ROCKLAND – North Gem entered the confines of its rival’s home gym, led Rockland for nearly the entirety of the matchup and completed a regular-season series sweep with a 64-55 win Friday.
So there was a lot to like, unless you have a mindset of the Cowboys, who are hyper-focused on grander goals than regular-season success.
They want to make state, something they haven’t accomplished since 2010.
“If we don’t get it done in the district tournament, it doesn’t really matter,” North Gem coach Tracey Corta said of Friday’s victory. “They know how to win when it’s playoff time, and we still have that obstacle to overcome. So that’s yet to be determined.”
North Gem (8-1, 3-0 1A DII District 5-6) showed promise last season, another in which the Cowboys swept the Bulldogs in the regular season. But when it counted the most, Rockland (6-4, 3-1 1A DII District 5-6) got the better of the rivalry in a loser-out district tournament game and eventually secured its sixth consecutive state tournament bid.
“We’ve been in the backburner in this conference for awhile,” North Gem forward James Bodily said. “So we’ve just got prove that we’re the top one.”
North Gem is showing promise thus far.
Coming off its first loss of the season, 73-44 to Cokeville (Wyoming), the Cowboys entered Rockland and controlled the game from start to finish, leading the final 30 minutes.
“This place is always a tough place to play. The Rockland boys always play hard and the crowd is always outstanding,” Corta said. “I’m really proud we could fight through all of that in a hostile environment.”
The margin was as large as 11 points. But behind its home crowd, Rockland was never out of it.
Past the middle of the fourth quarter, Bulldogs guard Braden Permann broke North Gem’s press and knifed a bounce pass through the defense to set up a Zane Porath layup to cut their deficit to 50-48.
But the Bulldogs’ game-long struggles around the rim came back to haunt them, as Rockland rimmed-out a two-foot shot and North Gem guard Bridger Hatch knocked down what ended up being a back-breaking 3-pointer to give his team a 53-48 lead with 2 minutes, 14 seconds left in the game.
“When he’s open, he’ll shoot it. He’ll knock it down,” Bodily said of the sophomore. “I have confidence in my teammates to make the shot.”
North Gem’s top scorers Logan Corta (24 points) and Bodily (22 points) closed the game out at the free-throw line, where they combined to go 8 of 8 in the last minute of the game.
It was the completion of an efficient offensive performance for North Gem, which found success inside the arc and at the charity stripe, going 60.7% (17 of 28) and 87.5% (21 of 24), respectively.
Rockland struggled to find its offensive rhythm, starting by scoring two points in the first five minutes of the game as its deficit increased to seven points.
From there, they were always behind, though excruciatingly close for the better part of the game, like when they appeared to tie the score in the second quarter before the 2-pointer was called off because of basket interference.
“We had to fight back,” Rockland coach Shae Neal said. “We started off slow and didn’t follow the game plan and they shot a lot of easy, easy layups, just got to the hole. We didn’t do a good job of sliding our feet.”
If previous seasons are any indication, the Bulldogs will be ready when postseason play begins. But so will North Gem.
“We’ve got to get to Boise this year,” coach Corta said. “I don’t have the magic formula. I think if we work hard and keep playing for each other and scrap and fight and claw, good things can happen.”
NORTH GEM 64, ROCKLAND 55
North Gem 15 15 12 22 — 64
Rockland 10 12 13 20 – 55
North Gem – Bodily 22, Corta 24, Freeman 12, Hatch 5, Leavitt 1.
Rockland – Hunter 7, Bra. Permann 24, Farr 13, Bri. Permann 7, Porath 2, Hendrickson 2.