Gibsonburg boys’ basketball players might be a little disappointed with their performance thus far. But they expect a lot and can be tough on themselves.
Even with a 7-2 record and a 3-2 mark in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, the Golden Bears are in a position most teams would love to find themselves in.
The only reason the Golden Bears might feel as though they should have a better record at this point is because they know they're capable of doing better things, like making a run at a league title and going deep into the postseason.
Through nine games, Gibsonburg's resume is becoming more and more impressive.
All seven of its wins have been by double digits and its two losses, both of which came in nail-biting fashion, were to two of the top teams in the league, Ottawa Hills (47-39) and Cardinal Stritch Catholic (65-62), who are a combined 13-6 and 9-1 in the TAAC.
|Gibsonburg senior wing Andrew Cantrell tries to drive
through two defenders. (Press photo by Doug Hise)
Behind a starting lineup that features the 5-foot-10 Jordan Kreglow running the point, 5-10 Andrew Cantrell at shooting guard, 6-3 Adam Copley at the wing and 6-1 Tyler Ernsthausen and 6-4 Andy Burmeister in the post, the Bears have an experienced group that is ready to take the next step after going 11-12 overall and 8-6 in the league last year.
A team that features four players off the bench, backup point guard Isaiah Arriaga (5-9), wings Bryce Ernsthausen (6-3) and Derek Angelone (6-1) and T.J. McGough, round out the rotation.
The team's success stems from its balanced scoring attack, one that sees six players averaging at least six points.
Kreglow (13.6 ppg) and Cantrell (10.9), the sharpshooter, are the team's only two players averaging in double figures but four average between 6.1 and 7.8 points. Bryce Ernsthausen is at 7.8, followed by Tyler Ernsthausen (6.8), Copley (6.7) and Burmeister (6.1). But the statistic that might best illustrate their versatility is the Bears have had five different players lead the team in scoring in at least one game this year.
"Having a balanced scoring attack is hard to defend," said Burmeister. "Most teams only have one or two good players and (the defense) can't guard all of us. Everyone knows about Cantrell and his threes, so most teams will try and take that away. But then Kreglow and Copley get easy baskets going to the hole and if they take that away, Tyler and I can score inside. We also some good players that come in off the bench and can score for us, too."
Coach Brent Liskai feels confident that a number of his players can be the go-to scorer on any given night.
"We've had different people step up each night," he said. "I think we're tough to defend because there are a number of guys that can step up and score. We're truly a team in that sense. We're versatile. We try to figure out where we have the best matchup that night and go with it.”
The Bears opened the year with wins over Hopewell-Loudon (61-36) and Emmanuel Christian (78-24) before losing twice.
However, they’ve responded by winning five consecutive games by an average 28.8 points, the closest game coming against Toledo Christian (63-52) last weekend.
Last year was the first time many of the current players saw considerable varsity action, and that experience is paying off. Two years ago, a veteran bunch led by Gage Beaber, Dylan Dorfmeyer, Nate Yarborough and Logan Jones went 17-5 and finished second in the TAAC, and the year before that fell just short of advancing to regionals. Many of this year’s starters did not see much playing time during those two years, but now they’re getting their chance to shine.
"We were forced into playing a lot of young guys last year," Liskai said. "(The kids) got experience. We knew we had a lot of potential. We feel like we could've won a few more games, but we're getting better each night out. We try to focus on improvement and let the records take care of themselves."
Despite a potent offense, Liskai says being able to play solid defense without fouling is critical. Liskai feels it is the primary reason for the team's improvement since their loss to Ottawa Hills on Dec. 13.
"That's the difference in our team from earlier in the year," he said. "We were getting in foul trouble. We've done a good job of keeping our opponents in check. We feel like if we keep teams at 50 or below, we have a good shot at winning.
Burmeister added, "Everyone knows that if you can't stop the other team from scoring you won't win. We take playing defense seriously no matter who we're playing. Last year, our team was young and we had to play really good defense to beat teams. This year, we haven't played as well on defense but we're still winning. Once we clean up the defense a little more, we will start winning more close games."
Liskai says another reason the program's success has to do with the camaraderie that exists between the younger and older players.
"Over the years, the kids learn what our expectations are,” Liskai said. “Our past players are always preaching to the kids about what to do (on the court). I've got great kids to work with. The effort and the attitude is usually pretty good and that goes a long way into a team concept. Five of our kids have been ball boys since their elementary school days, and they've been around the older guys for a while."
Liskai, a 1989 graduate of Gibsonburg, is now in his 12th season leading his alma mater. His last nine years have seen his teams go 103-81 (.559) while competing as one of the smallest schools in the Suburban Lakes League before they came to the TAAC in 2011.
His 2006 squad won an SLL title and advanced to the Sweet 16 by qualifying for regionals and his '11 team nearly made it back to regionals before losing to Ontario, 71-63, in overtime of a district final matchup.