By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Casa Grande had a big third quarter and then held off Santa Rosa in the final minutes to post a 57-49 victory on Thursday night.
After trailing by a point at halftime, the Gauchos outscored the Panthers 19-8 in the third quarter.
The lead stayed in double digits until the final two minutes when consecutive 3-pointers by Cameron Foster narrowed the gap to 51-47. However, in the waning moments, Casa was perfect shooting six free throws to ice the NBL win.
“It turned out to be nerve-wracking,” winning coach James Forni said. “After those two 3-pointers went in, I knew the game was going to come down to how well we shot our free throws.”
Jake Ielmorini, Tyler Nadolski and Cetrick Yeanay each hit a pair from the foul line.
Kyle Kaupe, who starts at forward for the Gauchos and is one of the team’s top rebounders, missed the game because of the flu.
Jon Christy picked up the slack with 14 rebounds and Ielmorini had seven.
Ielmorini led his team in scoring with 15 while Christy and Yeanay both had 13.
Santa Rosa’s Dustin Rome, who came into the game averaging seven, was the game’s top scorer with 20. Teammates Foster and Daniel Cresta both finished with nine.
After a first half that saw six lead changes, Casa Grande began the third quarter with a 17-4 run. Nadolski led the push with six points.
“At halftime, I told the guys we needed to be more composed and do a better job boxing out on rebounds,” Forni said. “We didn’t playing poorly in the first half, shots just weren’t falling.”
Casa wound up shooting 22-of-43 from the field, including 0-for-4 from beyond the arc.
Santa Rosa coach John McGill felt 3-point shots were his team’s undoing.
“We were settling for 3s when we had an opportunity to get the ball into the post and get a higher percentage shot,” he said. “Everything else we did well.”
The Panthers attempted 26 shots from behind the arc and hit four.
Christy, who is a 6-foot-6 sophomore, is rapidly developing into one of the best big men in the NBL.
“I’ve learned a lot this season,” he said. “I’m doing much better at boxing out and figuring out how to use my height to my advantage inside.”
The Casa defense did a good job of shutting down Santa Rosa’s top scorers. Jacob Graves, who came in averaging 14, was held to three while Austen McMahan, who was scoring at a 10-point clip, finished with two.
The Gauchos, now 11-7, have won three-of-four. They are 3-3 in league and host Montgomery next Monday.
Santa Rosa’s record is now 6-12 and 3-3. Things don’t get easier for the Panthers. Next week, they host Cardinal Newman on Monday and Montgomery on Wednesday.