By Craig Harper
For the Courier
At 6-foot-5 and solidly built, Chatfield’s Alec Wray doesn’t always feel dwarfed on the basketball court. But he did against ThunderRidge’s 6-10 Zach Pirog in their March 1 second-round game of the 5A boys basketball tournament.
But the Chargers’ senior outplayed Pirog and made the biggest play against the Grizzlies’ junior center in a 53-43 Chatfield victory.
Wray had just turned the ball over with his team clinging to a 43-41 lead and just over two minutes remaining in a charged-up Chatfield gym. After a timeout, ThunderRidge inbounded the ball to Pirog underneath its own basket. But Wray stripped it free, forcing a turnover, and was rewarded with a layup at the other end.
The turnaround spurred a 6-0 run for the Chargers, who secured the win by going 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Chatfield (20-4), seeded third in the Ray Ball Region, advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.
“I think it got us fired up. Momentum swung our way,” Wray said. “One of our guards trapped down and he brought it down (and I got a hand on the ball). I’m 6-5, he’s 6-10 so I’m a little undersized. I just have to thank my teammates. Our guards are so good at helping me out when I’m outmanned.”
Wray scored a game-high 17 points and helped get Pirog in foul trouble, forcing him to miss a nine-minute stretch after picking up a fourth foul less than a minute into the third quarter. Pirog, who averages 11.0 points, had just six points.
But the smaller Chargers, with just one non-senior, still couldn’t shake the taller, sixth-seeded Grizzlies (14-11), with just one senior. ThunderRidge kept Darius Reiter, Chatfield’s top scorer, in check until the fourth quarter when he scored 10 of his 15 points and held the Chargers to 13 points below their average.
“They’re a good defensive team. They’re not as good as they are normally offensively because they’re young. We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight. And for us not to shoot the ball well and still find a way to win, I’m really proud of our guys,” Chatfield coach Steve Schimpeler said.
The Chargers built leads of seven points in the second quarter and six in the third, but a trio of 3-pointers helped ThunderRidge make Chatfield sweat. The Grizzlies got within two points three times in the fourth quarter, only to see Chatfield respond with baskets by Reiter, Andrew St. Germain and Wray’s following the steal. Chatfield plays at second-seeded Eaglecrest on March 5 at 7 p.m. in the Sweet 16.