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High school boys basketball: Judge grinds out victory to split season series with rival

DRAPER — Sometimes, it's the second time that is the charm.

At least it was for the Judge Memorial Bulldogs, who split the Region 11 series with rival Juan Diego when they captured the 44-33 road victory on Wednesday night.

"After losing (to Juan Diego) at our place, this was a big win for us," Judge head coach Jim Yerkovich said afterward. "It was a very emotional game against a very good team."

The Bulldogs started off strong, going on a 10-0 run over the first five minutes of the game before allowing just five Juan Diego points in the opening quarter. In addition to scoring, Judge was outrebounding and outhustling the Soaring Eagle all over the court. The sluggish start prompted Juan Diego coach Sonny Tangaro to swap out his starting five for a quick pep talk. After reentering the game, Tangaro's crew went on an 8-2 run of its own, led by Mark Krueger, who had five points during that span. The stretch pulled the Soaring Eagle within one before the Bulldogs were able to react.

That same back-and-forth play was prevalent the entire contest as both teams went on multiple runs throughout second half. It is a style Yerkovich felt worked to his team's advantage, especially since the Soaring Eagle was never able to take the lead.

"We hold leads," Yerkovich said of the way his team responded to each rally. "Most the time when we have a lead, we keep the lead. One point, two points, it doesn't matter. These kids are tough."

Both squads executed effective defensive schemes during the first half, holding the other team's leading scorer to under five points in the first 16 minutes. Tight man-to-man and double teams inside limited both Ajay Pizza, for Juan Diego, and Will Whitt, for Judge, from getting many touches on the ball.

"One of our biggest adjustments (after losing to Juan Diego earlier in the season) was to try to have defensive balance," Yerkovich said, referring to his teams' constant presence in the key. "Pizza is a really fine player. We really helped out and did a good job on him."

The turning point for the Bulldogs was with 3:10 left in the game when Whitt was at the foul line for one-and-one. The 6-10 senior missed the front end, but charged down the lane for the rebound and the putback. Judge only had a 32-29 lead at that point, but that play stole all the momentum away from Juan Diego. Two defensive possessions later, Daniel Shiramizu stole the ball and went to the other end for an easy layup and the game was out of reach.

"It was a great win, so many people came through," Yerkovich said, commenting on the solid play of senior guard Ben Cook as well as Shiramizu.

"Our guys defended well. We were looking like we were in trouble, but then we'd get the ball back and (get) back in control."

Shiramizu and Whitt each tallied 13 points for the Bulldogs, and Cook added six. Krueger led Juan Diego with 14 points while Pizza finished with five.

e-mail: sthomas@desnews.com