By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – What West Branch did over the final 26 minutes of its matchup with Northeast on Friday would be enough to dig out of an early hole against most teams on its schedule.
Then again, Northeast isn’t like most teams and the early deficit the Bears found themselves facing on Friday was unlike any other it had seen this season.
West Branch fell into an early 13-0 hole and was never able to fully dig itself out in a 68-63 loss to Northeast in a River Valley Conference cross-divisional meeting at West Branch.
“They came out really strong and we were a little slow at the beginning,” West Branch senior Cooper Kabela said. “We didn’t come out like we should have and that ended up being kind of the game.”
Northeast (8-1, 6-1 RVC) held West Branch scoreless for nearly six minutes to open the game while building a 13-0 lead it would never give up.
West Branch (6-5, 5-5) got as close as three points in the third quarter but could never pull even as the Bears had a two-game winning streak end.
“Hopefully they know that no game is out of reach because they were playing against a good program and fought back,” West Branch coach Tom Burger said. “We kept fighting and clawing and had it down to one or two possessions.”
It was a nightmare first quarter for West Branch.
The Bears missed their first six shots and didn’t get on the board until Cooper Kabela’s basket with 2:10 left in the opening quarter.
By that point the Rebels had already built a double-digit lead.
“We take pride in getting off to a good start and we haven’t had too many games when we didn’t get off to a good start,” Burger said. “They can just be intimidating to look at and we are still pretty young so from a mindset you wonder if that have a factor because they are big and we knew they could score points.”
West Branch didn’t let the slow start keep it from showing it could compete with the RVC North Division power.
The Bears shot 66 percent from the field after its nearly six-minute drought to open the game and trailed just 37-34 after Tanner Lukavsky, Kabela and Beau Cornwell hit 3-pointers on consecutive third-quarter possessions.
“I think we were lacking confidence early,” Cornwell said. “After the first six minutes we were firing on all cylinders.”
Northeast scored five unanswered points on a 3-pointer by Zachary Parson and a Lucas Empen put back to push the lead back to 42-34.
West Branch trailed 49-40 heading to the fourth quarter but wouldn’t go away.
The Bears cut the lead to 51-45 on a pair of Kabela free throws with 4:17 left but Northeast would never let the lead slip below five.
The loss dropped West Branch to 0-4 against RVC North Division foes this season.
“It’s good because you know we are right there, we just have to get over that hump but it’s kind of frustrating to be that close,” Kabela said. “We played really good but props to them they played really well too.”
Cornwell led West Branch with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting while Kabela added 20 points and nine rebounds.
West Branch shot 55 percent from the floor and was 6-of-12 from 3-point range in the loss.
Freshman Tanner Lukavsky and Ben Thompson each had eight points for West Branch.
“They had five guys on Kabela from the start and we finally hit some shots and he found the open guy and we started moving better on offense and our defense led to some good things,” Burger said. “I think that’s the key for us the rest of the year is play hard and find some other guys to step up and knock down some shots.”
Northeast 17 18 14 19 – 68
West Branch 9 16 15 23 – 63
West Branch (63) – Beau Cornwell 8-11 4-6 22, Tanner Lukavsky 3-6 0-1 8, Brett Schiele 1-2 0-0 3, Cooper Kabela 7-11 5-5 20, Ben Thompson 2-6 4-6 8, Ted Bridges 0-2 2-2 2, Team 21-38 15-20 63.
Northeast (68) – Zachary Parsons 7-17 2-5 20, Collin Swanton 1-2 0-0 2, Ben Lange 2-3 2-5 6, Andrey Drury 0-1 0-0 0, Dawson Stoll 1-3 0-0 2, Axel Dondiego 2-4 0-0 4, Kyle Dell 0-1 2-4 2, Tyson Sullivan 1-3 0-0 2, Braeden Hoyer 5-7 1-2 11, Lucas Empen 8-13 3-4 19, Team 27-54 10-20 68.
3-point field goals – WB 6-12 (Cornwell 2-4, Lukavsky 2-4, Schiele 1-2, Kabela 1-1, Thompson 0-1), NE 4-16 (Parson 4-12, Drury 0-1, Stoll 0-2, Sullivan 0-1). Rebounds – WB 19 (Kabela 9), NE 36 (Empen 10). Turnovers – WB 12, NE 13. Total fouls – WB 18, NE 20. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.