Mustang 8th Graders Mature into Winning Team

Alex Harding catches some air as he shoots over his defender in last weekend’s Hoopa tournament. Also pictured are #3 Crue Contreras and #10 Graham McConnell. [photo by Mindi Contreras]

After struggling to win games through an early season plagued by crazy weather, flu, and less than optimal practice space and time, Miranda Junior High’s 8th grade boys’ basketball team has blossomed into a team that, now at 10-9 on the season, “has finally arrived at the level of play that we are capable of,” according to head coach Taylor Morrow.

After a disappointing performance in the Ferndale tournament two weekends ago, Morrow called a meeting with his players to discuss what could be done to turn the season around, and achieve the goal of getting into the Crescent City Jaycees Tournament, the middle school equivalent of the sectional play-offs held at the high school level.

“We had a good talk and the players came up with a lot of great stuff they want to work on,” said Morrow. From that moment on the Mustang players have upped their level of commitment to the team’s success and won a league game last week and then went on to make it to the championship game at the Hoopa tournament and lose by just 2 points.

Last Wednesday the Mustangs beat Toddy Thomas 55-52. Despite the close score Morrow said, “We were in control the entire game. It was a great showing from everyone.” The game was a huge confidence booster for the Mustangs who had lost twice before to Toddy Thomas.

Graham McConnell led all scorers with 14 points and Riley Gallagher followed with ten. “We also got great production from our bench,” added Morrow. “They provided energy when needed.”

On Friday the Mustangs traveled to the Hoopa tournament and won their opening game over Round Valley 44-36. Sean Hassall-Hass scored 9 points and Crue Contreras added eight to lead Mustangs scoring. “This was a real team effort,” said Morrow. “Everyone got lots of playing time and it was very good for our development.”

Sean Hassall Hass shoots in last week’s home win over Toddy Thomas [Photo by Mindi Contreras]

In the next round on Saturday, the Mustangs faced Redwood out of Crescent City. Morrow had scouted the team the night before and determined they were a quality side the Mustangs would need to be prepared for defensively. Cameron Messenger eagerly volunteered for the task of guarding a Redwood player Morrow said was one of the fastest he’d ever seen.

The Mustangs found themselves down 16-13 at the end of the first quarter, with the speedy player scoring ten of their points. It was then that the lessons in maturity recently learned by the squad began to bare fruit. For the remaining three quarters the Mustangs outscored Redwood 34-16, winning the game 47-32, and Messenger shut down his man, holding him to just 4 more points.

Alex Harding hit a buzzer beater right at the end of the half to tie the score at 22, and when the game resumed after half time “Redwood had no answer for our energy or our aggressive defense,” said Morrow. McConnell, in addition to leading all scorers with 17 was dominant on the boards, and Harding, who scored 13 also had multiple steals.

The win put the Mustangs in the championship game against Hydesville, a team that had beaten them by 30 points the last time they met. This time Miranda’s renewed energy and commitment showed, and while the jitters of playing for 1st place manifested in a couple low-scoring quarters, the Mustangs kept the battle close. Down by just 2 points with 9 seconds to go an unsuccessful in-bounds play resulting in a turnover allowed Hydesville to go up by 5, but the Mustangs played right to the end, with McConnell hitting a 3-pointer as time ran out to make it just a 44-42 loss.

McConnell had 10 points and Contreras had nine. Harding and McConnell were named to the all-tourney team, and Morrow said Contreras was his most consistent player in the tourney. He also credited Brendan Scribner with being a top contributor from the bench. The close loss keeps Miranda in contention for a berth in the Jaycees tourney in March.

This week the Mustangs play Redwood again in league play on Tuesday and then will travel to the Epperson Tournament in Crescent City. “We know how smart we are now, and we understand our roles,” said Morrow, confident that the team will continue to improve. The Mustangs are now 10-9 overall and 2-1 in league play.



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