by Brian Bohne
The Heritage Hills boys basketball team finished their 98-99 season with a 9-14 record.
At first glance, some might think the Patriots had a down year.
That wasn’t exactly the case however.
Of those nine wins, two came in the post-season as Heritage Hills surprised many by winning the Class 3A Boonville Sectional Championship.
“We fought injuries throughout the season, but we were able to get healthy at the right time,” said Patriot coach Steve Merkel. “It was tough regular season, but the year ended on a positive note.”
With seven seniors and six lettermen returning, the Pats’ mentor thinks the entire season could be a positive one this time around.
“Our senior leadership, I think is definitely one of our strengths. We have a number of seniors and they are a hard working bunch,” said Merkel. “We have kids like Josh LaGrange and Brodie Pund that will give you everything they’ve got.”
Not only do the Pats have great work ethic and experience, but they have plenty of talent as well. The one-two punch of junior guard Jay Cutler (14.8 pig last year) and senior forward Jed Whitney (13.1 peg last year) lead a solid nucleus. Senior guard Bryan Michel (7 ppg last year) and senior forward Symon Jochim (who should return form a knee injury after Christmas) are other proven offensive threats.
“I think we are going to show more consistency on offense this season,” said Merkel. ” Last year we were fairly young and with youth comes some inconsistency. The kids are a little bigger, a little stronger, and a year older now. We should be okay on offense.”
The Pats may be even better on defense.
“We’ve really emphasized defense,” added Merkel. “This is as good a defensive start we’ve had in practice since I’ve been here. We could be a very good defensive team.”
The Pats also hope to hold their own on the boards. That may not be easy with no projected starter over 6’3″.
“My dad always says you should only have a problem if you make it a problem,” said Merkel. “I don’t think our lack of size will hurt us too much. As long as we play hard and block out, we should hold our own.”
They’ll need to do those things if they are to pick up a win in their season opener against Jasper next Tuesday in the Southridge Tip-off Classic.
“People talk about some of the kids Jasper lost like (Frauk) Mujeziniovic, Phil (Ruhe) and (Scott) Kuper but I guarantee you with they (Neil) Giesler boy and (Luke) Keusch back, they’ll be competitive,” said Merkel. “We expect a battle.”
That will likely be the case game in and game out as Heritage Hills plays a very rugged schedule. Some of the top teams around according to Merkel are Evansville Memorial, Bosse, Mater Dei, Boonville, Forest Park, South Spencer, Tecumseh and Tell City.
“They’re no easy ones,” he said. We’ll have to come ready to play every night.”
If they do that, he thinks they can have a very successful season.
“Potential doesn’t make you a good team, but I am optimistic,” concluded Merkel. “If things fall into play, I think we can pretty good.”