Hillbillies hang on!

Fredonia narrowly beats Frewsburg, 55-53, in league opener at home

OBSERVER Photo by Lisa Monacelli Fredonia’s Nick Whitfield lays the ball in during Wednesday’s CCAA Division 1 West league opener for the Hillbillies, against Frewsburg, in Fredonia.

You never would’ve thought that Wednesday’s basketball game in mid-December for Frewsburg and Fredonia was just another game, based on the intensity and atmosphere in the Roger K. Moore Gymnasium in Fredonia.

However, when it was all said and done, the Frewsburg Bears got a not-so-nice introduction into the CCAA Division 1 West, as Fredonia used the huge spark from its bench — scoring 35 points — to propel the Hillbillies to their third straight win, 55-53.

It was not an easy start for either team on Wednesday, as both squads struggled to find offense early.

“I’m not really sure,” said Fredonia head coach Nick Bertrando on why both teams got out to a slow start. “The past couple games we’ve had some slow starts. We’ve gotten quality looks but for whatever reason they just haven’t been dropping.”

Fredonia (3-1, 1-0) switched their defense often using zones, man to man and full court presses to throw off the Bears through the first quarter.

OBSERVER Photo by Lisa Monacelli Fredonia’s Ka’Rim Levens looks to drive past Frewsburg’s Nolan Brink during Wednesday’s game at Fredonia High School.

But as the starting units stayed even, it was Fredonia’s bench that came up big.

Fredonia sophomore sharpshooter Tyler Putney came in and drilled a 3-point bucket to put the Hillbillies up 9-7 after the end first quarter. When the second quarter got under way, the Fredonia bench remained in and continued their impact.

Ka’Rim Levens drilled a three which was followed by another three by Putney. As the Hillbillies struggled to find room against the Frewsburg 2-3 zone, Putney provided that spark in the first half.

“I think it just comes down to what we do in practice,” said Bertrando about the play of his young guys. “We have a style and a system that — it’s varsity basketball. It’s not freshman or sophomore, but rather we need guys that are going to compete. I think they showed that they want to compete tonight. We need guys that are going to compete and leave it all out there, but in the right way.”

Fredonia used a 12-4 second quarter run to take a 23-15 lead into halftime.

The two first half bright spots for Frewsburg were senior big-man Quinn Conlan, who scored six first half points and junior Brad Nelson, who had seven to keep the Bears afloat.

“We were a little tight, a little nervous with it being our first game in the new league,” said Frewsburg head coach Tom Nelson. “We needed to loosen it up a little more like we did at the end of the game.”

As the second half got going, so did Fredonia freshman Nick Whitfield. After a small Frewsburg run cut into the Fredonia lead, Whitfield scored two buckets and Putney put home a floater to extend the Hillbillies’ lead back up to ten.

But the Bears would not go away.

A 7-0 run was capped off by a Brad Nelson bucket plus the foul to close the gap to 33-30 in favor of Fredonia.

“We weren’t shy about shooting it, we just couldn’t get them when we needed to,” said Coach Nelson.

Whitfield came back with a pair of nice passes to Owen Nicosia for buckets as Fredonia closed the quarter on run to go up 39-31. When the fourth quarter got going, the Hillbillies looked like they were ready to run away with it. A Whitfield basket and a Alec Schrader steal and score pushed the Fredonia lead up to 43-31.

“These guys accepted that style of play,” said Bertrando. “They’re getting after it and it’s fun to see. Especially these young talents.”

Fredonia’s deep bench helped them stay fresh into the fourth quarter. All ten Hillbillies that saw action scored in some capacity. As for the end of the game lineup, Coach Bertrando trusts them all.

“With this being our fourth game, we’ve had four different lineups in at the end of the game,” said Bertrando. “What it comes down to is being able to have the opportunity to cycle guys through and find combinations that work while going with the hot hand.”

The Hillbillies cruised to a 55-44 lead with under a minute left, but then the Bears started their comeback.

3-point shots were made by Brad Nelson and Aaron Hair, then a Fredonia turnover was jumped on by Hair to give the Bears eight points in a span of 30 seconds.

Missed free throws by Fredonia gave Frewsburg multiple chances down the stretch but the Bears just weren’t able to capitalize.

“I expect them to compete,” said Coach Nelson. “I’m not surprised, they aren’t quitters. We know we’re in a very tough league, but we don’t come to the gym expecting to lose. Every night is going to be a battle. But we’ll play hard like this every night.”

For Fredonia, Whitfield scored 12 second half points, finishing the game with 14 overall while adding four rebounds. Putney had 12 points and Nate Shuart added nine points.

Frewsburg’s Brad Nelson closed the game with 18 points while Conlan finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Fredonia will return to action Friday when they travel to Dunkirk.

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