By SCOTT COTTOS
North Baltimore’s boys basketball team is on the top of its offensive game when it’s able to run.
And that’s what the Tigers did right out of the gate on Wednesday night en route to a 52-39 victory over Liberty-Benton in a Blanchard Valley Conference contest.
Levi Gazarek recorded team-highs of 13 points and seven rebounds as North Baltimore upped its record to 9-3 overall and 5-1 in the BVC, staying close to conference-leading Pandora-Gilboa (7-0).
Will Poling’s 12 points led the Eagles, who dropped to 2-13 overall and 2-5 in the BVC.
Five players scored for the Tigers as they roared to a 13-0 lead in the contest’s first 5:51. They went on to lead by as many as 17 but did see the Eagles trim the difference to nine points on three different occasions in the fourth quarter.
Being able to run helped North Baltimore get its early jump on L-B.
“We love to run,” said Tigers’ coach Adam Burris. “We’ve got the athletes to run. It’s when we get in our half-court offense, when we have to execute through offensive plays, that we struggle sometimes. If we’re going to go to where we want to go, we’ve got to be able to start to execute our offensive plays.”
Getting outrebounded 34-19 — with North Baltimore hitting the offensive boards from the get-go and ending up with 15 on the night — made things difficult for the Eagles, as did their early inability to put the ball in the basket.
Liberty-Benton’s first basket came when Josh Reindel made a reverse layup off a nice pass from Mehkei Jenkins with 1:52 left in the first quarter.
“I was really impressed with how hard they go after the offensive boards,” Eagles’ coach Ben Gerken said after his squad’s fifth consecutive loss.
“We got off to a bad start. We didn’t finish some plays. We spotted them a 13-0 lead and then we battled back and cut it to nine. So, if you look at how the game ended, we played them even after that first spurt.”
L-B trailed 18-5 after the first quarter but trailed just 22-13 at halftime after the Tigers managed just four second-quarter points.
“I think we just settled too much,” Burris said. “We shot a lot of 3s. We let them dictate the pace. I think in the first quarter we pushed the ball, then we kind of let them dictate the pace. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to take anything away from them. L-B is a good team.”
North Baltimore extended its lead to 41-24 through the third quarter before the Eagles scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to slice the count to 41-32 with 6 minutes remaining.
Liberty-Benton, which connected on 3 of 22 3-pointers and shot just 28 percent (14 of 50) from the field, trailed 47-38 in the game’s last 3 minutes but never got any closer.
“North Baltimore has some very good, athletic basketball players, and their athleticism caused us trouble tonight,” Gerken said. “I thought (Chase) Naugle did a good job at the point, getting them in their stuff..”
Tyler Durfey followed Gazarek with 12 points for the Tigers. Adam Flores matched Gazarek with seven rebounds and Naugle passed for seven assists.
Austin May scored all of his eight points in the second half for the Eagles. He also finished with a pair of steals. Josh Reindel pulled down five rebounds.
NORTH BALTIMORE (9-3, 5-1 BVC)
Gazarek 6-1–13, Hagemyer 3-1–8, Durfey 3-4–12, Rader 3-2–8, Naugle 1-3–5, Flores 1-2–4, Cotterman 1-0–2. TOTALS: 18-45 13-20 — 52.
liberty-benton (2-13, 2-5 BVC)
Jenkins 3-0–6, Kotey 1-0–2, Poling 4-1–12, May 1-5–8, Jo. Reindel 3-0–6, Schroeder 1-1–3, Dillon 0-0–0, Ja. Reindel 1-0–2, Mattingly 0-0–0. TOTALS: .14-50 6-10 — 39.
North Baltimore 18 4 19 11 — 52
Liberty-Benton 5 8 11 15 — 39
3-Point GOALS: North Baltimore 3-10 (Durfey 2, Hagemyer 1); Liberty-Benton 3-22 (Poling 3).
rebounds: North Baltimore 34 (Gazarek, Flores 7); Liberty-Benton 19 (Jo. Reindel 5).
turnovers: North Baltimore 13; Liberty-Benton 7.
junior varsity: Liberty-Benton, 52-40.