LONGMONT — It has been a painful start to the 2011-12 season for the Niwot boys basketball team, which picked up more serious injuries than victories during the club’s six pre-holiday break contests.
On Tuesday, however, all that pain and suffering felt remarkably better.
The injury-plagued Cougars roared into Northern League play with a convincing 57-46 victory at Silver Creek, taking control with a strong first quarter before surviving a frantic Raptors rally during the fourth. It was the league opener for both squads.
“What I’m really happy for is the seniors — they have struggled through some tough times and some tough years,” Niwot coach Travis Maron said. “Because of the injuries and all the stuff that’s been happening, their heads were down. I challenged everybody that this was an opportunity. With our numbers, we have to play very disciplined, and I think we did that. We kept our composure and we battled really hard.”
So far, Niwot (3-4, 1-0 Northern League) has incurred a rash of injuries that seem more at place with a football team. Senior Cody Heimann suffered a season-ending broken wrist. Sophomore Alex Kinnison will be sidelined about two months with a dislocated kneecap. And junior Nate Merriman is gutting his way through games with a severely injured hand.
None of those afflictions deterred Niwot on Tuesday, though. Senior Henry Sebesta set the tone by making sure the Cougars would not be intimidated by Silver Creek’s superior size, scoring 10 of his 26 points during the first quarter and adding another 10 points during the fourth as Niwot held the host Raptors at bay. Sebesta finished with an 8-for-9 effort at the free throw line and connected on 5-of-7 shots from the floor during the second half.
Senior guard Michael Ogez added 14 points for the Cougars.
“We really got after it on the rebounds, and I think that was the deciding factor,” Sebesta said. “We just got to the boards as hard as we could and were able to transition out of that. That was a game-changer. We came out knowing they were going to be physical, but we can be physical, too. Just because they’re bigger than us doesn’t mean we were going to get pushed around.”
Niwot held a 41-30 lead after the third quarter and remained poised during Silver Creek’s comeback attempt in the final frame.
The Cougars led by 12 points with about 5 minutes remaining when the Raptors’ offense finally came alive. Austin Apodaca’s third 3-pointer of the second half was followed by a series of inside baskets from Patryck Woodley-Minter, who paced Silver Creek with 19 points. A rebound basket by Trace Gray pulled Silver Creek (3-5, 0-1) to within three points with a little more than 2 minutes remaining. But Niwot’s Forrest Lee stemmed the tie with a driving layup, and the Cougars outscored Silver Creek 8-0 down the stretch to ice the win.
Niwot’s injury karma rubbed off somewhat on the Raptors, who played without starting guard Brandon Bane after he went down with a shoulder injury late in the first quarter.
“I have to give props to Niwot — they have a couple kids hurt and I thought they played really scrappy,” Silver Creek coach Bob Banning said. “I thought we had a lack of execution in the first half, and I take responsibility for that. I don’t think we were patient enough pushing the ball inside in the first half. Our defensive intensity picked up in the second half, and I would have liked to have seen that same intensity in the first half.”
Niwot 57, Silver Creek 46
At Silver Creek HS
NIWOT (3-4, 1-0)
Lee 3 3-6 9, Merriman 1 1-3 3, McCaddon 1 1-4 3, Sebesta 9 8-9 26, Ogez 3 8-11 14, Janzen 0 0-0 0, Heape 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 21-33 57.
SILVER CREEK (3-5, 0-1)
Fleming 1 1-2 3, Apodaca 4 0-0 11, Bane 0 0-0 0, Woodley-Minter 8 3-6 19, Gray 1 1-2 3, Machmuller 1 2-2 4, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Cecil 3 0-4 6, Goforth 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 7-16 46.
Score by quarters:
Niwot 14 9 18 16 — 57
Silver Creek 5 8 17 16 — 46
3-point field goals — Niwot (0); Silver Creek (3): Apodaca 3. Total fouls — Niwot 14, Silver Creek 25. Fouled out — Woodley-Minter. Technical fouls — None.