PIERCE — A turnaround at the free-throw line helped the Pierce boys hold off a Ponca rally.
The Bluejays, who made just 4 of 14 attempts at the line over the first three quarters, were 14 of 15 at the line in the fourth quarter and hung on for a 55-48 win after Ponca had cut a 14-point deficit to 49-48.
"I told them after the game that a win is a win. We'll take the win this early in the year. We're not going to be perfect in December," Pierce coach Mike Emory said. "Guys who didn't make free throws in the first half stepped up and knocked them down in the second half, but they (Ponca) hit some big shots with hands in their faces."
Pierce led 23-19 at halftime but opened the second half on an 11-1 run, going up 34-20 on a Brady Starkel 3-pointer with 4:31 left. The lead hovered around the 10-point mark for the remainder of the third quarter, with Pierce leading 37-28 before Ponca got hot from 3-point range in the fourth.
Derrek Touney followed a Logan Kingsbury putback with a 3 to cut the lead to 38-35 with 6:14 left. Addtional 3s by Dalton Tremayne and Hunter Schweers preceded another Touney triple that cut the lead to 49-48 with 50 seconds left.
"I told our kids that I'm proud of them for fighting. They kept fighting; kept clawing. They did not give up," Ponca coach Adam Poulosky said. "I think a lot of teams would get down to Pierce and give up the way they play defense. But we kept battling and made a game of it."
But Starkel, Taggart Bailey and Braydan Waldner finished the game by taking turns going 2 of 2 at the line over the final 27 seconds.
Waldner led the offensive effort, scoring a game-high 18 points on 5 of 5 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds. The 6-foot-3 sophomore was 5 of 6 on free throws in the fourth quarter after opening the game 2 of 8.
"Braydan has played well, and we need somebody to take care of the glass for us. Obviously, we're not a huge team again," Emory said. "But he's done a nice job on the glass for us and, for a sophomore, is handling the pressure OK."
Bailey followed with 17 points, Starkel finished with 11 and Austin Freeman scored seven -- including back-to-back buckets on steals to give Pierce (2-0) a 10-9 lead ending the first quarter after Ponca had gone up 9-6 early.
In the first 4 minutes of the second quarter, Ponca outscored Pierce 7-0 to build a 16-10 lead, but Waldner ignited a 13-3 run to end the first half with eight points and a pair of assists.
Touney and Kingsbury scored 12 points each to lead Ponca, with Kingsbury adding five rebounds and five assists. Tremayne, a sophomore who transferred from Homer, followed with eight points as the Indians fell to 1-1.
"That's the kind of team we can be. We have multiple guys who can shoot. We're not just one guy who can shoot but a lot of guys who can be dangerous," Poulosky said. "We hope we can learn from this. We've got no seniors on this team, and this is a good learning experience."
Ponca...........................9 9 9 20 — 48
Pierce........................10 13 14 18 — 55
PONCA (1-1): Dalton Tremayne 3-10 0-0 8, Hunter Schweers 3-5 0-0 7, Logan Kingsbury 4-10 4-8 12, Derrek Touney 3-9 3-5 12, Jack Charlson 1-3 1-2 3, Ryan Bentz 1-1 0-0 2, Andrew Lamprecht 1-2 0-0 3, Connor Day 0-3 1-2 1. Totals 16-43 9-17 48.
PIERCE (2-0): Austin Freeman 3-3 1-1 7, Brady Starkel 3-7 2-2 11, Taggart Bailey 5-13 7-8 17, Braydan Waldner 5-5 7-14 18, Walker Raabe 0-2 2-4 2. Totals 16-30 19-29 55.
3-point field goals: PON, 7-23 (Touney 3-6, Tremayne 2-8, Schweers 1-2, Lamprecht 1-2); PIE, 4-14 (Starkel 3-7, Waldner 1-1). Rebounds: PON, 18 (Kingsbury 5, Touney 5, Charlson 4); PIE 19 (Waldner 10). Assists: PON, 8 (Kingsbury 5, Tremayne 3); PIE, 9 (Waldner 3, Freeman 2, Starkel 2). Steals: PON, 5 (Schweers 2, Kingsbury 2); PIE, 9 (Freeman 3, Starkel 2, Caleb Sullivan 2).