Bruins claw past Cougars |

Bruins claw past Cougars

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Bear River’s boys basketball squad climbed out of the Pioneer Valley League cellar with an explosive offensive performance led by Justin Beskeen and a failed desperation 3-pointer by Center at the buzzer.

Bear River pulled out a hard-fought 50-48 victory over the Cougars for the Bruins’ first league win Friday night in Jack R. McCrory Gymnasium.

“We definitely shot it better,” said Bruins head coach Duwaine Ganskie. “We hit some 3-pointers, moved the ball better and held (Center) like we have other teams. Our offense was the difference.”

The Bruins opened the game by falling behind 4-0 as Center’s big men, Donald Mims and Isaiah Jones, maneuvered well in the paint, but unlike previous games, Bear River responded with a 13-2 run that featured tremendous ball movement with Beskeen, Tyler Hajewski and Charlie Espinoza each hitting 3-pointers to get things started.

“We haven’t been the best 3-point shooting team.” said Bruins big man Nick Bachus. “Our guards hit some great shots tonight. I’m really grateful.”

Defensively, Bear River created additional scoring opportunities as it went into a press and forced some bad passes, two of which were stolen and led to Michael Raigoza scores in transition. Raigoza contributed four points and four assists for the game. Almost everyone took advantage of open looks off great passes. Beskeen, Espinoza, Travis Anderson and Hajewski all finished with three assists as the Bruins’ starters all had numbers in the points column just one minute into the second quarter.

“Were a zone-oriented team, so we can kinda see openings,” added Bachus, who tossed in some jump shots and worked the glass down low to finish with 10 points. “With Justin (Beskeen) driving inside, it opened shots for us. We really needed this win and a boost for the end of the first half of league.”

Beskeen was Bear River’s main attraction and clutch performer of the evening. Whenever the Cougars threatened to take the lead, Beskeen stepped up with big plays to keep his team ahead. Midway through the second quarter, the Cougars cut the lead to just three points, but Beskeen scored with offensive put-back in the paint to push it back a two-possession game. The Bruins led 29-26 at the half.

“Everyone pitched in more than they have been,” said Beskeen, who finished with a game-high 27 points and 10 rebounds. “We played like a team. All of us got it on. Nick (Bachus) played bigger than he has.”

The Cougars pulled within one point after an early layup in transition to begin the second half, but again, Beskeen responded, both from beyond the arc and through the lane to push the Bruins lead to six.

“We have to score,” Beskeen said. “Somehow we have to make it happen. We’re taking it a game at a time.”

Center never went away, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter to keep things interesting. Bachus knocked down a jump shot, and Beskeen hit a few free throws to close out the quarter with the Bruins leading 39-35.

Both defenses came out aggressive in the final quarter of play with only six points being scored during the first five minutes. Bear River held the lead since going up 9-6 in the first, but Center drained a shot from the corner of 3-point land and connected on a jump shot after to tie the game 40-40 with three minutes to play.

But with a flick of his wrist, Beskeen broke the tie by dropping in a jumper of his own. On the Cougars’ next possession, Raigoza swiped a steal and glided to the basket for an easy layup to give the Bruins a 44-40 cushion.

A Cougars 3-pointer later cut the lead to three, but Beskeen’s turn-around jumper found the bottom of the net to make it 48-45 with one minute to go. After a missed 3-point attempt by Center, the Bruins worked the shot clock, and Beskeen eventually darted to the hoop, using Bachus and the rim to guard a reverse layup and give the Bruins a 50-45 edge.

“My first instinct was to go to the hoop,” said Beskeen. “I looked and saw their 6-foot, 10-inch guy in front of me, so I went around him.”

Center hit a 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds to play and fouled to send Bear River to the line to shoot one-and-one. The Bruins missed the free throw, and the Cougars’ last second heave only hit backboard as Bear River held on for the win.

“We need to build on this momentum and find a way to be better,” Ganskie said. “One guy can’t carry you. Everyone has to take personal responsibility for their job and execute.”

Bear River (14-7, 1-4 PVL) will look to carry its momentum to next week when it hosts Lincoln Wednesday.

JV: Bear River 58,

Center 34

The Bruins improved to 3-2 in Pioneer Valley League play Friday with a 24-point blowout against Center.

Bear River was led offensively by Ben O’Lena’s 26 points. David O’Brien scored 10 points and played well all-around, and Dave Maestrella chipped in nine.

To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email

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