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Bronson High boys varsity basketball lost its opener at Williston, or, put another way, Williston won its first game against the visiting Eagles.
The real winners at this 57-55 nailbiter were the fans.
Back from a roller-coaster season that went below .500 until the break and culminated in a Sweet 16 appearance, the Eagles return almost everybody and look ready to take on their whole schedule.
The Devils have had a revival of their own, with new head coach David Vespignani at the helm, and look like a team with a plan.
Bronson led the first quarter, barely, with a nose for the ball. C.J. King and Dion Thomas dove for loose balls, while James Rivers brought a three-ball with him that he displayed for nine points on the quarter.
The Eagles also cleaned the glass at both ends, coming up 13-11 at the end of one.
Turnovers were a factor for Bronson all game long, and the second quarter's scoring drought highlighted the problem. The pressure defense they'd seen in the first quarter cued the Devils to return the favor, and Williston exploited loose balls and strips.
The Devils also got active on the boards, with James Hunt garnering two putback goals and Paul King keeping the ball in play for the Devils. It was Carl James, though, who did the most damage with his eight second-quarter points, bringing Williston to a 26-21 lead at the half.
Trailing by a manageable five points, Bronson needed a big third quarter to re-establish themselves.
Instead, Williston came out hot, starting with a little scoop inside by Isaac Floyd. William Harris had a turnaround jumper that closed the gap back to five, but his was one of only two field goals – the other was a putback by Rivers – on the quarter. The Eagles worked for fouls, but struggled from the line as well, making four of eight.
On the Williston side, the Devils stayed in rhythm. King and Hunt saw some good shots, including a three for King, and Carl James and Carlton Wilcox found their way in to help on Williston's 15-8 run.
Then came the fourth quarter.
"We dug ourselves into too deep a hole," said Eagles head coach Kelly Beckham. "We couldn't get ourselves out."
It was that close. Down 41-29, Bronson outscored Williston 26-16 in the fourth, close enough to taste, but not close enough to win.
It looked like a repeat of the third quarter, as Wilcox scored first for Williston, and the Eagles missed two free throws. But Bronson made the most of a three-second call on the Devils, and Terrance Dukes got hammered on a drive and sank both free throws, starting the Eagles comeback.
Dukes had finally found his stroke, after a gamelong struggle, bringing nine points in the fourth. Jermey Mayes, doing the dirty work inside, kept banging for rebounds. With a minute left, the Devils led by six and tried to kill the clock. Bronson pressed. A steal by Rivers culminated in a three-point play, and suddenly the lead was only three.
Vespignani nearly tore his jacket off in frustration.
"I knew they'd be a real fundamental team, and I knew they'd give us all we could handle," he said afterwards.
Paul King went to the line for Williston and sank one of two, extending the lead to four, and Kelcey Coleman followed him to the stripe and got both.
C.J. King answered for Bronson from the line, but was stuffed on his next drive and couldn't get the call.
At seven seconds, Harris drained a three that brought one last note of hope and terror to the fans. At the Eagles end, however, no more shots would fall, and the Devils held on for the win.
"We didn't come ready to play," Beckham said. "We shot ourselves in the foot."
Vespignani looked drained and happy. "We just got the football guys back on Monday, so we've only had two days to play with them," he said. "The kids really did a great job, with minimal opportunity to play together."
Kelcey Coleman 14, Paul King 12, Carl James 11
James Rivers 22, William Harris 15, Terrance Dukes 10