LA CENTER — Solving Castle Rock’s active, oppurtunistic defense was a task La Center had trouble with for three quarters of Wednesday’s Trico League boys basketball matchup.
But in the final eight minutes, the Wildcats played a trump card in the form of sophomore guard Logan Rainey.
Trailing Castle Rock by 11 points entering the fourth, La Center came from behind to earn a 63-55 win thanks in large part to the clutch shooting of Rainey, who drained four of his five 3-pointers in the quarter as part of a career-high 15 points.
“When I went in the fourth, I kind of had to step it up,” Rainey said. “The post kept bringing it to the middle and kicking it out to me, and that would cause me to shoot with confidence. I just had to keep shooting.”
His final make with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left gave La Center its first lead, 51-49, since the opening quarter. The Wildcats never trailed from there. They iced the game by making 11 of their final 12 free-throw attempts.
The 6-foot sophomore reserve has played important minutes in spurts for the Wildcats this season, according to La Center coach Jeremy Ecklund, but likely none were more crucial than Wednesday when he stayed on the floor for the entire fourth quarter.
“Logan Rainey was key in that fourth quarter,” Ecklund said. “He’s played a few minutes here and there, but we know he’s a good 3-point shooter. We had to change some things up, we put him in there (and) that was the big difference. We finally started to hit some shots from the outside.”
Few things came easy for La Center’s offense for three quarters against Castle Rock’s zone defense, which forced the Wildcats into frequent turnovers.
After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Rockets began to gain some distance during the second and took a 33-26 lead into halftime keyed by seniors Lane Partridge and Trystin Marin, who finished with 25 and 23 points, respectively.
In a low-scoring third quarter, La Center was limited to just four points on a pair of baskets from junior Austin Nixon and faced a 41-30 deficit to start the fourth.
Within the first two minutes, Rainey hit two long-range shots from near identical spots on the right elbow to jolt the home crowd.
Teammates began to feed off the energy too.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Garrett Maunu and Rainey brought La Center within one point, and after the Rockets were whistled for an offensive foul, Rainey spotted up again from the right wing and watched as his shot rolled around the rim and in.
“It brought so much energy to for us and it just carried us for the last couple (minutes) of the game,” Nixon said of Rainey.
“We were focused so much on getting it to the middle and our guards were kind of not shooting as much at the beginning of the game. I think we just told Logan, ‘go ahead, shoot it, we need these.’ He stepped up and shot them.”
From there, Nixon, senior Colby Hylton and Maunu combined to make 11 free throws in the final three minutes to keep Castle Rock from regaining a lead.
Nixon led the Wildcats with 24 points and Hylton chipped in 12 points.
“I got to hand it to them, they never gave up, they never dropped their heads,” Ecklund added. “There was a couple times where they looked frustrated, but kept battling. … It was a good win.”
At the halfway point of the regular season, the win kept La Center (7-8, 4-1) tied for first place with King’s Way Christian (8-7, 4-1) in a league with a lot of parity. Third-place Seton Catholic is one game out of first place and Castle Rock (6-7, 2-3) remains a dangerous team in fourth place.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Ecklund said.
The Wildcats had a young, inexperienced roster last season and it showed as the team finished fourth in the Trico League with an 8-16 record.
This year, Ecklund sees a team gaining experience and handling themselves with more composure. Players are also well aware of the program’s decorated history in recent years. Before King’s Way claimed each of the last two league titles, La Center had won three straight in 2019, 2018 and 2017 and with a pair of district championships as well.
“Guys all know the success that we had and last year we didn’t live up to it at all,” Ecklund said. “I think there’s a little bit of fire there. They want to get back on the winning ways. We’ve talked about getting back up on the banner — ‘every time you come into the gym from this point on, you’re going to see your team up there on the banner if you finish first.’ So that’s huge for these kids to see. Those are the goals that we have. We’ll see what happens.”
LA CENTER 63, CASTLE ROCK 55
CASTLE ROCK — Trystin Marin 23, Trevor Rogen 0, Chase Rusher 5, Lane Partridge 25, Owen Langdon 0, James Montgomery 2, David Garcia 0. Totals 21 (2) 11-19 55.
LA CENTER — Colby Hylton 12, Garrett Maunu 4, Clayton Muffett 0, Cody Gardner 0, Austin Nixon 24, Jayce Grotte 0, Logan Rainey 15, Anthony Larkin 0, Boston Walker 8, Ryan Kawalek 0. Totals 19 (6) 19-29 63.
C. Rock 14 19 8 14—55
La Center 13 13 4 23—63
JV — 47-29 La Center