They haven't had much success in Great Basin Conference West games since entering the 4A league three years ago, but the Wood River High School boys shrugged off the past and competed hard Tuesday night.
In a low-scoring basketball game, coach John Radford's Wolverines turned up the defensive heat on the Minico Spartans in the second half and knocked off the visitors from Rupert by a 34-27 score at the high school gym in Hailey.
And, for the moment, Wood River found itself tied with highly regarded Burley for the top spot in the Great Basin West, each team with 1-0 records. Since entering the league, Wood River had been 1-15 in the Basin, beating only Jerome 62-55 last Jan. 4 in Hailey.
Radford was pleased with the league victory, especially with his team's defense.
"We defended pretty well. Actually we've been defending well all year, but we hadn't had that kind of concentrated defensive effort for the four full quarters. We were the aggressor tonight. We competed and played to win," said Radford.
The Wolverines had been on the cusp of beating Minico since last season, when the Hailey boys dropped extremely tight one-point, three-point and five-point decisions to the Spartans. But they sealed the deal Tuesday with big rebounds and steals down the homestretch.
With his team leading 23-19 early in the fourth, Travis Beckman (6 points, 2 boards, 2 steals in the fourth alone) hauled down an offensive rebound and banked one home.
The lead was one, 25-24, and Wood River had made two straight turnovers against Minico's press when Beckman stole the ball from Spartan junior Dane Broadhead and ran the floor for a huge fast break basket and 27-24 lead.
Matt Staskiewicz (3 rebounds in the fourth) rebounded a Spartan 3-point miss, was fouled and made both charities. Then Beckman made another critical steal, was fouled and sank both of his for a 31-24 lead with 20 seconds left.
Wood River sank 7-of-9 charities in the fourth period. Erik Jacobson finished with 9 points, Cory Rutkowski 8, Beckman 8, Staskiewicz 4, Dave Sibrian 3 and Ross Parsons 2. Bill Carney topped Minico (4-7, 0-2 league) with 7 points.
The win was nice, Radford said, but the progress was even better. "All season, I've tried not to focus much on wins and losses because I realize we're a work in progress," he said.
Against Minico, Radford said, "we handled the pressure well for the most part. We've been working on our free throw shooting and it's starting to pay off. On offense we'd like the kids to have the confidence to miss so they can take the shots they need to take. We held together well against Minico."
With its fourth home win, Radford's squad (5-6, 1-0) equaled last winter's home victory mark. The Wolverines host Filer (2-8) Saturday, Jan. 13 in Hailey. Visiting Wood River beat Filer 65-35 on Dec. 1.
Then, the Wolverines travel to Jerome (6-5, 1-1) and top-ranked 4A Burley (11-1, 1-0) on Jan. 17 and Jan. 19. Defending Great Basin West champ Burley, averaging 66.7 ppg, won its first seven games, lost to Pocatello 56-54 has won four straight since including Tuesday's 72-57 win over Jerome.