Nighthawks beat Badgers - The Explorer: Sports

Nighthawks beat Badgers

Team has best three guards ever, says coach

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Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:22 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

At Ironwood Ridge High School Thursday night, the Nighthawks (15-5, 4-1 in league) had the challenge of stopping the Tucson High School Badgers, one of the top 50 basketball teams in Arizona.

To do that, they had to focus on slowing down senior guard Shakir Smith, the leading scorer in Southern Arizona at 23 points per game.

The Nighthawks proved to be equal to the task, as they defeated the Badgers 61-56.

Smith was still the game’s leading scorer with 18 points, but he had to work for it, hoisting shots and making just 28 percent from the floor.

At one point, Smith even missed five shots in a row.

What was the secret to slowing down the phenom?

“Tyler Williams,” said Nighthawks coach Brian Peabody. Williams, a sophomore, was asked to cover Smith most of the night.

“He brings a ton of energy,” Peabody said. “Williams is almost as quick as (Lawrence) Hampton,” who was last year’s point guard.

Peabody says he has the best three guards he’s ever had in Williams, Tyler D’Amore and Mitch Fischer. All three were also key members of the football team, which advanced to the state semi-final game.

“He’s really great,” D’Amore said. “Tyler Williams played great defense on (Smith). Coach Peabody had a great plan.”

D’Amore led the Nighthawks with 15 points and made four three-pointers. As a team, the Nighthawks buried nine from long range.

The score volleyed back-and-forth until Ironwood went on a 12-0 run to end the half. D’Amore scored eight of the points, including a buzzer-beating shot to end the half with a 32-20 lead for the Nighthawks. Defensively, they held Tucson to six in the period.

“Knocking down those shots was big,” D’Amore said.

D’Amore opened the third with another basket from behind the arc for a 35-20 lead. Unfortunately, instead of rolling to an easy win, the offense fell into a bit of a slump and scored only six more points the rest of the period.

The Badgers went on a 13-3 run, including a buzzer-beating shot to end the half with a 32-20 lead for the Nighthawks. Defensively, they held Tucson to six in the period.

“Knocking down those shots was big,” D’Amore said.

D’Amore opened the third with another basket from behind the arc for a 35-20 lead. Unfortunately, instead of rolling to an easy win, the offense fell into a bit of a slump and scored only six more points the rest of the period.

The Badgers went on a 13-3 run, led by Smith who got hot, just as the Nighthawks went cold.

“A lot of times we’re our own worst enemy,” Peabody said. “We can’t shoot a lot from the perimeter.”

Smith buried a trey late in the third to tie it at 41-41 going into the fourth. He finished with eight in the period.

Free-throw shooting made the difference in the fourth and down the stretch, as the Nighthawks scored 20 points and made 75 percent of their free throws in the game. That’s a far cry from last year’s squad, which frequently made less than half of their tries from the charity stripe.

One of the challenges for the Nighthawks this year was how they would react to the loss of three key seniors. Jan Maehlen was a seven-foot tall center who anchored a great defense, while forward Matt Walter was the 5A-II player-of-the-year. The two combined gave the team a strong post presence. Lawrence Hampton missed many games but, when available, was the team’s quarterback and quickest player.

Coaching a team with only two seniors could have presented Peabody with a daunting task. D’Amore, the 5A-II player-of-the-year in football, is the only senior starter. Brendan Sharkey, the team’s tallest player at 6 feet, 5 inches, is a key reserve.

“We don’t have a post presence,” Peabody acknowledged. “Our guards are tough. We apply a lot of defensive pressure with our guards.”

While the team has lost its quickest player from last year’s rotation, D’Amore says the team is actually a lot faster this year. Williams didn’t play much last year.

The Nighthawks’ lack of depth was revealed last season when the team blew a 10-point lead in its fourth-quarter playoff loss to Chaparral. Peabody mostly used a five or six-man rotation; the team looked tired at the end, and on into overtime.

“We’re probably deeper,” Peabody said.

In addition to D’Amore’s production last Thursday, Alec Sonderman scored 12 points, and Fischer and Williams had eight each. Travis Jefferies and Andrew Dohm, two newcomers, each added eight as well.

“Our football players are getting into (basketball) shape,” D’Amore said. “We’re ready to contend for a state championship.”

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