Tyler Hart, Contributor
KINNIKINNICK — When Zane Trace traveled to Unioto on Dec. 10, the Pioneers didn’t expect to travel back home with a loss.
But they certainly haven’t forgotten that bus ride since it happened.
Following a loss to Westfall on Friday night, Zane Trace made sure not to make it two in a row on Saturday, handing the visiting Shermans a 57-36 loss to keep pace atop the SVC standings.
“I’m really proud of our kids because we had a tough loss in overtime at Westfall last night. So, for us to come back and play a good 32 minutes, both offensively and defensively, that is huge for us.”
In the first eight minutes of the game, the Pioneers (9-5, 7-2 SVC) put on a clinic of team basketball.
Following a finish from Kyle Stonerock that broke a 4-4 tie, the Pioneers began to open their scoring arsenal. Xzander Ream, who was magnificent all night long, went one-on-one with Unioto’s DeSean Branson from the right wing and caught Branson off-balance before nailing a step-back jumper to make it a 9-4 lead and finish a 7-0 run.
Branson bounced back with a steal and a breakaway basket before a clean euro-step helped him narrow the deficit to 9-8 later in the first quarter.
But in the final two minute, it was all ZT as the Pioneers pieced together a 6-0 run to take a 15-8 lead into the second and seize all momentum.
“The mentality was to keep the energy high on defense and to stop DeSean, who’s leading the SVC in scoring. We knew he was going to try and score,” Ream said. “So we wanted to keep the pressure on him and keep him out of the paint. Then it was getting a hand out on everyone else because they’re all shooters.”
That defensive game plan continued to work early in the second.
ZT’s Donavin Baker was a key contributor to a 10-0 run to start the second. His strong defensive play, which was highlighted by his presence inside the paint, helped the Pioneers keep Unioto at bay.
Ream continued on the same path. The high-flying senior gave the Pioneers a 19-8 edge with a slam dunk in transition that took any remaining wind out of the Shermans’ sails.
Later, trailing 25-8, Unioto (10-6, 7-3 SVC) finally found a score with 3:31 to play in the first half from Blake Hoops. But it was after a 16-0, which stretched from the first to second quarter, from ZT.
Hoops added two free throws while Evan Park hit his second basket from deep in the contest to help keep the Shermans within striking distance. But the Pioneers were the owners of a 29-15 lead at the break.
In the third, Ream laid any hopes of a comeback attempt to rest. The talented guard continued to show his versatility, nailed two 3’s to extend his team’s hefty advantage.
“Xzander struggled from the floor the night before, but I knew he’d come out tonight and play well,” Kellough said. “He’s improved so much from last year to this year, but there’s a reason. He works at it year-round. Athletically, he is just explosive. If he wants to play at the next level, and I think he wants to, he’s got that ability and his work ethic is great.”
Stonerock and Nalin Robinson would each have a presence multiple times on the offensive glass for Zane Trace in the third. Robinson logged a put-back score and Stonerock found all six of his third quarter points on put-back tosses.
Meanwhile, the Pioneers kept the defensive pressure on, focing Unioto to take uncharacteristic shots.
Heading into the fourth with a 48-25 lead, Zane Trace kept its foot on the gas and relied on Ream to close out a pivotal conference win — a call he quickly answered.
“We’re on top [of the league standings]. There’s no competition now. That’s how we feel, and we obviously know there’s going to be a lot of people coming out to beat us,” Ream said. “We can’t let our heads get too high and stay on the level we are.”
Ream ended the night with a game-high 18 points alongside seven rebounds while Stonerock added 12 points and 11 boards. Robinson added 11 points and Baker finished with eight.
Unioto was led by Branson’s 12 points, three assists and five steals while Park added 11 points.
What’s on tap
Zane Trace is back in action on Tuesday at North Adams while the Shermans look to bounce back on Friday, hosting Adena.
“We played amazing tonight and we played just like a team,” Stonerock said. “We just have to keep working hard.”
Unioto: 7-9-14-13 — 43
Zane Trace: 18-9-15-14 — 56
Unioto: 16-50 FG, 2-5 FT, 2-18 3pt., 24 rebounds (Spetnagel 5, Perkins 5), 12 turnovers, 8 assists (Branson 3). Scoring: Branson 12, Park 11, B. Hoops 8, Platt 3, N. Hoops 2.
Zane Trace: 20-46 FG, 14-18 FT, 3-15 3pt., 28 rebounds (Stonerock 11), 8 turnovers, 7 assists (Nichols 4). Scoring: Ream 18, Stonerock 12, Robinson 11, Baker 8, Nichols 4, Jarrell 2, Hill 2.