NEW PARIS — National Trail’s boys basketball team won back-to-back games for the first time since early January with a weekend sweep of Cross County Conference foes Mississinawa Valley and Franklin-Monroe.
The Blazers celebrated Senior Night with a 57-43 win over Mississinawa Valley on Friday, Feb. 12, then knocked off Franklin-Monroe on Saturday, 59-55.
With the wins, Trail is now 10-9 on the season.
The last time the Blazers won consecutive game was on Jan. 5 and Jan. 8 when they defeated Tri-County North and Dixie.
“They’ve been few and far between here in the last three or four weeks. It was nice to get one on the winning side,” Trail coach Mike Harrison said.
Against the Blackhawks, seniors Cameron Harrison and Tyler Weathington led the way with 21 and 20 points, respectively. Jacob Ray added six and Wyatt House contributed five.
Trail got off to a quick start racing out to a 12-2 lead at the midway point of the first quarter. The Blazers held a 16-8 lead after the first.
“It was a struggle. Mississinawa played hard. We were really having trouble competing on the glass early,” Coach Harrison said.
Trail shot 6-of-11 in the opening quarter, but the Blackhawks stayed in the game by out-rebounding the Blazers 12-3, including 7-0 on the offensive glass.
Trail held a 25-21 halftime lead.
“From an offensive standpoint, at halftime, we talked about, yes, we’re getting good looks, and they’re not going, but most all of them are threes, and the other team shooting layups,” Coach Harrison said. “And there’s really no reason why we can’t get to the glass, and I think if you notice in that third quarter we were getting some more shots at the basket, rather than just all threes like it was in the first half.”
Defensively, Coach Harrison said the Blazers went back to man-to-man defense and challenged Mississinawa Valley.
“There’s no reason why we can’t get through screens, or we can’t put ball pressure to make passes tough and still keep guys in front, and have five guys committed to go into the glass, other than that we just weren’t doing it,” he said. “I don’t know any other way to explain it. And they took the challenge there.”
The Blazers came out strong in the third quarter using a 10-2 run to extend the lead to 37-25 with 3:30 to play.
MV then knocked down three straight 3-pointers to get within 38-34 by the end of the quarter.
“I tried to encourage the kids to stay the course and not get rattled. [MV] threw in three threes from at least 25 to 30 feet,” Coach Harrison said. “And then that fourth one, that bank, then got them within two. It’s just one of those things where when you’re struggling like we have, it’s really easy to see some of those shots that don’t typically go in go in and just feels your snake bitten. I thought the kids did a good job recovering there.”
Trail had its lead cut to 43-41 with just over four minutes remaining and then got a pair of key baskets from Ray and House.
“We had a couple of big shots there. Jacob Ray had a big one and then Wyatt House hit another big one to get some separation,” Coach Harrison said. “We didn’t give up too many good looks from that point on either.”
Ray’s basket started a game-ending 14-2 run for Trail.
“We were able to get a couple stops and get some separation. We went back to our full-court man just to keep pressure on them. Because when we went zone, in the first half, we stopped giving up layups, but they guards had no pressure and they were just picking us apart and getting good looks from five, ten feet,” Coach Harrison said.
The veteran coach said his team looked poised down the stretch, something that has been missing over the past month.
“Poise is a matter of everybody with the ball in their hands not panicking,” he said. “If you can trust yourself and you can trust your defense to get stops you don’t have to feel so pressured to score every possession. Then you can relax, and I thought, down the stretch we had guys wanting the ball in their hands instead of wanting to give it up, and there’s been times where we’ve wanted to give it up this year.”
On Saturday, Trail rallied from a fourth quarter double-digit deficit to knock off Franklin-Monroe.
Four players scored in double figures for Trail, led by Cameron Harrison’s 20. Weathington added 13, Michael Leal chipped in with 11 and House contributed 10.
Trail is scheduled to host Middletown Madison on Wednesday, Feb. 17, before opening sectional tournament play on Thursday, Feb. 25 against either Bethel or Stivers. The game will be played at Vandalia-Butler High School with a scheduled tip time of 5:30 p.m.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 or follow on Twitter @emowenjr