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Zebras need injection of confidence

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Eric Couter has not lost faith. Lincoln High School’s boys basketball team has absorbed its share of lumps in recent weeks, but the junior does not believe the Zebras are down for the count. The latest lump came Tuesday night in a 78-44 loss to Capital Christian. The Zebras fell to 6-10 with their second loss of 30 or more points in eight days. They lost 85-55 to Del Oro on Jan. 4. Lincoln coach Ben Palafox let his players know after Tuesday’s game that changes will be coming by the time the Zebras play Bear River in their Pioneer Valley League opener Jan. 18 in Grass Valley. No longer will Palafox use 12 players, substituting as many as five at a time in two-minute intervals. The players will still check in and out frequently, but only seven or eight will be in the rotation. “After 16 games, we need to decide who can play and who can help us,” Palafox said. “And we will.” The switch will mean fewer minutes for a few players. Couter does not have a problem with that. “I don’t blame him,” Couter said of his coach. “It’s who wants to play.” Couter will likely not be affected by the switch because he has been a consistent point producer. Scoring has been an issue with the Zebras. Tuesday’s game was another example of that. Lincoln trailed 22-17 after one quarter, and Couter sank a 3-pointer early in the second to pull the Zebras within two points. That would be as close as Lincoln would get the rest of the way. The Zebras did not score again until a layup by senior Kevin Sigrist with 3:17 remaining in the period. By then, after Lincoln’s drought of more than four minutes, the Cougars had pulled away. Capital Christian led 39-24 at halftime and continued to score at will in the third quarter, extending the gap to 62-32. Lincoln scored 17 points in the first eight minutes, then 15 in the next 16. A 12-point fourth quarter did not prevent the Zebras from setting a season low for points in a game. Palafox’s team failed to score 50 points for the first time since a 65-49 loss to Oakmont on Dec. 9. “It’s about confidence,” Palafox said. “We have to be confident in our ability to overcome situations.” Tuesday’s game was much like Lincoln’s loss to Del Oro last week. The Zebras got out of the first quarter with an 18-all tie, then scored seven points in the second period and trailed 45-25 at halftime. Coaches love to say a team’s slate is wiped clean with the start of league play. Palafox prefers to be realistic. “We can say we’re 0-0,” he told the players after the game, “but in your heads you know we’re not.” As tough as the going has been for the Zebras, Couter is keeping the faith that better days are ahead. “I believe in everybody on this team,” said Couter, who scored eight points Tuesday. Kyle Lowe led the Zebras with nine points. Sigrist also had eight. Points were plentiful for Lincoln’s junior varsity team, which improved to 11-5 with a 96-63 victory.