By KENNY HETZLER
---- — Maconaquah and Peru follow similar roads in boys basketball. Both play in the Mid-Indiana Conference and both play in Class 3A Sectional 20.
Last season, the squads were part of a three-way tie for second place in the MIC. Hamilton Heights won the league at 6-1 with Maconaquah, Peru and Western following at 5-2. Maconaquah followed with a runner-up finish in sectional play.
The following are looks at the two teams as the boys basketball swings into action this week.
Coach Andy Steele enjoyed a successful first season at the Braves' helm. Maconaquah posted a 13-10 record and its sectional run ended a string of six straight "one and done" sectional showings.
Maconaquah beat Twin Lakes (61-56) and Benton Central (56-49) before falling to West Lafayette 63-55 in the championship game of the sectional at Twin Lakes.
The Braves will offer a different look this year following the graduation losses of 6-foot-10 center Micah Pier and guard Tyler Bradley. Pier averaged a team-high 16.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Bradley offered 10 points, 4.2 rebounds and a team-high 3.5 assists per game.
“Obviously, you can’t replace both Pier and Bradley,” Steele said. “We take the guys returning from last year’s team and do adjustments to the offensive and defensive schemes. The guys have been giving 100 percent in practice and in our scrimmage at Winamac. Both Pier and Bradley were captains, and I am seeing all six seniors filling the spots of last year’s two captains.”
The Braves' senior class this season shows 6-3 guard/forward K.J. Walton (9.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals per game); 6-1 guard Adam Harts (7.4 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.7 spg); 6-2 guard/forward Kyle Dinn (5.8 ppg); 5-8 guard Trevor Hagan (4.2 ppg, 1.8 apg); 5-10 guard Nick Love (4.3 ppg) and 5-11 guard Taylor Lamble.
Lamble is moving up from the JV squad. Other newcomers to the varsity level are 6-5 junior center Ben Stephenson, 6-1 sophomore guard/forward Luke Hann, 5-10 sophomore guard Bryce Pond, 6-0 sophomore forward Will Feller and 6-6 freshmen center Wyatt Hughes.
Steele likes the look of this year’s group.
“We play well together as a team, especially with the seniors playing together since third grade," he said. "We also have younger players that will learn a lot this year. We will stay competitive for years to come.”
Steele points to balancing playing time as a potential challenge.
“We have 10, 11 guys playing good minutes at the varsity level, and we want to keep a groove through the entire game. I want to narrow it down to five or eight players competing for the five starting spots," he said.
Steele’s goals for this year include going one step further than last year.
“We want to be competitive in every game,” he said. “We want to repeat as Miami County champions and play in the sectional finals this year like we did last year, and go further.”
Class 3A Sectional 20 again will be held at Twin Lakes.
PERU BENGAL TIGERS
Peru will have a different look this season following the losses of three key players from a 10-11 squad. Coach Jim Metcalfe will have to re-tool his team in order to get ready.
The Tigers lost Joe Comerford (12.6 points, 7.9 rebounds per game) and Brodie Brooks (7 ppg) to graduation, and leading scorer Logan Primerano (15.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.5 assists, 1.6 steals per game) is ineligible, according to Metcalfe.
“How do you replace a player like Comerford? He works hard every day so how do you replace that? We do it by committee," Metcalfe said.
Players returning who saw regular time on last year’s team are 6-0 senior guard Eddie Childers (7.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg), 6-10 junior center Seth Adelsperger (6.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.2 blocks per game) and junior Michael Richardson (3.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg).
Newcomers to the team are Cooper Blankenship, Austin Finicle, Nolan Brimbury, Paul Huneryager, Kreighton Ray, Jack Zven, Cameron Beauchamp, Tyler Murphy, Chase Ogle and Kordell Prescott.
With only three returning players and 10 newcomers to the varsity level, Metcalfe wants his team to make progress each week and grow as a team.
“We had a good summer and fall, but we are still searching for our identity. We have a good group of guys in the locker room. They have done a lot of good work during the offseason, but they have to get used to playing varsity basketball. We have to be patient and keep working hard," he said.
Metcalfe knows that his team will be tall and fast.
“We are pretty big and athletic,” he said. “We have a little more depth this year. Defensively, we got a chance to mix things up, playing more man-to-man. Offensively, play a little more fast tempo, but under control.”
Turnovers really hurt the Tigers last year as they turned it over 353 times.
“We have to get better with decision making with the ball,” Metcalfe said. “We also have to tighten up defensively. In the first couple of weeks, we made some strides.”
Peru scrimmaged Triton on Thursday, and Metcalfe noticed the progression of his team.
“We did some things well and it gave us a chance to see where we are at. We are watching for consistent effort on the floor in every game this year.”