The Granbury Pirates entered this basketball season a team with little varsity experience.
But coach David Breazeale’s strategy of playing everybody on the roster as much as possible to gain experience is paying off.
The Pirates won the first two games of the Van Griffith Kia Tournament Thursday, defeating rival Cleburne 52-46 and Wichita Falls Rider 44-39.
Staying cool under pressure, Brandon Fichter made a pair of free throws with two seconds remaining to seal the win over Rider. The Pirates (5-4) had almost let an 18-point lead evaporate, before winning their fourth in five games dating to last weekend.
Rider (2-7) had staged a furious rally and closed to within 40-38 with two minutes to play, and still had a chance to force overtime with a 3-pointer before Fichter’s clutch shots.
Seconds earlier, Granbury failed on a chance to go up by five by missing the front end of a 1-and-1. Missed free throws late kept the Cleburne game exciting just a few hours earlier.
“We needed to get them both (wins) today and play Southwest (last night) with something on the line,” said Breazeale. “They’re a district opponent, and I wanted to play them so we can see that style.”
The winner between Granbury and Fort Worth Southwest will play for the tournament championship tonight at 8. The loser will play for third place at 5 p.m.
The Pirates jumped on Rider and took a 28-10 lead in the second quarter as Will Brawner came off the bench and hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Earlier, in the opening quarter, Collin McCann’s pair of treys triggered a 19-2 run.
But the Raiders began hitting shots, grabbing rebounds and forcing turnovers. They pulled to within 30-23 with five minutes left in the third.
Then, back-to-back technicals on a Rider player and coach resulted in five unanswered points for the Pirate and a 12-point, 35-23 advantage.
“They were just ripe for the kill,” said Breazeale.
Instead, Rider again came battling back. By the end of the third quarter they were within 37-34, and they had ample opportunities to take the lead in the fourth as the Pirates missed eight consecutive shots.
But Rider countered by missing four straight in the same span.
A deep bench played a key role in winning both games.
The Pirates got 10 points, eight rebounds and eight steals from the reserves in the win over Cleburne. They got 25 points and seven rebounds in topping Rider.
Both teams struggled from the field, with Rider going 13-for-32 and Granbury 16-for-48. Granbury shot twice as many 3-pointers (16-8) and made twice as many (4-2).
And while Rider held a 26-18 rebound advantage, the Pirates forced the Raiders into 24 turnovers opposite 16 of their own.
HOLDING OFF CLEBURNE
Granbury led 51-39 after Fichter’s basket with 1:03 left in the game. It appeared as though things were finished and the win could be put to bed.
Then came the matter of making free throws and running out the clock. But Granbury was 1-for-5 at the free throw line in those closing moments, three times missing the front end of a one-and-one and giving Cleburne several chances for a miracle finish.
But what Granbury’s offense couldn’t do, the defense did. They shut down Cleburne (2-7) by forcing three missed shots and some late turnovers.
Fichter posted a double-double (15 points, 12 rebounds). Also, four players scored off the bench.
“We’ve got depth, and that really helps us, especially on days like today when we’re not playing our best ball,” said Pirate assistant coach Josh Jones.
Much like it did against Rider, the Pirates’ tenacity on defense forced 26 turnovers. They needed almost every one also as Cleburne forced 21.
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Van Griffith Kia Tournament
Cleburne 10 12 11 13 – 46
Granbury 12 13 14 13 – 52
Granbury (4-4) scoring – Brandon Fichter 15, Clay Brawner 11, Jacob Taylor 7, Kory Rafferty 6, Jimmy Hodges 3, Collin McCann 3, Kevin Hennard 3, Klint Keating 2, Mitchell May 2.
Cleburne (2-7) leading scorers – Marcos Muirillo 14, Ryan Kirk 13.
3-pointers – Granbury: Hodges 1, Taylor 1. Cleburne: Elijah Upchurch 1, Kirk 1.
Rebound leaders – Granbury: Fichter 12, Nick Doughty 5. Cleburne: Muirillo 7, Kirk 6.
Granbury assists – C. Brawner 5.
Granbury steals – McCann 4, C. Brawner 3, Fichter 3.
Free throws – Granbury 4-8, Cleburne 4-6.
WF Rider 6 10 18 5 – 39
Granbury 11 17 9 7 – 44
Granbury (5-4) scoring – Fichter 10, McCann 6, Will Brawner 6, Taylor 5, Keating 5, Hennard 4, C. Brawner 2, Doughty 2, J.D. Hohnstreiter 2.Rafferty 2.
Rider (2-7) scoring leader – T.J. Vasher 13.
3-point shots – Granbury: McCann 2, W. Brawner 2. Rider: Vasher 2.
Rebound leaders – Granbury: Fichter 6. Rider: Ty Branch 9.
Granbury assists – C. Brawner 5.
Granbury steals – Hennard 3.
Free throws – Granbury 12-19, Rider 11-17.