COPENHAGEN Jeff Robbins knew it wasnt going to be easy, transitioning from a veteran, experienced squad that knew how to win into a young, inexperienced team that is still learning what it takes to succeed.
Thus, the Sackets Harbor boys basketball coach came into this season, coming off a dream campaign that saw the Patriots go undefeated and win a state Class D title, with his eyes wide open. Taking simple steps forward and making continuous progress are good enough for a club that plays three sophomores, a freshman, a junior and one senior transfer, none with much varsity experience.
Still, the Patriots have won nine games and lost just five, the latest a 59-44 Frontier League D Division win over host Copenhagen Friday night. Robbins said his team is making strides and still learning how to play together.
Its been interesting to see us come along, said Robbins, who lost all five senior starters from the championship squad that finished 25-0. We havent developed that great team chemistry we had last year, but that was almost impossible to duplicate. The good thing is were finally getting healthy, and showing signs of maturity.
Sophomore forward Colton Belcher, a valuable reserve last season, scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Patriots (8-5 league) ran their D Division record to 7-1. Senior transfer Zach Rousseau contributed 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven steals as Sackets Harbor pulled away in the second and third quarters.
Belcher said the Sackets Harbor team now taking the court is so much better than the one that played its first game in late November.
From Day 1 to now, we look so much different, he said. The first couple games we won, but it was like we were all getting to know each other. Now, I think were more comfortable and playing more as a team.
Belcher said watching last years group do such amazing things was an invaluable learning experience. Just seeing how smart they were on the court, their court awareness and ability to react under pressure.
Sophomore Ryan Allen, who played only his second game of the season Friday after breaking his foot during soccer season, adds stability to point guard, And Rousseau, a 6-foot-2 forward who previously attended Sackets Harbor, moved away and then returned this season, is a valuable big man who can hit the outside shot and rebound.
Robbins has also received major contributions from junior guard Josh Keruski, who was ill Friday, as well as sophomore Ryan Chrostowski and freshman Kyle Gonseth.
Weve only had all of our players together for one practice all year, Robbins said. So the healthier we get, the better we will be.
Standout sophomore Antonio Figueroa scored 27 points for Copenhagen, but no other Golden Knight had more than five.
Copenhagen (5-9, 5-8) seized the early momentum, taking a 12-5 lead after seven minutes.
But when Sackets Harbor stopped jacking up 3-pointers, and getting the ball down low to Belcher, the Patriots took off.
Belcher scored on three consecutive inside hoops to end the first quarter, and Rousseau added two points off a steal to help the Patriots get back within 12-11.
Rousseau added nine points in the second quarter as Sackets Harbor extended its run to 19-2. And the Patriots press forced Copenhagen into nine turnovers and just three baskets in the second quarter, taking a 29-18 lead.
Colton is capable of games like that every night, Robbins said. He really worked hard tonight to get position down low, then finished well.
We didnt have an answer for Belcher, Copenhagen coach Scott Randall said. And all of those careless turnovers just played into their hand.