Knoch pulls away from Highlands to stay unbeaten in Section 1-AAA

| Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, 11:24 p.m.

Experience was key Friday night as Knoch remained undefeated in Section 1-AAA with a 47-33 victory over Highlands.

After the Knights held a pair of 12-point leads in the first half, the Golden Rams narrowed the gap to 26-23 with 4:55 left in the third quarter.

But Knoch embarked on a 13-0 run to put the game away.

Matt Zanella led the Knights with 18 points and seven rebounds.

Knoch is 9-1 and 4-0 in section play. Highlands, playing well lately with a young lineup, dropped to 4-7, 0-3.

The Knights had leads of 16-4 and 18-6 early in the second quarter before the Golden Rams began chipping away.

The second of two 3-pointers by sophomore Tyler Alworth brought Highlands to within 26-23, but Knoch went on a tear with five players scoring the 13 points to end the third quarter.

Highlands looked to break the momentum, but a basket by Brayden Thimons was waved off with a traveling call, and Stephen Oblich scored for Knoch on the other end for a four-point swing.

A basket by Austin Miller at the third quarter buzzer completed the surge.

“We do have great senior leadership,” Knights coach Ron McNabb said. “They didn't panic. We haven't been in a real close game in the last week or so, and we knew Highlands was going to present a big problem for us because they play hard and they play physical.”

Said Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski: “I definitely thought that was a little bit of inexperience. What we constantly preach about is consistency and part of being consistent is having those older guys to look to when things get a little rocky.”

With just one senior and a junior in the starting lineup, Highlands doesn't have the luxury of upperclassmen Knoch has.

“When we get consistent, I feel we can play with anybody in our section, at times,” Stoczynski said. “Can we do it over the course of a full game? That's what we're trying to do.”

Zanella scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half.

Almost all of the 6-foot-4 junior's eight field goals were on entry passes near the hoop.

“We do a lot of those drills in practice,” Zanella said. “We're real close as a team, and that translates on to the court.”

Though Knoch's 9-1 start is its best in nine seasons, McNabb knew not to take Highlands lightly on what has been a tough floor for visitors to play on.

“I told the Highlands coach before the game that he's doing a great job with these guys,” McNabb said. “We're happy to get out of here with a win. I coached at Valley, Burrell, Knoch — it doesn't get any easier here.”

Said Zanella: “I don't know how many people expected this start, but everyone in this locker room expected good things this season.”

Senior Julian Flenory led Highlands with 11 points, and sophomore Thimons pulled down 11 rebounds.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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