MANTECA — News travels fast through the Valley Oak League, particularly when it involves a freshman with a hot hand from long distance.
The information clearly got to Sonora High, because the Wildcats were ready for Jordan Kron. But being ready isn't always enough to stop a scorer.
"I've been seeing in the paper that he's scored 31, 27, 25 points," Sonora coach Rick Francis said. "We knew what he was capable of, and we did a good job defensively. But the kid still got his points."
Yes, Kron topped his season average by scoring 25 points, but that wasn't enough to prevent Sonora from capturing an 81-66 win over East Union.
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The key for Sonora (7-6, 1-1) was holding Kron to seven in the first half. It allowed the Wildcats to build a large lead, and they needed it as EU (5-7, 0-2) rallied behind its freshman in the fourth quarter.
Kron scored 10 in the third and eight in the fourth. His 22-foot trey cut Sonora's lead to 64-57 with 3:25 in the game.
Sonora was able to convert its free throws, hitting 15 of 20 in the fourth quarter, to keep EU from getting closer.
So long as Kron was on the court, though, Francis was unable to enjoy any lead.
"I know his dad (Gary) and he was a great scorer, and his son is something," Francis said. "You don't keep a secret like that for long. He'll be seeing everyone's top defender."
Kron is accustomed to being challenged, though. He was a pitcher on the USA National Baseball Team that won the Pan-Am championship in Colombia in the fall, so squaring off against older players on the court isn't going to faze him.
He's shooting 45 percent from beyond the 3-point line, hitting 42 of 94 shots. He takes that soft touch to the free-throw line, where he is shooting 83 percent.
Having averaged 20 points through the first 10 games of his high school career, Kron was a marked man. He spent the first half trying to shed his shadow, also known as Sonora's Aren Forster.
When Kron crossed halfcourt, Forster was there to greet him and he stayed on his hip so long as EU had the ball.
The Lancers began using screens to break Kron free, but Forster kept fighting through and wouldn't go away. Kron hit an early trey, but didn't get another in the first half — part of the reason Sonora led 43-27.
It was difficult for the Wildcats to offer Forster any assistance, because it meant leaving another Lancer unattended. The few times it happened, EU took advantage of the double team to get the ball to open player on the perimeter for an uncontested 3-pointer.
Tyler Below (16 points) and Teejay Gordon (11) hit three treys apiece. They showed the affects of Sonora's physical defense in the final minutes, though.
"It takes energy shooting 3's and their legs start to tire in the fourth quarter," Francis said. "We told our kids to make them work for every shot."
Kron showed an ability to adapt late in the first half, putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket. It revealed Forster's vulnerability, as Kron was fouled on two consecutive possessions. Another drive in the third quarter produced a similar result, sending Kron to the line to hit two free throws.
"Defenses are starting to give Jordan a lot of attention, but he's got to realize it's going to happen and he can't get frustrated," EU coach Brett Lewis said. "The good thing is, we've got some other kids who can shoot, too. We don't have a lot of size, though."
That was EU's downfall, because Sonora dominated within 15 feet of the basket. With the Wildcats rotating a front line of 6-4 Alex Kiriluk (27 points), 6-5 Zach Gorgas (21), 6-8 Eric Sutton and 6-6 Mark Relei, there were always fresh bodies on the court.
Kiriluk scored 13 in the third quarter, while Gorgas had 13 in the fourth. Sonora couldn't shoot with EU from the perimeter — the Lancers nailed 11 treys, Sonora four — so its inside game was crucial.
The inside play, along with the free-throw shooting, allowed Francis to leave the gym with a smile.