FORT PLAIN - The defense came out faster than the offense did for the Fort Plain boys basketball team during Wednesday night's Western Athletic Conference opener.
After Joe Ray got the Hilltoppers out to a quick lead with a pair of baskets, the defense clamped down, holding the Galway Eagles scoreless deep into the second quarter in a 63-23 victory at Harry Hoag Elementary School.
"We've been practicing a lot lately and I thought Joey sparked us off quick with two drives right to the basket," said Chris Hanifin, who scored a game-high 18 points. "That got us going. We were all comfortable. It just seemed like it took us a while to get going."
Fort Plain’s Stephen Belden (42) shoots over Galway’s Dylan Gregory (34) and Tyler Goergen (23) during Wednesday’s Western Athletic Conference boys basketball game at Harry Hoag Elementary School in Fort Plain. (The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo)
From the opening tip, the Hilltoppers pressured the Eagles into mistakes and forcing five turnovers - including two shot-clock violations - in the first quarter of play.
"I thought they were pretty active," Fort Plain coach Casey Russom said. "They had their hands up. That's how we're going to have to be. We're going to have to pressure some people and turn them over and get points that way."
While the defense was clicking, the Fort Plain offense was fighting through fits and starts. After Ray scored the game's first basket 14 seconds in, it was another 80 seconds before he scored again, giving the Hilltoppers a 4-0 lead. Then more than a minute later, Hanifin scored his first point of the game on a free throw.
"We seemed to struggle," Russom said. "We played pretty good early and then we went into a lull there in the second quarter. We came out in the second half and played a little bit better. I thought we played a little better on defense, and we made open shots in the second half."
While the defense was keeping the Eagles off the scoreboard, the offense had trouble gaining separation as Galway dominated on the boards and found ways to keep the Hilltoppers close.
When Gregory Dylan scored Galway's first basket on a layup with 3:52 left in the second quarter, it cut Fort Plain's lead to only 18-2.
"Our goal was to get it to halftime, but we got the W," Hanifin said. "That's important."
The Hilltoppers (1-0 overall, 1-0 WAC) finally got some separation in the second half, scoring 15 points in the third quarter and then adding 24 in the fourth, while the defense limited the Eagles (0-1 overall, 0-1 WAC).
"Coach put together a great game plan to set up the presses," said Hanifin, who scored 12 of his points in the second half. "It was different presses throughout the game."
Hanifin provided most of the offense in the third quarter, scoring 10 of the Hilltoppers' third-quarter points. Then, everybody got in on the act in the fourth quarter as Fort Plain ran off to a 40-point victory as the momentum started shifting in Fort Plain's favor as the shots started to fall.
"We have to show what we've got and get started on a good note," Hanifin said.
The Hilltoppers' and Eagles' WAC season got off to an early start due to Fort Plain's involvement in the Waterford-Halfmoon Tournament on Dec. 8 and 9. The Hilltoppers will travel to Mayfield on Tuesday to meet the Panthers in another WAC North contest.
"You're always worried about the first one," Russom said. "You don't know what they're going to put out there because you haven't been able to scout them. But our kids are anxious to play. You just hope they come out not to anxious, but anxious enough to win the game."
Fort Plain 63, Galway 23
Galway0 9 9 5 - 23
Fort Plain13 11 15 24 - 63
Gregory 2-4-8, Ceroalo 3-0-8, Bailey 1-2-4, Diaz 1-0-3. Totals: 7-6-23.
Ray 4-0-8, Hanifin 7-4-18, Sweet 3-1-8, Belden 1-0-2, Orologio 2-0-4, Sardina 4-0-8, Wolfe 2-3-7, Douglas 2-0-4, Florian 2-0-4. Totals: 28-8-63.
3-point goals: Galway 3 (Ceroalo 2, Diaz); Fort Plain 1 (Sweet)