WOLFHURST - Bellaire head coach J.R. Battista has said time and time again that basketball is a game of skill.
And he's further driven his point home by stressing that to improve skill level, the players must invest time and work on their game.
The message got across loud and clear for junior point guard Nathan Steele.
T-L Photo/SETH STASKEY
BELLAIRE’S Michael Neal drives to the bucket against Bridgeport’s Bailey McGrath during the first quarter of Saturday afternoon’s game. Neal scored 21 points in the Big Reds’ 70-60 win.
Steele posted a career high 33 points and continually served as a dagger for the homestanding Bridgeport Bulldogs in leading the Big Reds to a 70-60 victory Saturday afternoon.
"Nathan's put a lot of time in since last year and it's starting pay off for him," Battista said. "Thank the good Lord he was making them because it would have been bad for the Big Reds. We'd been close a couple of times, so we needed this win. The pizza will definitely taste better tonight."
Bellaire (2-3) struggled to get anything going and was saddled with early foul trouble in the first half. Bridgeport was shooting double bonus in the final minute of the first quarter.
Steele was one of the few Big Reds who avoided personal foul problems and his presence on the floor proved to be the key. He caught fire in the second quarter, knocking home three from behind the 3-point line and an additional goal for 11 in the period.
"We wanted to play no help on him, but we had too many miscommunications," said Bridgeport head coach Donnie Cash, who watched his team drop its second straight since a 4-0 start. "It was a lack of a focus of where (Steele) was on the court and he hurt us."
The Big Reds owned a 26-19 lead at halftime despite leading scorer Michael Neal being held to just one bucket. He spent most of the half on the bench with three fouls.
"We foul too much, but we're young," Battista said. "Michael Neal didn't play basically the whole first half and played great in the second half. He's just a sophomore and he's just playing."
In the second half, the Big Reds stretched the lead to nine entering the fourth quarter. Steele and Neal evenly divided 20 of the Big Reds' 22 in the third.
The Bulldogs got within five at 50-45 on a Parker Dyson bucket on the interior, but on the next three possessions allowed second-chance opportunities and the Big Reds made them pay.
"We had played good defense, but we didn't block out and it came back to haunt us," Cash said. "If we get those rebounds, maybe it's a different story, but Bellaire's kids played hard and played better than we did today."
The Big Reds lead swelled to as many as 15 at 63-48 in the fourth, but the Bulldogs got a bucket from Bailey Sieber off the bench and then turned up the pressure. Bellaire didn't handle it well and the Bulldogs scored eight straight points all told.
"Christmas was coming early for the Bulldogs because we were throwing it to them in the fourth," Battista said. "We held it together. Honestly, you have to learn how to win. You have to be in situations where you're winning and you don't have to shoot. You're not just playing anymore, it's time and score."
The Big Reds finally solved the pressure and eventually the Bulldogs were forced to foul.
Steele's production, which included six bonus goals, was complemented by Neal's 21 points. Kenny Hess and Ryan Callarik each had six.
Bridgeport, which struggled to a tune of 12-of-31 from the foul line, was led by Dyson, who went for 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. J.C. Cash added 16 points and Q.J. Williams added a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
The Bulldogs are off until hosting Barnesville in a make-up game on Friday. They'll welcome Madonna the following night and the jayvee games both nights will tip at 5 p.m.
"Obviously, this isn't the way we wanted to go into Christmas break, but we can't hang our heads because it'll snowball after that," Cash said. "We're going to take (Sunday) off and practice Monday and Tuesday to get re-focused and get back to what we were doing at the start of the year."
Bellaire was a lopsided winner in the reserve game.
BELLAIRE (70) - Steele 13, 1-1 33; Ramsay 2, 0-0 4; Callarik 3, 0-0 6; Hess 1, 4-6 6; Neal 8, 2-4 21; Westlake 0, 0-0 0; Kimbro 0, 0-0 0; Back 0, 0-0 0; Totals: 27, 7-11 70. BRIDGEPORT (60) - Seevers 3, 3-6 9; Cash 5, 4-5 16; Touvill 0, 0-0 0; McGrath 1, 2-2 4; Williams 5, 1-5 11; Doizvta 0, 0-0 0; Dyson 8, 1-11 17; Sieber 1, 1-2 3; Totals: 23, 12-31 60.
3-point goals: B - Steele (6), Neal (3). Bpt - Cash (2).