As local boys hoops teams are gearing up for holiday tournament play, positive momentum is finally on the side of the Waterloo Bulldogs, who notched back-to-back wins last week – their first ‘Ws’ of the season.
“Getting that first win that eluded us did kind of take the monkey off our backs a little,” said head coach C.J. Cruser.
The ‘Dogs topped Freeburg on Dec. 11, 50-39, and conference rivals Triad on Dec. 13, 61-50.
“We played with a lot more confidence in the Triad game, so the kids played a little more relaxed after having a win under their belts,” Cruser said. “Being so close in the previous games (losing by 2 points) just validated to our guys that the margin of error is very small between winning and losing for us. It was nice to finally get one of those games to go our way.”
Cruser attributes the recent turnaround to their work on the boards.
“We were out-rebounded in the first three games and we got that turned around in the past two games and controlled the glass much better,” he said. “We gave up too many second-chance opportunities in the losses and we held those in check in the two wins.”
Scoring for the Bulldogs has been spread out across their offense, with three players leading scoring over the five games. Against Freeburg, Shane Lenhardt had 13 points, Zach Schaab had 12 and Rick Weigand had 11.
“Our offense may have a different leading scorer each game for a while,” Cruser said.Wes Degener of Gibault advances toward the basket Dec. 14 on his way to a 31-point game. (Kermit Constantine photo)
“Lenhardt is still rounding into form, so he isn’t able to carry us right now. Schaab is doing a nice job of finding ways to score in the post. He is learning a new spot and has been very good doing that for us. He is still able to get points by his defense and by running the floor. Our scoring will stay balanced until a go-to guy emerges. Everyone has the opportunity to score.”
Against Triad, Johnny Albers led the team with 17 points.
“That was Johnny’s biggest output on the season so far,” Cruser said. ”(Triad) chose to not guard him and make a guy like Johnny beat them and he did. He can make shots.”
Now that the ‘Dogs have tasted success, they will be doing everything they can to continue it. And according to Cruser, there are a few things they need to do for that to happen.
“Keys will be controlling the glass. We need to improve our defense. We are making some mistakes, which is putting extra pressure on our offense. Our offense needs to make bigger strides in its execution. We are still having difficulties scoring in the half court,” Cruser said.
The ‘Dogs are the No. 2 seed in the Columbia-Freeburg Holiday Tournament, which begins Dec. 26, in Columbia. They will take on the winner of the Metro-East Lutheran/Lebanon game at 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Gibault Hawks continue to roll over competition on their way to a 6-0 start to the season.
After winter weather forced the cancellation of games against Pinckneyville and Metro-East Lutheran, the Hawks came off a two-week break in action to defeat Nashville, 63-52, on Dec. 14. The Hornets (3-2) were ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press class 2A preseason poll; Gibault was ranked No. 7 for class 1A.
“It was a good win for us,” head coach Dennis Rueter said. “(Nashville) is a solid program year in and year out. We haven’t played a lot of good teams yet and it gave us some confidence to say we belong up there with the good teams.”
With the win, the Hawks jumped to first place in this week’s Belleville News-Democrat small school rankings, determined by coaches and BND staff.
The hero of the night was Wes Degener, who had 31 points and rounded out a triple-double performance with 11 steals and 12 rebounds.
“He had a really big night. He’s that kind of an athlete. He’s a really explosive player and he’s going to have nights like this. We expect a lot out of him. There are still some things he needs to work on to get into basketball shape, but he did well,” Rueter said.
With only one game left before Christmas, Friday against an 0-4 Marissa team, the Hawks are heading into a short Christmas break and the Pinckneyville Christmas Tournament Dec. 27-28.
Because of recent winter weather, the Columbia Eagles haven’t played since Dec. 7. They took on Metro-East Lutheran (4-4) Tuesday and will host Freeburg (2-4) Friday.
The Eagles are 2-2 on the season.
The Dupo Tigers (1-5) topped Marissa Dec. 10, on the road, for their first win of the season, 62-61. Joey Mirabal led the Tigers with 19 points.
They host Steeleville Tuesday and travel to Valmeyer Friday.
Valmeyer (1-7) fell to New Athens Friday, 50-41. The Pirates host Dupo Friday.