The Wood River boys finally ran up against a team that plays tougher defense than the Wolverines. And it was a very physical battle between Wood River and Jerome Wednesday.
Jerome (9-7 overall, 4-0 league), unbeaten in Great Basin Conference West action, bumped and clawed its way to a 49-43 league triumph over Wood River in a wire-to-wire tussle that wasn't for the faint-hearted or those who couldn't take a hit.
Before a big, loud crowd in the Hailey gym, Wood River (2-13, 0-5 league) took the early lead and was within one point, 44-43, with 1:25 left before wilting under the man-to-man pressure of the deeper, stronger Tigers.
Wood River coach Fred Trenkle said, "Jerome started a small, quick team. They're all seniors and they were tough—they got after it. But nobody overlooks us because we beat Bonneville. We controlled the tempo and were right there until the end."
The Wolverines, 15-point losers at Jerome Jan. 7, built an eight-point lead in the first quarter with junior point guard Morgan Uhrig (11 points, 2 assists) scoring 5 points. But Wood River could never get its front-court players involved in the scoring.
Ice cold early, Jerome improved on offense and started taking over the boards in the second period. The visitors out-rebounded Wood River 21-12 from the second quarter on. Meanwhile, Jerome's offense was simple—penetrate and find the open man.
The Tigers put tremendous defensive pressure on the perimeter and assigned senior ballhawks Curtis Bell and Conrad Lee to defend Hailey scorer Brady Femling (10.9 ppg). Femling always had a hand in his face. He finished with 8 points and 4 assists.
Jerome senior Chance Craig (5 points) drilled a huge 3-pointer for a 44-38 Jerome lead and Craig added two clutch free throws with 25 seconds left to secure the win. Nine players scored for Jerome led by junior left-hander Troy Tolman (15 points).
Trenkle acknowledged that the physical nature of the game took its toll on his squad, which he said "isn't in the best shape right now." He said Wood River would probably open at Jerome in the first round of the tournament, and that's a good thing.
"Jerome is somebody you want to play, no matter what the floor," he said.
For Wood River, Dylan Fullmer contributed 8 points, 3 boards and 2 assists; Reno Christino 6 points, 7 boards and 3 steals; Corbin Miniard 4 points and 4 rebounds; Casey Lane and Craig Werley 3 points apiece.
The Wolverines were 13-for-21 at the free throw line, Jerome 9-for-15. For the season Wood River has outscored opponents 136-94 at the line, and out-shot them there 222-167.
In another Great Basin West battle Wednesday, the host Minico Spartans (7-8, 3-2 league) withstood a strong challenge from Burley (8-6, 2-2) to prevail 47-45 in double OT at Rupert.
Minico visits Jerome Feb. 4 to round out its league schedule. Jerome hosts Minico and then Burley Feb. 9. Burley visits Wood River Feb. 4 and then finishes up at Jerome.
Wood River, meanwhile, will try to get off to a better start when it travels to Buhl Saturday for a non-league tussle. Buhl (5-7) built a 40-16 half-time lead and beat Wood River 58-47 Dec. 14 on the Hailey hardwoods.