There's no telling where the Eastwood Eagles would be this season if not for Jake Schmeltz.
Schmeltz, the Eagles' junior point guard, is averaging 18.3 points and 3.3 assists and is working hard to turn things around after Eastwood's slow start this season.
But there is reason to be optimistic.
The Eagles, which went 1-8 to begin the season, have played well in their last four games, going 2-2 with their losses coming in overtime to Oak Harbor (7-5) and another against Rossford (7-6). The contest with Rossford was tied late before the Bulldogs took control. Eastwood stood at 3-10 and 3-3 in the Northern Buckeye Conference, tied for fourth place with Woodmore heading into last weekend.
Coach Matt Routson is hopeful things will get better as they move into the heart of their league slate. The Eagles played a tough non-conference schedule that featured the likes of Maumee (10-2), Fremont St. Joseph (9-3), Springfield (8-4), Liberty-Benton (9-1) and Sylvania Northview (6-7), teams who currently sport a combined record of 42-17 (.712), in the hope that it would better prepare them for NBC play.
“We've competed with some tough teams and it prepared us for the league,” said Routson, who served as the junior varsity coach for four years before taking over for Todd Henline this season. “We've had five close games that just haven't gone our way.”
The starting lineup features Schmeltz at point guard, Tim Hoodlebrink at shooting guard and Kevin Sweeney at small forward with second-leading scorer Steven Bradley and Logan Bess, the team leader in rebounds, in the frontcourt. And Mike Flipse, who also plays point guard, sometimes starts with Schmeltz moving over to shooting guard.
The bench, which is very deep, includes guards Jordan Faykosh and Skylar Dierker and Ross Bockbrader, Jake Ray and Grant Peters.
The team is trying to follow the lead of Schmeltz, one of the area's top scorers.
“(Schmeltz) is a hard-working, talented kid who works at the game,” Routson said. “He's one of our captains and his peers definitely respect him. He knows his strengths and weaknesses and he's able to excel at what he's good at.
“He takes challenges He wants the ball when the game is on the line. He's one of those kids that have that ‘it’ factor – he can make a play when it's needed. He sees the floor really well, makes good decisions and plays with a lot of confidence.
“At practice and at games, Jake does a really good job of distributing the ball and getting the involved. He's the only person for us that had much varsity experience. He's bringing in a whole new group of kids and he's really done a good job of knowing when to take the reins and get the other guys involved,” Routson continued.
Routson says the thing that sets Schmeltz apart is his willingness to do the dirty work.
“He's probably taken 8 to 10 charges this season, Routson said. “He's willing to give up his body and he's not afraid to get in there and take a charge. There aren't that many kids that have that ability or (desire).”
Schmeltz, talking about his work ethic, said “I try to get out and shoot every day. I also go to all of the team shootouts and camps (during the offseason). But my best workout would have to be playing with my older brother, Nick, in the driveway.”
Nick, a 2010 Eastwood graduate, played basketball, track and football and was an all-league selection as a defensive back twice.
Last year was much different for the Eagles. They went 14-7 and were co-champions with Lake in the NBC, winning a league title for the third time in four years. But several key players, among them Caleb Vespi, Cody Jennings, Lincoln Peters and Jake Faykosh, graduated, and a number of younger, inexperienced players have had to grow up quickly.
“It's been a rebuilding year,” Schmeltz said. “There were a lot of great players and leaders in that senior class. This year, we have had a lot of guys step up, though, and take on big roles. We're a young and inexperienced team but we're taking it game-by-game and improving. And we've lost some games to good teams by close scores. We just have to keep improving on the defensive end and become more balanced on offense.”