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Finished At The Line: Traverse City West beats Traverse City Central at the charity stripe to win 64-59

Jan. 5—TRAVERSE CITY — Maybe it's all that early spring baseball in the northern Michigan cold weather, but Caden Stoops had ice in his veins on the basketball court Friday night.

The Traverse City West pitcher/infielder knocked down 8-of-8 from the free-throw line in the final 1:24 to help give the Titans a 64-59 varsity boys basketball victory over rival Traverse City Central at home.

"In practice, we mostly shoot free throws," said junior guard Lincoln Lockhart, who also hit a pair in the final minute to finish with a game-high 20 points. "I would say about half our practice is just shooting free throws. It's just a lot of reps. It's good to have guys like that that come in the game and are just ice cold from the line, especially big games like this. Caden Stoops has ice in his veins."

All of the Titans did, for that matter. West (9-2, 3-1 Big North Conference) shot 15-for-18 from the line, including 10-for-10 in the final 1:24 to hold off Central's comeback attempt.

"That's what we're looking for," Stoops said. "I want to get on the line. I'm looking for the shot, and I want to make them. I was telling myself, 'This is what I do every day. I'm going to make these.' And I did it."

Stoops — who said the Titans tell jokes during free-throw practice to mimic opposing student section taunts — finished with 11 points, dishing out seven assists and hitting one 3-pointer aside from his late-game heroics from the other line. Lockhart had five rebounds to go with his 20 points.

Anthony Ribel scored 19 in just his second game back from a foot injury that cost him all of December. It's the first time since Dec. 17, 2022, that he's been held under 20 points in a game.

"Anthony's just able to do what he does, and he showed that on a couple of those threes," West head coach Doug Baumann said. "Winslow Robinson played an absolutely phenomenal game defensively. We held him under 20 points, which it's been a while since Anthony's been under that. That was just the sheer effort from Winslow. That was his sole responsibility — and man, did he own it."

West led by as many as 12 points late in the third quarter on Stoops' baseline 3-pointer just 30 seconds after a Lockhart triple.

That's when Central, led by Ribel, started mounting a comeback.

Ribel hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute to cut the deficit to six entering the fourth quarter. The Trojans would get as close as two on a Ribel 3-pointer with 1:14 remaining.

"Having Anthony back does a lot for our team," Central head coach Ben Fischer said. "He sets the tone for us offensively, defensively and in the locker room. Without him, it felt like guys were wearing shoes one size too big regarding their roles on the team. His presence helps everyone get into more suitable roles, and I think we saw that in many ways tonight."

Jaden Clark's corner three pulled Central within three with 12 seconds left, but Stoops buried his final pair of free throws with 7.5 ticks left to all but lock it up.

"That was really big for us because it really changes the way you have to play defense," Baumann said. "All of a sudden, it's a two-possession game instead of a one-possession game, so for him (Stoops) to make those shots, just huge for us."

Quinten Gillespie added 11 points, five assists and six rebounds for West, while Gunnar Canty contributed eight points and nine rebounds.

Ribel added six rebounds, six assists and four steals to his 19-point effort. Brendan Slack pitched in 13 points, Clark nine, and Aden Moorhead and Jack Potgieter grabbed six boards each.

TC Central junior guard Jack Hogan is transferring to Wyoming High School over the weekend and is slated to begin play there Monday.

Hogan played a role in last year's BNC championship, hitting the game-winning shot at Cadillac in a 58-56 game that helped force a tie for the league crown. The 6-foot-1 guard averaged 5.8 points, 1.8 assists and 1.5 rebounds a game last season as a sophomore and 7.0 points and 1.8 rebounds this season. He scored four points Friday.

"Losing Hogan is really tough," Fischer said. "He clamps down on defense, and the intensity he brings in the game and in practice is something that will be very difficult to replace. Watching the team give him hugs after the game — really tough. He's a part of our family, and we wish him nothing but the best going forward."

Trojans forward Brayden McCoon is also out, watching the game from the bench in street clothes with a boot on his left foot. TC West has now bounced back from a loss to Cadillac with four consecutive victories.

"We have three seasons," Lockhart said. "We go conference, nonconference and then playoffs. So this is just racking up wins in the conference, and we're looking to win the conference this year."

TC Central (1-8, 1-3 BNC) isn't out of the Big North picture if they can make a run with Ribel at the helm for the final six conference dates. The BNC champ had at least two league losses in four of the last five seasons, and three in two of those.

"He's really their whole offense," Lockhart said of Ribel. "He's their guy, and they want to give him the ball to score. He's a great player. Winslow Robinson did a great job defensively, containing him, and that was the differencemaker in this game."

West's Ben Habers left the game in the second quarter with a dislocated finger on his left (non-shooting) hand, coming back just a few minutes later with the finger taped to the one next to it.

Mason Zimmerman tweaked his ankle, but Baumann said he's hopeful he can play when the Titans host 7-2 Big Rapids on Tuesday. Central travels to Saginaw Heritage, also on Tuesday.

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