HINCKLEY – Hinckley-Big Rock boys basketball coach Bill Sambrookes knew the improvement would come, even after his team was drubbed by Byron last week by more than 40 points.
With few returning contributors from last year’s senior-laden, Little Ten Conference championship team, the junior-dominated group was always going to have a difficult transition period. In Tuesday’s 60-45 loss to Genoa-Kingston, which finished three spots ahead of Byron in a season-opening tournament in Oregon, Sambrookes saw plenty to be encouraged about.
“I was pleased,” Sambrookes said. “I think they learned to play against a very aggressive, good defense tonight, so they’re going to continue to get better as the season goes on.”
The Cogs (4-1) shot out to a 20-4 lead in the first quarter thanks to eight consecutive points from senior Danny Hansen and six more from senior Colin Broderick.
After that, the young Royals (1-4) played GK point-for-point. Senior Tyler Runge and junior Dutch Schneeman scored six first-half points apiece, and the Royals closed out the half on a 5-0 run to make the score 31-19.
“We got beat in transition defense [in the first quarter],” Sambrookes said. “I thought our guys played hard the whole game, they never gave up, they never really go away, so Genoa couldn’t put it away on us.”
GK was able to hold steady in the second half, even after Daily Chronicle All-Area sophomore Tommy Lucca left the game after injuring his right knee early in the third quarter.
Senior Eli Thurlby scored five of his eight points in the third quarter to help give the Cogs a 44-29 lead, but H-BR wouldn’t let GK pull away. Junior point guard Eric Phillips scored seven third-quarter points to cut the GK lead to 10.
But the Royals wouldn’t cut the deficit to single digits. Sal Lopez scored six of his game-high 12 points in the fourth, and the Cogs coasted to the win.
Despite the victory, GK coach Corey Jenkins was concerned with the amount of open layups his team missed, especially early.
“The positive thing is we got the ‘W,’” Jenkins said. “We missed bunnies though, layups and close shots … That’s not acceptable for our team. We expect to finish around the basket, especially with our size. I think we have some good size inside and we just didn’t get it done … We had to play without Tommy for awhile and the kids stepped up and got through it.”
H-BR didn’t add to its solitary win, but Sambrookes knows his inexperienced team has been soaking up knowledge, game after game, early in the season. For now, learning what it takes to play varsity basketball against tough teams is good enough.
“You can’t relax and slack off here at either end of the court,” Sambrookes said. “Sometimes in the lower levels, if you’re a really good athlete, you can kind of get some time off and still be in the play. Here, you can’t do that or someone’s going to take advantage of you. They’ve got to learn to play at that high speed, that high pace all the time.”