By Mike Zummo
One point separated the two teams heading into the final eight minutes of play, but the Pine Bush Bushmen went on a run at the start of the fourth quarter to pull away to a 77-70 win over the Valley Central Vikings on Saturday morning.
“It was typical first-game jitters,” first-year Pine Bush coach Dan Conley said. “We only have two guys back with any varsity experience. This was their first real experience.”
They had to prepare in a hurry due to the COVID-19 pandemic and snow, the Bushmen only started practicing a week earlier. No one had the usual three weeks and scrimmages to prepare for play.
“It’s great (to get out there),” Conley said. “Normally, you get the first couple of practices, guys are dragging and it’s long haul to your first game. Now instead, we had seven practices and other guys had the bare minimum.”
The Vikings opened their season two days earlier with seven players because several players didn’t have enough practices to play. Still, they battled the Wildcats to overtime, before falling. Saturday morning, they hung with the Section 9 Class AA finalist Bushmen before Tim Linton got into a rhythm and helped widen the gap.
“From our standpoint, we had a bunch of guys opt not to play,” Nutt said. “On the same token, that gives other kids an opportunity to get minutes.”
Derek Hickman scored a team-high 20 points for the Bushmen (1-0). Jacob Santiago and Tim Linton scored 18 points each and Dione Cauthan scored 12 points, nine in the second half.
“Jacob had a great first half and hitting Dione and Tim inside got them most of their points,” Conley said.
The key was getting Linton his touches in the second half.
With the Bushmen leading by two points in the fourth quarter, Linton’s four straight points gave Pine Bush a six-point lead.
Valley Central’s Henri Pothier cut the Bushmen’s lead to three points with a 3-pointer, but the Vikings wouldn’t get any closer.
“We didn’t have to make the adjustments as much as take care of the basketball,” Conley said. “Then we played better defense and limited them.”
The Bushmen had trouble limiting the Vikings’ Raysean Johnson, who scored a game-high 21 points, leading a trio of Valley Central double-digit scorers. Jerell Taylor added 17 points and Pothier added 11.
“Johnson has been fantastic,” Nutt said. “he had 23 the other night against Warwick and he’s just a sophomore. Taylor played really well. He’s a sophomore trying to get his feet wet. The varsity game is a different speed and takes a different strength. Overall, for having seven practices, and not having everything in, I thought our effort was there on both nights.”
The Bushmen jumped out to a five-point lead after the first quarter, before the Vikings had a strong second quarter.
“We were moving the ball early on,” Conley said. Then we had some lazy turnovers that allowed them to get back in it.”
And then some as the Vikings took a one-point lead at halftime and at one point in the third quarter, led by as many as seven points.
“Their press took us by surprise early in the game,” Nutt said. “We got good shots and a lot of turnovers that led to some easy buckets. Once we handled the press, we got comfortable and played really well.”
Linton gave Pine Bush the lead for good on a putback with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We started attacking the rim a little bit more and it made a big difference in our game,” Conley said.