Balanced line up to benefit Bulldogs
If Tuesday night's scrimmage is any sign of the basketball season, Eric Toot believes his team will have another successful campaign.
Toot watched his Baldwin High School boys' varsity basketball team scrimmage in front of family and friends on Tuesday. The second-year coach liked what he saw from his team.
"It was good to put on the uniforms and get out and run a bit," Toot said. "It's always exciting for the kids. The first and second quarters were pretty solid, but then fatigue set in during the third quarter. It got kind of sloppy. We had already practiced today."
Although many of the players began practicing Nov. 19, they also enjoyed the scrimmage, because it gave them a chance to simulate a game.
"I think it was good and we were aggressive," junior Brandon Tommer said. "It was a little sloppy, but I think it went a lot better than last year."
Senior Drew Berg also enjoyed the scrimmage, even though he said the team does scrimmage at the end of most practices. He was happy to be playing in front of friends and family Tuesday evening.
"We scrimmage at the end of most practices, but we didn't have to stop for corrections or anything tonight," Berg said. "We were just able to run around and play. It was also nice to see fans here."
Tuesday was the final tune up before the Bulldogs begin their regular season Monday in Louisburg. They will play Anderson County at 6 p.m. in the auxiliary gym as they participate in the Wildcat/Bulldog Classic.
The other two teams are Louisburg and Burlington. BHS will play Burlington at 6 p.m. Wednesday and Louisburg at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7.
"Oh yeah, it's going to be great," Berg said of the first three games. "We can't wait. It's going to be really fun. We will have some tough opponents, but we welcome the challenge."
Although the players are excited to start the season, Toot said he wished he had more time as a coach to prepare his Bulldogs.
"You would always like to have more time as a coach, but the kids play because they want to play in games," Toot said. "They are ready to play. A couple weeks of practice are enough for them."
One reason he would like more time is because he saw many areas of weakness in Tuesday's scrimmage. Those areas include the offense and conditioning.
Part of his worry about conditioning stems from many players adjusting to basketball from football, which ended Nov. 16. Toot said the players are working hard and the lack of conditioning is showing on the defensive end, but that will change as the season progresses.
"We just have to get in shape to be solid in the defensive end like we want," Toot said. "If you're not in shape, it's really difficult to play defense."
The Bulldogs' offense doesn't worry the second-year coach as he is happy with the players' ability to re-learn the offense in a short amount of time. He is also confident in the team's offensive abilities.
"I really like the weapons that we have," Toot said. "It's just getting the guys to understand what is a good shot, what is not a good shot and when to take a shot. I think these things will come as guys get comfortable with each other and learn their roles."
Berg doesn't quite share the same optimism as his coach. He isn't too concerned about the offense, but he said the team has many areas to improve upon after the scrimmage.
"We need to work on pretty much everything," Berg said. "We played well, but we have a lot to improve on. We need to take care of the ball better and work on our defense. We're basically running the same offense we ran last year, with a few wrinkles. Everyone is picking it up really well."
Berg is one of five seniors playing for the Bulldogs this winter. The others are Josh Beaulieu, Zach Durr, Jesse Green and Dustin Schiller.
All five played significant minutes last year when the Bulldogs advanced to the Class 4A sub-state championship game. Toot hopes that experience and their leadership will help guide the team this season.
"We've got great seniors," Toot said. "To me, that's where it all starts. If you don't have seniors who are good kids and good leaders, it's hard to have a good basketball team and program. We've been fortunate the past two years to have some good seniors."
BHS will be without Durr for a few weeks as he injured his ankle during one of the 4A football playoff games.
"With Zach out, our depth is definitely hurt," Toot said. "I was really worried about it, because he is such a competitor. We really miss him in practice, because of his intensity."
Helping fill Durr's gap will be one of the talented juniors. One that has really impressed the BHS coach is Logan Schiller.
"Logan Schiller has improved so much from last year," Toot said. "He's kind of come out of nowhere to compete for playing time at the varsity level. It's exciting to see kids improve. It really is."
Although Schiller will help the Bulldogs at the guard position, he won't be the only one. Junior Sam Beecher will also help the Bulldogs backcourt. Several other juniors will also benefit the team at the forward spot. Clad Kueffer and Tommer will be playing minutes at one of the forward positions.
"Our juniors have really improved," Toot said. "They are ready to step in and you can tell they are excited to play varsity basketball. In the progression of high school basketball, it's the next step."
The final Bulldog that looks to impact the team this season is freshman Justin Vander Tuig, the tallest BHS player at 6-foot-7. Vander Tuig has impressed his coach and should see some playing time in the varsity line up.
"He has kind of been thrown into the fire," Toot said. "He has gotten better everyday. It's a different level, but I think he is going to be fine. We will just take our time and see how it goes. He's doing great so far."
Toot's not the only one excited about all of the returning talent this winter. Berg said the team played together this summer to help build chemistry.
"We have a lot of good guys returning," Berg said. "We are tall and athletic, so that should help us. We have a good chemistry together."
BHS will play its first home game at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 against Wellsville. The Bulldogs will also travel to Central Heights on Dec. 18 to wrap up their pre-Christmas games.
Baldwin will be looking to improve on last year's 17-6 record and sub-state runner-up this winter.
"I just hope as a program, that's what we get known for," Toot said. "Last year was a great start to that. It's carried over to this year. You can tell when kids want to work hard. These kids want to get better and compete. It's exciting."