Port Allegany Reporter Argus
Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009
Heading into the meat of the North Tier League basketball schedule, Gators head basketball coach Bob Raudenbush hopes to improve on last season’s 7-7 finish and 15-10 overall record. To make that happen, he’ll depend on an experienced starting lineup: Co-captains Bryce Healy and Josh Guerrero, fellow senior Greg Gustin (the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.3 points in the first seven games), and a pair of talented juniors, point guard Denzel Middleton and sharpshooting forward Lucas Kline, all saw significant playing time in 2007-08.
However, the team’s depth took a hit when junior J.D. Haskins broke his collarbone in the game against Kane. “He was solid,” Raudenbush said. “He had started a game for us, and led us in scoring down at Johnsonburg, so he was a big loss giving us strength off the bench. We’re definitely relying on our starters to carry us, but some people coming off the bench need to to step up for us, give us some good minutes. That will be key to us winning some big games. There are definitely some kids there that are capable … but the starters are going to have to log a lot of minutes and carry the load for us.”
The non-league schedule wasn’t kind to the Gators, as they lost four of five games after a season-opening win over Archbishop Walsh. They were close – three of those losses were by four points or less, including one in overtime – but just couldn’t make the plays down the stretch to secure a win. Following a disappointing second-half performance against Cameron County in their league opener, the team rebounded by winning their own Christmas tournament, beating Galeton 56-50 in the closely-contested championship game. Afterward, a relieved Raudenbush said, “We didn’t get anything for style points, but we hung on. That’s all that counts.”
He continued, “I really felt like this tournament would be a turning point for us. We really had to win both games, and the kids stepped up and got that accomplished. I think we’ll look back at this point in our season and look at this as a turning point.”
Heading into North Tier League play, Raudenbush’s outlook is cautiously optimistic.
“After this summer, I thought we had as good a chance as anyone to contend for the league title,” he said. “I still think we have some work to do, but I do believe in league play, we have a chance to win every game. I’m not saying we WILL win every game, but I feel we’re as good as anyone else. When we’ve played well we’re tough. Every team has their weaknesses, and with high school kids it’s hard to be consistent every night. That will be key for us, whether we come focused to play every night. That’s my job. My job is to make sure their heads are on straight, and they’re ready. That’s a challenge, but if they’re ready to play, and they’re focused, on any given night, we can knock any team off in our league.”
Coudersport ruled the NTL last year, running the table on the way to a District 9 championship before a loss in the state quarterfinals finally ended their glittering campaign at 29-1. While Cameron County and Oswayo Valley have started fast this season, Raudenbush doesn’t see any team in the league duplicating the Falcons’ dominance.
“Our league, in general, is wide open,” said the veteran coach, who is being assisted by Jeff Stuckey and Jeff Bricker. “This year, I feel like you could probably have two losses and still be in a playoff for the league championship; in other years, with two losses, you wouldn’t stand a chance. There are a lot of teams about the same, where we could knock each other off. Seeing scores, and having seen teams play, I really think there’s a lot of parity, which should make for an interesting and exciting league schedule. You can probably go out any night and see a good game; there’s that little difference between the top and the bottom.
“I hope we’ll be there down the stretch. A lot of factors – injuries, sickness – can hit a team, and we all have to deal with that sort of thing, so time will tell. Should be fun.”