Boys Basketball Preview: Bernie looks to put up big numbers in return to prominence
The pieces appear in place for the Bernie Mules varsity boys basketball team to put up big numbers in the 2017-18 season.
The Mules return virtually all of its offense off of last season’s squad that finished 14-13 at the varsity level.
“We’ve got 99.9 percent of our scoring back from last year and we are bringing up some guys - Zoll, Slavings and Ellenburg - who were pretty successful on junior varsity last season,” Bernie head coach Brad Botsch said. “So we are pretty optimistic about our personnel.
“I think this team is going to score pretty well,” Botsch added. “So far they’ve worked hard and we’ve pushed them hard. We were 14-13 last year and not very good at all the year before that. Our expectations as a program are always high and we want our kids to have the same expectations. We’ve got a group that has had a lot of experience, and also not a great deal of success just yet, so hopefully they will come in hungry and get us back to where we like to be.”
The Mules varsity roster includes five seniors, three juniors and two sophomores.
“We don’t want anyone to have sickness or injuries, but the nice thing about having depth is if something does happen we feel like we’ve got some other guys who can step up,” Botsch said.
Senior forward Nate Dillinger averaged a team-high 21 points per game last season, senior center Michael Suiter averaged 10 points per game last season and senior guard Dalton Hobgood averaged eight points per game last season.
Joining the veteran scorers are juniors Josh Ellenburg, Hunter Slavings and Weston Zoll, who all averaged more than 10 points a game on the junior varsity squad last season.
“Slavings, Zoll and Hobgood shoot it well and we are going to have some depth inside with Suiter scoring better this year,” Botsch said. “ Then you have Dillinger who is just a natural that can fill it up on any given night.”
Senior guard Weston Comstock, senior forward Gavin Brown, sophomore guard Blake Harty and sophomore forward Skyler Schwent round out the varsity squad.
Botsch said he expects Harty to serve as the squad’s primary point guard.
“I think the Harty kid coming in and handling the ball is really going to be a big benefit for us,” he said. “He is a spark plug that will do what it takes to help us win.”
The Mules lack a player over six-foot-five but feature a slew of players over six-foot with six-foot-four Suiter and six-foot-three Dillinger serving as its tallest talents.
“We could start a lineup all over six-feet,” Botsch said. “We are not giants, but they are all strong kids that have lifted daily. They have a pretty strong regiment Coach Long puts them through. They are strong kids so it is going to come down to how much they buy into playing defense and rebounding. Our main emphasis in practice so far is to play defense and rebound. If we do that we are going to be pretty strong.”
Bernie opens its season at its own eight-team varsity tournament the last week of November. No. 1 seeded Bernie plays No. 8 seeded Holcomb in a quarterfinal Nov. 27 at 4 p.m.
“It’s really going to be a competitive tournament,” Botsch said. “I don’t think there are any favorites in it. I think you are really going to have to come to play. It is probably as competitive as it has been in a long time.”
The Mules are looking to build upon a third-place finish at the SCAA Tournament last season.
“Dexter has a lot coming back and they’ve got to be a favorite,” Botsch said of the SCAA. “Puxico also has quite a bit coming back and Bloomfield always fields a solid team. Obviously, Advance has some extremely talented guards that are as good as anyone around. Every night in the conference will be a challenge and that’s good for us because it will help prepare us for the district.”
Bernie has the luxury of hosting Class 2, District 1 at the end of the season. The Mules’ district opponents include: defending champ Hayti, South Pemiscot, Puxico, Campbell, Bloomfield, Holcomb and Senath-Hornersville.
“You’ve got a perennial power in Hayti in that thing and every year they are going to put out some great athletes and you will have to compete really well to beat them,” Botsch said. “They play hard-nosed basketball. One of the things we’ve preached early is we are going to have to play tougher and learn to defend and rebound. If we can do that I think we can be very successful.”