The moderately filled bleachers were scattered with white for the varsity Wolves’ home opener against the Minooka Indians. Both teams competed in their first conference match, coming from four games of experience in separate Thanksgiving holiday tournaments the week before. Despite the cold shooting that matched the outside temperature, the Wolves were able to pull a 45-42 win and successfully secure a conference victory.
Both teams struggled to score as no points occurred until 3:47 was left in the first quarter. Senior guard Grayson Goetz locked all six of the Wolves’ points, with the Indians still leading by two at the end of the quarter.
“Basically, we were moving the ball around and we got a lot of good looks but the ball just wasn’t falling,” Goetz said. “Obviously I just got down court and tried to get a couple of easy buckets to start.”
Along with Goetz’s energy, the closeness in score could also be attributed to the Wolves’ defensive game. Head Coach Ryan Velasquez said this was his main focus for his team going into the game.
“We want to continue to play aggressive and we got to play good defense,” Velasquez said. “Our defense will translate into our offense and if we can get stops and string some stops together, I think we’ll be all right.”
The team continued to exercise an intense defense, forcing many turnovers in the second quarter. Minooka was unable to find the net as they only closed two points, made from senior Jaden Paige’s free throw shots.
The Wolves found encouragement with four minutes to go in the half when senior guard Tremont Brewer made a three-point play and helped his team take their first lead in a low scoring game of 11-10.
Brewer said he and his teammates underestimated the Indians and he thought they would be an easy team to beat. Although this false sense of security held the score close for the remainder of the game, the momentum from Brewer’s play carried through the rest of the half.
Ending the half with a score of 15-10, players Will Wolfe, Odin Lium, and Jalen Tucker additionally contributed to the point total, offensively moving the ball well. Velasquez said this teamwork was exactly what he was looking forward to and that this is how his team finds the most success.
“We have to trust each other with the basketball and get lots of touches through everybody on the team,” Velasquez said. “This group cares about each other, I think that goes a long way in our play.”
The first half was played submissively as each team only committed four personal fouls and the crowd stood in anticipation for more excitement.
Both the Wolves and Indians resurfaced after halftime with more energy and shot accuracy than witnessed previously in the game. At the 6:14 mark, Minooka drew first blood when senior guard Steven Gonzalez made the first three-point basket of the game.
Junior guard AJ Johnson immediately answered with a three of his own on the ensuing possession increasing the game’s offensive output. The third quarter proved to be triumphant in scoring as the point total from the first half more than doubled for both teams. Keeping it close, it was tied 29-29 with four seconds left in the half. With an offensive rebound, Johnson got the ball through the net to keep the wolves up by two moving into the final quarter.
Senior guard Jalen Tucker also had a prosperous third quarter. Stepping it up with seven points in those eight minutes, he aided in his team’s overall win. Goetz made a critical steal and drive to assist Tucker for his third basket this quarter.
“After the first half I knew I wasn’t playing the way I wanted to play and when I was put in I knew to come out aggressively and ready to score,” Tucker said.
The game’s lead continued to shift back and forth between the Wolves and Indians. With persistent suspense, neither team allowed the other an advantage of more than three points over the other.
The team to be victorious would have to want it more and make bold moves to catch the final lead. With under a minute left in the game, senior forward Will Wolfe made a crucial steal as the wolves were protecting a one point lead with only 35 seconds remaining.
The point conversion from this steal completed his five-point quarter. Wolfe said he was disappointed with most of his personal game, but said he was proud of his team.
“As the game went on we found our flow and it was easier to get buckets,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe also made a defensive rebound to hold possession at the conclusion of the game, sealing the win with a score of 45-42.
“I think we somewhat pulled it together at the end,” Velasquez said. “I give credit to our guys for coming out and competing all the way to the end and coming out with a conference win.”
The Wolves look forward to playing another conference game this coming Friday at Yorkville against the Foxes. The game starts at 6:30 p.m.
Tanya Koomjohn is a sports writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl