BHS freshman lifts boys to BIT first-round win
Chad Berg made the most of his first-ever varsity boys’ basketball start at home Tuesday night.
Berg missed early season practices because of an injury he suffered during the football season. Eight games into his freshman season, Berg found his way to the starting lineup. He was one of two freshman, along with Cornell Brown, who landed a starting role in December, starting for Baldwin High School boys basketball team Tuesday.
Brown helped ignite the Bulldogs for three wins during December. On Tuesday, they combined to score 19 points for the Bulldogs, but it was Berg’s play that had their coach lauded.
“He was huge tonight,” coach Eric Toot said of Berg. “He’s been practicing so well. Breaking his collarbone in football really held him back early in the season. Going into the year, I thought he would push for, not only, varsity playing time but a starting spot. Since he’s been healthy, he’s been one of our better players in practice. It was time to make the move, and it showed tonight.”
Berg scored eight of his team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter to help the Bulldogs defeat Kansas City Christian 50-45 in the first round of the Baldwin Invitational Tournament.
“I really wanted to win it for the seniors,” Berg said. “It’s their last BIT. We’re now in the winners bracket.”
Berg admitted he was an uneasy freshman with his first start.
“I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous,” Berg said. “After everything settled down, I was focused on playing well for the team.”
After calming his nerves, Berg helped the Bulldogs rally from a five-point halftime deficit. In fact, he sparked it with a three-pointer to open the second half.
Sophomore Dayton Valentine converted a traditional three-point play to tie the game at 23-23. After a free throw by the Panthers, Brown sank a three-pointer to give BHS a two-point lead. The Panthers took a 32-31 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I told the kids at half that we were playing great, but we weren’t making shots,” Toot said. “I told them to get some shots to fall and get back in the game quickly. We did that. We got some early buckets and played great defense. We just kind of got on a roll there of playing really good basketball.”
Baldwin opened the fourth quarter with a 10-4 run. Senior Justin Vander Tuig made two baskets during the run. Berg converted a three-point play, along with a free throw as sophomore Tyler Cawley knocked down two foul shots.
The Panthers never came closer than two points during the final 3:12. During the final 34 seconds, senior Kyle Pattrick and Berg sank two free throws apiece, sealing the victory.
“That was great,” Toot said. “We’ve struggled with free throws. Just about every team in the nation struggles with free throws anymore, and I don’t know what it is. We hit some big ones tonight at the end. We got the ball to the kids we wanted to at the end. Kyle and Chad are two great choices.”
Toot was happy to see his players’ hard work in practice come to fruition Tuesday.
“I told the kids the main reason we won tonight is because our kids come to practice every day, have great attitudes and work hard,” he said. “You can’t say that about all of your teams. That’s what you strive for as a coach, but it doesn’t always happen. These kids, every day, consistently work to get better. It’s not always easy, but I think it paid off tonight at the end of the game when things weren’t going well.”
Tuesday marked the first time Vander Tuig failed to score in double figures. He scored nine in the victory, but his coach knows he was the player who other teams aim to stop defensively, and he was battling every night.
“I can’t say enough about Justin,” Toot said. “He gets hammered on every game. People see him, and he’s 6-8. I think when you’re bigger, you don’t get the calls that you should. I’m not making excuses for him, because he’s been great. To stay as calm as he has and to keep working hard is a tribute to him, because in my opinion, he’s been taking a beating this year. I hope that changes because he doesn’t deserve that because he’s taller than everyone else.”
Tuesday’s win kept Toot’s Bulldogs’ streak alive for first-round BIT wins. Since taking over in the 2006-2007 season, Toot’s teams haven’t lost a first-round BIT contest.
“We’ve been to the finals the last four year,” Toot said. “That’s our goal every year. We want to play in that final and play for championships. Even last year when we struggled overall, we made it to the championship of the BIT. The kids really strive for that every year.”
Baldwin will face former rival Wellsville at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
“We are just excited to be in the winners’ bracket,” Toot said. “We have a good Wellsville team coming in Friday. It will be another, hard-fought game for us.”
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