MELISSA — Celina’s Bobcats knocked off Melissa, 95-82, on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at Melissa High’s Bird Cage in a game the Bobcats led by as much as 24 points in the fourth quarter. Points-wise, the two teams played dead-even in the second half, 43-43, but Celina’s damage was done in the second quarter, when the Bobcats broke open a tight contest with the 33-19 surge from which the Cards never recovered.
Freshman Karson Stastny collected a game-high 33 points for Celina while junior Tre Homer’s 23 points led Melissa scorers. Sophomores Matt Holloway and Junior Castleberry each tallied double-digits for the Cards as well, with 19 and 18 points, respectively.
The loss evened Melissa’s district record at 1-1 after opening league play with a win at Princeton. The Bobcats’ district mark moved to 2-0.
“I thought (Celina) did a really good job early, handling our pressure and handling the tempo,” Melissa head coach Eric Benton said. “And then, there were so many free throws — from both teams — that I thought it certainly slowed the game down. We were wanting to play a little bit faster tempo and I thought that kind of took us out of our attack mentality. … Especially in that first half, I think they were able to get real comfortable and confident, and we weren’t quite able to get to the tempo that we wanted.”
Overall, players attempted 61 free throws this night, with the Bobcats toeing the line 37 times. Also hurting Melissa, besides the slow down: The Cards shot 37.5 percent from the line, while Celina sank 75 percent of its tries.
“I knew Melissa was going to be good,” Celina head coach Bobby Stastny said. “I felt we could win, of course. But if we did, I thought it was going to be overtime, or maybe a one- or two-point game. But when you get to running-and-gunning down the floor and you hit some shots, anything is possible. We were hitting some shots tonight.”
Trailing, 76-61, to open the final stanza, Melissa soon fell further back after back-to-back corner 3s by Hayden Hollin. But that’s when the Cards pieced together a 10-0 run, begun by a Castleberry 3 from the corner and capped by consecutive Homer layups.
“Ultimately,” Benton said, “those are the stretches that I think we have to build off of because those are the stretches that feel like how we want to play — string some easy baskets together, pick the tempo up a little bit.”
With three minutes left and its lead down to 14, 86-72, Celina quickly ended thoughts of a rally with another 3 and a layup from Hollin.
Melissa led, 20-19, after one quarter and the game was tied for the last time at 27-all on Holloway’s 3 in the second. A 7-0 Celina run followed and the Bobcats never trailed again. The Cards would stay close — within five points — until two minutes before halftime on the strength of two Castleberry 3s and a nice feed from Brendon Lewis to Josh Wood for a layup. But by the break, Celina’s lead had bulged to 13 points, 52-39.
To open the third quarter, Melissa quickly cut the deficit to nine on a Kaedric Cobbs layup and Cobbs’ out of bounds save and long pass to Homer, who was fouled and hit both freebies. But Celina would answer again, and Hunter Bennett’s layup set Celina’s margin back to 17, forcing a Cards timeout.
Castleberry, who finished with a game-high six 3s, closed out the third period with his fourth one, swished from the top-of-the key at the buzzer.