The fresh-faced — yet preseason Class C1 No. 10 — Falls City High boys’ basketball team suffered its first season-opening loss to Syracuse since 2010 Friday night, falling 56-38 to a veteran Rockets team.
Syracuse senior guard Tanner Harsin, as he did a year ago in Falls City, drained six three-pointers — five during a 17-point third quarter outburst in which he alone out-scored the Tigers by four and collectively the Rockets nearly tripled its five-point halftime lead. Harsin scored a game-high 25 points and Saturday the team improved to 2-0 with a 54-53 overtime victory at Ft. Calhoun.
Harsin hit nearly 70 threes a season ago, but FC effectively clamped down on the Rocket bomber for 16 minutes, holding him to just one field goal and three points the entire first half. The eight minutes following halftime were another matter entirely; he was a perfect 5-for-5 from downtown in the third quarter, single-handedly blew the game wide open. The 5-11 senior averaged about 13 points per game a season ago and headlines a Syracuse outfit that boasts three returning starters and seven letterwinners.
Coach Don Hogue’s Tigers, by contrast, are a raw version of a rebuild in its earliest stage. Just four seniors — Trent Pentecost, Anthony Baker and twins Bryan and Bradly Rose — are on the roster and big men Kyle Leafty, a 6-4 junior, and 6-5 sophomore Brandt Chapple are the lone returnees who played significant minutes during the 2014-15 state tournament run.
A jaw-dropping 10 seniors graduated, some with numbers that rank among the best ever at FC High School. Not the least of which: 69 wins (against 11 losses) over the course of three seasons.
Hogue must find replacements for three-year starters Jack Hartman (13.8 ppg., 6 rpg.) and Jordy Stoller (9.5 ppg., 65 steals), not to mention Weston Witt, who broke a decades-old assist record (125), scored nearly 13 ppg. and willed FC to District titles the past two years. The Tigers averaged 58.8 points last season and all but 12.1 of them left the building.
That leaves two big men with experience: 6-4 junior and returning starter Kyle Leafty, who had a tremendous sophomore year, averaging nearly 10 points and six boards per game, and sophomore Brandt Chapple, a 6-5, 210-pound athletic specimen with shoulders broad enough to carry a team. He emerged down the stretch last springs and was the main reason the Tigers advanced through the subdistrict.
Leafty was most definitely FC’s go-to guy Friday, scoring 17 points and grabbing more than half of his team’s rebounds. Though Leafty and Chapple should make the frontcourt the team’s strength, Syracuse dominated the paint, owning a 29-19 rebounding advantage. Chapple had a cold start to his sophomore season, managing just a pair of field goals and four rebounds on the night. He finished with five points, going 1-for-4 from the line.
The Tigers as a group made 8-of-16 free throws and made a grand total of two trips to the stripe the entire second half — and none in the fourth quarter.