don’t get frustrated,’” Wohlenberg said. “‘Keep hitting the boards. Keep looking for backdoor curls and backdoor cuts. Trust your teammates.’” Junior forward Josh Klem led Placer with game highs of 22 points and six rebounds. Ross followed with 10, and Jensen and senior center Jeff Patton added eight apiece. The Hillmen hung with the Spartans during the first quarter. The score was 13-13 at the end of the period. “We have a little bit better athletes, but (Lee) does such a great job teaching basketball-wise,” Wohlenberg said. “When we come up here, it’s scary.” Patton put in an offensive rebound early in the second quarter to give Placer its final lead at 15-13. Just 12 seconds later, however, Julian Ball was fouled in 3-point range, and he converted all three of his foul shouts to put San Juan ahead for good. After that, the closest Placer got was four points. Placer will face Del Oro, which lost to Nevada Union 65-48, in today’s third-place game. The Spartans, meanwhile, will play in the tournament championship game for the second straight season. San Juan lost to Folsom in last year’s title game. The Hillmen lost to Del Oro 65-46 in Loomis on Dec. 16. “We competed against San Juan, and we’ll play tough (today) and compete with Del Oro,” Lee said. “We have to execute better than we did last time, though.”