Hosting their conference opener, the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks (8-1) unveiled their "new" starting lineup in a 59-50 win over the Buena (Sierra Vista) Colts.
Last year, the Nighthawks lost the 5A-II state championship game, and this year's team is busy trying to carve out its own identity.
"We have five new starters," said Nighthawks coach Brian Peabody.
Despite the win, it was a mixed bag for the Nighthawks.
Ironwood Ridge led the entire game after taking an early 5-0 lead, holding the Colts scoreless for nearly the first three minutes.
Mitch Fischer led the way for the Nighthawks with 14 points. Matt Walter and Tyler D'Amore each had 11. Seven-foot center Jan Maehlen scored nine points on four-of-seven shooting, before he fouled out.
"Maehlen gets himself in foul trouble," Peabody said. "He needs to learn to play within his body."
Walter and Brendan Sharkey also fouled out in the fourth quarter.
"We played without two of our post players for half the game," Peabody said. "Our leading scorers were not on the floor."
However, the guards more than made up for it.
"Our guard play was exceptional."
Fischer made four of his seven shots from the field and five of his seven free throws. D'Amore buried three treys to lead all players.
As a team, the Nighthawks made a sizzling 50 percent of their shots from the floor, while the defense stifled the Colts, holding them to less than 40 percent shooting.
"Tyler D'Amore did a great job on number 20 (Devonte Malcolm)," Peabody observed. Malcolm, who came into the game averaging 16 a game, was limited to two field goals and six points.
When Sean Collins picked Malcolm's pocket and took it in for the score, it gave the Nighthawks a 31-23 halftime lead. The athletic Colts threatened with a 5-0 run to end the third, but the lead was still 42-34 after three.
"We have some things to work on," said Walter, who was the team's sixth man last year. "Fouls hurt us, but other than that we really locked out (on defense)."
Peabody mentioned another challenge. "One of our weaknesses is free-throw shooting," he said. The Nighthawks shot under 50 percent from the charity stripe, which helped Buena to stay within striking distance.
Merle Branch of Buena led all scorers with 18 points, and made 12 of 19 from the line.
There were a lot of passes to go around for the Mountain View Mountain Lions in their 55-32 loss to Ironwood Ridge. On one sequence, the Mountain Lions threw eight passes in an effort to get an open shot, but the last pass was intercepted by a Nighthawk, one of the team's 24 turnovers. That was symptomatic of the kind of offensive frustrations the Mountain Lions had all night.
"We didn't hold onto the ball enough," said Mountain View coach Mike Parillo. "They made us hurry up and force the issue."
Still, it was clear that the Mountain Lions were not settling for playing one-on-one.
"Last night (in losing to Rincon) we went back to just one pass. Tonight, we came out and competed a lot harder than at Rincon," Parillo said.
The Nighthawks set an intense defensive tone early, forcing the Mountain Lions into missing their first eight shots. Senior Scott Volpe's three-pointer at the 3:05 mark of the first quarter was the team's only field goal of the quarter. Ironwood Ridge had a 9-5 lead after one.
"Coach works us in practice," said Nighthawk guard Mitch Fischer. "We contest (shots and passes) every day in practice."
After building a 21-15 halftime lead, the only thing missing for Ironwood Ridge was some offense.
"In the second half, our defense got steals and deflections, which we turned into easy baskets," said Nighthawk coach Brian Peabody. "Jan (Maehlen) moved up on the ball and he did a good job."
Matt Walter led all scorers with 20 points, as he shot nearly 70 percent from the floor. Almost all of his baskets were either layups or shots made in the paint. Jan Maehlen added 14, while Tyler D'Amore scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, which included three treys.
The Nighthawks broke it open with a lot of easy baskets in the third, outscoring the Mountain Lions 18-10 to open up a 39-25 lead entering the final stanza. The run continued into the final period, with D'Amore's seven points keying an 11-3 run and a 50-28 lead.
Fischer was a defensive presence. During one 60-second stretch in the third, he made a flying block, and then broke up the inbounds pass and knocked it out of bounds. When the Nighthawks got it back again, Fischer drove to the basket and fed Sean Collins for an easy layup.
"Coach told me at halftime to step it up and go to the basket," Fischer said.
Joshua Goshen led the Mountain Lions with eight points, and Volpe added seven.
"They were good defensively," Parillo said.
Four technical fouls were called, with one on each coach.
"This seems to be an intense rivalry," Parillo said. "We'll play them again in January."