Palisade rides press defense to 8th straight win

Palisade’s Kane Gunther goes up for two of his 25 points Saturday night in the Bulldogs’ 54-30 victory over Central.

After some lights in Palisade High School’s gym had been turned off Saturday, and when a few groups of people remained, out of the locker room strolled Caden Woods, the man who jolted the Bulldogs’ defense in a 54-30 win over Central.

“He’s always the last one out of the shower,” explained his mother, Lisa Williams.

After all, Woods was among the hardest workers on the floor.

His third-quarter presence sparked a flurry of steals in Palisade’s full-court, man-to-man press that has been integral in running the Bulldogs’ winning streak to eight.

That quarter was a series of arm-flailing, diving defensive highlights. Woods was at the heart of two of them for Palisade (8-2).

As Central tried to break the breath-sucking press, Palisade’s Jesus Aguirre stole a pass above the 3-point arc, and before he ran out of bounds, he hurled a pass to Woods, who was leaking out at the other end for an easy layup.

The clincher came from Kane Gunther, who blocked a shot and watched the basketball smack the bleachers.

Woods grabbed Gunther’s jersey with two hands and offered some charismatic encouragement.

“I just told him good job,” Woods said.

Before the quarter was over, Connor Whaley, on the run, put a palm out to deny a pass, deflecting it away. He collected the ball and sent a long pass to Gunther, who spun away from a defender and laid the ball in to give the Bulldogs a 33-17 lead.

At that moment, the crowd was, perhaps, at its rafter-rattling loudest.

“The fans were excited, the players were excited,” Palisade coach Steve Phillips said.

The excitement bubbled to the end of the Bulldogs’ bench: eight players scored for Palisade.

“It’s nice to have 13 great guys who want to work,” said Whaley, who had six points. “I wouldn’t say we have one lazy person on this team.”

The work began at tip-off: Palisade held Central to seven first-half points.

When asked how to describe the type of ball the Bulldogs are playing, Woods said, “We just play basketball.”

Keeping it simple has worked for the Bulldogs, who were led by Gunther’s 25 points.

Their formula has been a suffocating defense in which Phillips inserts fresh players at will, and whatever offense that defense can generate.

“I don’t know who it is on a given night who’s going to come in and step up,” Phillips said. “It makes it tough on us coaches trying to figure out the right pieces of the puzzle.”

Central (0-11) was led by Edward Becoat’s 11 points.

Becoat hit a jumper in the third that temporarily slowed Palisade’s frenzied defense and pulled the Warriors to 33-19.

But Central, which was without starting guard Taylor Sanchez, couldn’t remove the defensive mask suctioned to its face.

“I have to tip my hat to their press,” Central coach Ryan Hayden said. “We knew it was going to be tough, and they still came out and hit us in the mouth.”


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