Baroni shakes off slow start, gets hot in fourth to lift Hillmen in FVL opener

By: Nick Pecoraro
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AUBURN– It doesn’t matter how you start. It’s all about the result at the end.


After a dreadful shooting performance in the first half, Placer senior Konner Baroni scored 13 of his team-leading 19 points in the fourth quarter, including back-to-back 3-pointers down the stretch, to lift the Hillmen to a 1-0 start in the Foothill Valley League Tuesday night against Nevada Union.


Baroni dueled with Nevada Union’s Ryan Werner, who poured in all of his 11 points in the second half, and helped the Hillmen prevail with a 51-47 win.


Baroni had trouble finding the bottom of the net early in the game with shots that found either nothing but backboard or air. But the 6-foot-6-inch senior kept shooting.


“It was just getting too close, so we needed to hit some shots,” said Baroni. “We were cold. It was a low-scoring game the whole time, so we just had to get on a run. I knew if I could hit some shots, then our team would get going and get some energy.”


The rim was unkind to both teams during the first quarter, which saw a 6-6 tie heading into the second. Ian Howes broke a 10-10 tie in the second quarter with a steal and a 3-point play after being fouled on the layup as the Hillmen went up 13-10 at the 4:30 mark of the second.


Howes’ fellow Hillmen football mate Michael Stuck put up his own and-1 just a minute later and gave Placer a 16-12 lead at the 3:30 point.


After the Miners took a brief 18-16 lead, Howes followed his driving baseline lay-in with two free throws with less than a second on the game clock to give the Hillmen a 20-18 halftime advantage.


Placer took its biggest lead of the game at 29-20 with three minutes left in the third quarter, but Nevada Union began to storm back with three straight layups by Werner and David O’Looney, who led all scorers with 21 points. The Hillmen clung to a 32-29 lead after the third-quarter buzzer rang.


Placer started gaining steam midway through the fourth. Owen Tucker came up with a steal and assist to Baroni on the run downcourt, and Stuck swiped a Miner pass and converted two free throws at the other end for a 40-33 cushion.


Baroni connected on back-to-back triples to give the Hillmen a five-point lead with under a minute to play. The Miners didn’t go away, however, trailing by just two with 10 seconds to go, but Howes’ two clutch free throws sealed the 51-47 victory for the Hillmen.


“It was a good team win,” said Placer’s acting varsity head coach Nate Swesey. “I think our defense is what won the game for us… I think that was our best defensive game of the year.”


Stuck and Howes each contributed 10 points for the Hillmen, who travel to Rio Linda (3-12), who lost to Ponderosa (9-8), Thursday to continue FVL play.


Elsewhere in FVL action, Lincoln (13-6, 1-0) took down Oakmont (7-10, 0-1) on the road 64-46 Tuesday night. The Foothill Valley League seems to have a lot of parity at the beginning of league play.


“I think it’s pretty equal across the board,” said Baroni. “If every game (in league) is like that, then it’s going to be tough.”


The Miners (7-12, 0-1) came into Tuesday winning just two of their last seven contests and the Hillmen (11-8, 1-0) were 3-3 during the same stretch. Neither team had played a game since the Kendall Arnett Tournament the weekend of Dec. 27–29. The Hillmen took fourth place in their host tourney while Nevada Union came in sixth.


Placer opened the night with the freshman team devouring their Miner counterparts 72-42. The JV boys team is suspended indefinitely and has been under investigation by Placer Unified School District and the Auburn Police Department for allegations of hazing and harassment since Dec. 26.


Leiutenant Victor Pecoraro of the APD on Jan. 4 told The Journal that the investigation is “in its infancy and we have very little information at this time.”