|Jays, Wildcats have eyes looking ahead|
|Thursday, January 30, 2014 9:15 PM|
By JIM METCALFE
With the stretch run beginning — with the tournament draw just over a week away — local high school basketball teams are trying to get into a rhythm entering the second season, as well as still vie for respective conference rankings.
Both St. John’s and Jefferson count themselves amongst that number.
The Blue Jays (8-4, 3-2 Midwest Athletic Conference) have an extremely all task ahead of them as 10-2 Marion Local (5-0 MAC; 9th in Division IV) comes to town.
The Wildcats (9-6, 1-3 Northwest Conference) have their own headaches to worry about as they head to Paulding County to take on league rival Paulding.
ST. JOHN’S/MARION LOCAL
Blue Jay coach Aaron Elwer doesn’t have far to look to see what will confront his team tonight: a tall and rangy front court led by 6-10 junior Luke Knapke, 6-7 junior Ryan Bruns, 6-6 senior Adam Bertke, 6-4 sophomore John Schwieterman, 6-3 senior Troy Homan and 6-3 junior Dustin Seitz.
“They are so tall and long; they are very athletic and lengthy. They play a 3-2 zone and they can spread it out so wide, it’s hard to get anything,” Elwer explained. “Even if you can get something at the rim, it isn’t easy; they will block a lot of shots and alter even more, plus you aren’t going to get a lot of second chances.
“Offensively, they have the size that you just don’t see in the regular season; they can run a lot of high-low action and throw it insider to a 6-11 kid. What makes them even more difficult to deal with is they have some perimeter weapons that will knock down shots. This is also a veteran team; most of those kids played on a young team last year.
“All you can do is try to be aggressive and play with confidence. It’s easier said than done but we have to try and execute our offense and defense with confidence.”
The Blue and Gold trot out a starting five of senior Ryan Koester (11 counters, 3.3 caroms, 1.5 thefts per game), senior Eric Clark (7.5 points, 3.2 boards, 3.8 assists), junior Andy Grothouse (13.2 markers, 4.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals), junior Tyler Conley 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds) and junior Evan Hays (4.6 markers, 3.2 boards, 2.9 assists, 1.8 steals).
Off the pine for a team averaging 50.3 points and ceding 45.3, outrebounding opponents 24.6-22.3 and averaging 8.9 turnovers per game (opponents 8.5) are senior Aaron Hellman (1.5 markers), senior Jake Csukker (.4), senior Ben Wrasman, junior Alex Odenweller (4.9 points) and classmate Austin Heiing (.6).
Coming off a big 14-point win on the road at St. Henry, Elwer is hoping that his team is ready for that stretch run after a winter of “discontent.”
“We had the late start due to football but the problem has been the weather; it has affected everybody,” he added. “It’s definitely been a hurdle for every coach and team to try and deal with and it’s been a different type of year. I think our kids have handled it well overall because it’s as much a mental challenge as physical. You really have to take advantage of what you can do; every practice has to be approached as a chance to get some real good work in and to improve.
“I felt we had the makings of a good shooting team with a lot of skill coming in and when we have shot well, that tends to make us better at the defensive end. The problem has been when we don’t shoot well, we haven’t always been that solid defensively. That has been a stress for us this year; how to win games when we aren’t shooting well. That not only includes defense but rebounding as well.”
Wildcat coach Marc Smith maybe doesn’t have a tall a task against the Panthers but he faces a puzzle he’s gotten used to.
“The last four years, they have been a deep and talented team. They are very balanced — there isn’t a dropoff when they go deeper into their bench and they will play 9-10 guys,” Smith acknowledged. “They are athletic guys that are also basketball players. They play all-year round — they are on the AYBT circuit all summer — and you can tell; their floor spacing is excellent, they understand the game and they are just as adept in any defense they play, from zone, man or even junk. They are extremely experienced — seven of their top eight are seniors.
“Kauser in particular is a dangerous perimeter shooter but they have a lot of guys that can get hot any given game. You really have to play a sound team game against them on both ends of the court.”
The Wildcats will try to counter that balance with a starting five of senior Ross Thompson (15.2 counters, 8.8 caroms, 2.3 assists), senior Austin Jettinghoff (9.9 markers, 2.7 assists, 2.5 boards), junior Nick Fitch (3.4 markers, 3.2 boards), sophomore Trey Smith (19.8 markers, 6.8 boards, 2.1 assists) and freshman Jace Stockwell (4.9 points, 5.7 assists, 3.3 caroms).
Off the bench for a team outscoring foes 59.7-53.7 points per game and outboarding them 29.1-23.3, as well as losing the turnover battle 12.9-11.5, are senior Tyler Rice (3.3 markers, 2.1 boards) and Tyler Mox (2.3 counters).
Sophomore Dalton Hicks (1.8 points, 2.1 boards) is out with an injury.
“We are hoping we get him back before the end of the season. He does the dirty work that only coaches see and appreciate but he has the other skills if needed: passing, rebounding,” Smith said.
The Wildcats come off a loss to Lincolnview Friday and Smith has a good handle on what his team needs to do to get on a roll.
“We’re like everyone else: the weather has been the strangest I’ve seen. It’s really hard to find a rhythm but we’re all going through it,” he added. “What we need to do is shore up things defensively for us to get into the way we want to play. We are in the middle of the NWC season and everyone knows what everyone else is doing. For the most part, we have been solid offensively. We’re shooting pretty well, we’re lowering our turnovers as we go and we’re executing the offense. I would like to see us find another consistent complement or two to Trey and Ross — they are the focus for every team’s defense and they know that. For us to keep going forward, we need the third through the seventh guys to step up and make big plays — we’ve had it come but we need it more consistently.
“What we need to do is figure out how to create points from our defense. When teams know what your sets are, it is easier to score when you can create transition looks off your defense. We work at it; it just needs to happen. As well, I’d like to be able to deepen the bench; that might help us in that category if we can keep people fresher.”