T-Birds overcome turnover troubles, turn back Wildcats

— There was one number that North Callaway Thunderbirds basketball coach Tim Turlington just couldn’t get past.

Even after a back-and-forth, comeback victory over the New Bloomfield Wildcats, Turlington just couldn’t see beyond the ugly truth in the box score.

His Thunderbirds seemed to win in spite of themselves.

“We couldn’t get out of our own ways most of the night,” Turlington said. “Not to take anything away from New Bloomfield, because they’re a real good ballclub.”

“They shoot the ball well, they run the floor and guard up a bit. We had 27 turnovers and, in my way, we have no business winning that game.”

Sound logic, coach. But North Callaway managed to scrape back from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Wildcats 62-60 for its first win of the season Friday night. Obviously, the miscues were not part of North Callaway’s blueprint for victory.

For New Bloomfield, things couldn’t have gone much better in that regard.

“That’s what we do,” Wildcats first-year head coach Tyler Clark said. “We try to create points off turnovers, so we did our job there.”

From the jump, New Bloomfield stayed in the face of North Callaway ball handlers and in their passing lanes.

“I think that was mostly lazy ballhandling because a lot of our turnovers were unforced,” Turlington said. “We were throwing it out of bounds, throwing it in between guys’ legs.

“… New Bloomfield had a few where they came up and pressured us, but for the most part we’re not meeting passes and some of the other little fundamental things you need to do in basketball.”

The Wildcats (1-1) took their first lead of the game at 7-6 in the first quarter on a rebound and putback by senior guard Daniel Berry off a missed free throw by senior guard Aaron Bedsworth.

Berry — who was 14-of-15 from the line — topped New Bloomfield with 18 points.

The Wildcats were at a noticeable size disadvantage against the Thunderbirds (1-1), a factor that was neutralized by New Bloomfield’s unrelenting on-ball pressure.

“The best post defense is the good guard pressure,” Clark said. “Because if they don’t get it into the post it doesn’t matter, so that was our goal and we schemed it.”

As for North Callaway, it managed to keep the deficit reasonable despite being one or two lost loose balls away from letting the game get out of hand. The Thunderbirds drew within two points, 51-49, behind a 9-2 run in the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter.

Five of those points came from senior guard Jacob Stafford, who responded with seven of his game-high 21 points in the final 8 minutes.

The late surge was reminiscent of North Callaway’s season-opening 57-37 loss at Centralia last Tuesday night. Except that time, the burst came too too late. This time around, the Thunderbirds finished strong, outscoring the Wildcats 22-11 in the fourth quarter.

“We got some turnovers, got some easy buckets and really guarded much better in the fourth quarter than we did in the first three,” Turlington said. “We did the same thing in our first game against Centralia, so we’re not starting out as well with the energy we’d like to have.”

North Callaway took the lead for good when senior guard Grant Cundiff hit two free throws with 2 minutes left to make it 59-58. The Thunderbirds went 5-of-6 from the line during that stretch, including three big ones from sophomore forward Zac Eads.

“I tell you what, when I shot those free throws, I just blocked everything out,” Eads said. “I blocked out every noise I could hear because I hadn’t made a free throw for a long time, probably since some time in practice.”

Luckily, both teams are just two games into a long season. Still, Turlington could do without the breakdowns in basic basketball.

“Every person that played (Friday night) violated one of those rules, and we almost paid for it in the end,” Turlington said.

Junior forward Jared Graves also supplied 13 points for the Thunderbirds and junior guard Zack Lavy contributed 11.

Senior guard Kolby O’Dowd and Bedsworth also tallied 13 and 11 points, respectively, for New Bloomfield.

North Callaway, led by sophomore guard Justin Murphy’s 11 points, prevailed in the junior varsity game 46-27. Freshman forward Alex Cuneio paced New Bloomfield with 13 points.

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