A fourth quarter surge by the Junction City Blue Jays Tuesday night propelled them to the 45-39 victory over Topeka Hayden on the road.
Seventeen points, of his team high 19, by Howard Johnson in the final 8-minutes moved the team ahead. The scoring and strong defense, especially in transition.
“That kid can light it up,” coach Nick Perez said. “I think any of our kids can shoot the ball extremely well. I was really frustrated because I felt like in the first half we just settled for threes. We weren't trying to get in the paint we weren't even trying to work the ball, we just want to settle. And when you're on the road you can't do those kinds of things. Second half, I thought we kind of got to the paint a little bit better and we made some plays in there and then Howard makes the shots and he went to the free throw line and banged some free throws for us.”
The teams entered the final quarter tied, 25-25.
After a quick bucket by the Wildcats open the quarter, Chaz Ruffin sank the first of two shots from the charity stripe to pull the team within one.
A second bucket by Hayden led to a five point swing by Johnson to give the Blue Jays a slight lead over their hosts.
Hayden extended their lead to five points with just over 3-minutes to play before the Blue Jays rallied with steals and points on the other end.
“I don't know how, we found a way in the fourth quarter,” Perez said. “I think we just had to play some defense. But, I go back to telling the kids on the bench I gotta do a better job get us ready to play.”
Down by three, 36-39, with less than 90-seconds to play the hot shooting of the team continued as they scored six unanswered points to take the win, including four points from the free throw line by Terrance Tedder and Johnson.
“It's great to make some free throws,” Perez said. “I think we've done this for about three years now and normally we're saying that if we make free throws and take care of the ball — we win the game. Now, we can finally say we're making some free throws ... shooting them with confidence and that's what we got to do. We stole one on the road and then we're going to be excited on the way home.”
Junction City led the game after the first quarter, 9-8, but not before Hayden proved they earned their three wins in their 3-9 season.
They slow scoring continued in the second with the teams adding a combined 16 points, eight each, with Junction City maintaining the 17-16 lead into the locker room.
Quick gap shots bounced off the backboard and rim into waiting arms of Hayden defenders that denied the Blue Jays the opportunity to get inside the arch.
Turnovers hurt the Blue Jays in the third quarter, with shooting still cold.
The Wildcats added nine points to there board while limiting the Blue Jays to eight points again as the score sat tied 25-25 after the third quarter.
With the win, Junction City moved to 6-6 on the season as they continue the week on the road — in Topeka Friday as they face Topeka High. Tip off is slated for 7:30 p.m. immediately following the varsity girls game that starts at 6 p.m.
Next week, the Blue Jays have three games slated: Tuesday against Manhattan, Wednesday the team travels to Topeka West for a weather delayed game makeup and Friday the Blue Jays travel back to Topeka to take on Highland Park on Valentine’s Day.
“Our league, it's tough — you don't get a day off,” Perez said. “We're gonna have to really bring our game, we can't afford to wait till fourth quarter.”