Fast start aids Braves
Badger edges Bristol in key NAC crossover battle
BRISTOLVILLE — A 20-point first quarter propelled Badger to a huge victory over Bristol Tuesday night, 60-59, snapping a nine-game win streak for the Panthers.
The Braves came out hot, starting on an 8-0 run in the Northeastern Athletic Conference game and continued to push throughout the quarter, surprising even their coach.
“Watching us in warmups I didn’t think we were going to come out as hot as we did,” Braves coach Joshua Upshire said. “We didn’t look very good in warmups, but we came out, we were shooting the ball well in the first quarter.
“Gage (Elza) got hot there, my gosh, he’s a good player. He got going there, we had to buckle down and stop him. We were hot in the first quarter and I think that’s what helped us.”
Elza definitely got hot early, scoring 25 points in the first half. Elza finished the night with 37. At one point in the game Elza had scored 20 of Bristol’s 21 points.
“He can get going,” Panthers coach Craig Giesy said. “Sometimes when he does get going our role players watch too much. I thought that happened tonight. He got going and instead of our other guys playing off of him, we got a little bit of ‘let’s watch Gage do his thing’ mode, and I felt that wound up hurting us later.
“This is a great game for us to realize that we need to get better heading into the tournament.”
Matt Church broke Badger’s early 8-0 run, capitalizing on his second free throw attempt and opening the scoring for Bristol.
Leading the Braves (16-3, 9-3 NAC) was Aiden Miller with 23 points. Logan Lendak scored 11 points and Jacob Euker added 10.
Despite only putting up four points, Brad Blaney may have had the biggest impact on the night, grabbing a rebound in the final seconds on what would have been a game-winning shot for the Panthers (14-3, 10-1 NAC).
“Brad Blaney and Jacob Euker are our two defensive guys,” Upshire said. “We rely on them to keep the other team’s best players in check. I know Gage got a lot of points, but they did what they had to do in that fourth quarter and got a big stop in the end.”
Blaney also hit a buzzer-beating shot to end the third quarter and break a 45-45 tie.
The two coaches have great respect for what the other does. Upshire gave some very high praise to Giesy after the game.
“Kudos to coach Giesy,” Upshire said. “I appreciate everything he does. He makes me a better coach every time I coach against him. I love what they do, their system.
“I help him out all the time at the summer camps just because I appreciate what he does for the game. He teaches it the right way and to come out of here with a win like that, I’ll take it any day.”
Bristol looks to rebound in a conference matchup against Windham on Friday. The Bombers (9-3 NAC) moved closer to Bristol in the Stripes Division standings with a win Tuesday over Pymatuning Valley (9-2 NAC). That result leaves Badger with an outside chance to overtake the Lakers in the Stars Division. The Braves take the court next on the road against Ursuline where Upshire was an assistant coach for several years.