By Chris Chaney
The Bethel-Tate Tigers haven’t gotten off to the kind of start first-year head coach Reggie Hall had hoped for dropping their first 10 games of the season. However, the 0-10 record that the Tigers bring to the floor is nowhere near representative of type of battles that the 2013-14 Bethel team has had.
Through 10 games, Coach Hall’s squad has lost five games by less than seven points, being blown out only three times by some of the top teams in the area: New Richmond, Amelia and Norwood.
“Other than a few games where we got it handed to us — Amelia, New Richmond and Norwood — the other games have been very, very competitive,” Hall said. “We’ve been right there midway through the fourth quarter, but our inexperience is costing us.
“We’re not making the right plays down the stretch. There’s even been games when we have a lead with 20 or 30 seconds left and we make a few wrong plays and end up losing by two.”
That inexperience simply comes from losing a core of talent from last year’s 7-16 squad. Only senior Samuel Price saw significant minutes on varsity, while fellow senior Blace Haviland missed time with lingering football injuries. Junior Adam Shinkle saw the floor a bit last year, but the majority of this year’s roster is filled out by sophomores getting their first taste of varsity basketball.
“One of my (assistant) coaches said, ‘you can’t buy experience,’” Hall said. “We have three guys playing this season that were on the freshman team last year. Going from JV to varsity is tough enough, but skipping that step makes it that much harder.”
Evan Iding, Kody Curless and Mitch McElfresh are doing their best to learn on the fly, but Hall said the “situational awareness” necessary to make plays in tough situations is still developing.
“Those three guys are doing a fantastic job and I enjoy coaching them,” Hall said. “It’s frustrating not winning, but they are seeing the big picture and working hard every day.”
Defensively, the Tigers have been pretty stout, giving up more than 58 points just twice and losing four games by less than two possessions.
The winless start has had its glimpses of promise, as mentioned with a few close losses that could have gone the Tigers way with a few more breaks or bounces favoring the team.
The Tigers opened the season with two losses to Cincinnati Country Day and Ripley-Union in which Bethel was right there late in the contest, but couldn’t get over the hump. Goshen bested the Tigers in a Southern Buckeye Conference slug-it-out game, 35-32, despite Bethel holding a 26-24 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Other one-possession losses came against Ripley-Union in a second early-season meeting, 45-43 and Deer Park, 58-55.
With 2013 now in the Tigers’ rearview mirror, Hall and his squad look to make 2014 a different season.
“Yes, definitely (the first win is coming),” Hall said. “Obviously, winning is the goal and I think we’re improving. Unfortunately, how you learn sometimes is not doing things correctly the first time, but we’re definitely closing in on (the first win).
“If we continue to improve the situational awareness, wins will come.”
A tough opener against Georgetown awaits Bethel on Friday, Jan. 3, but winnable games fill the schedule before the Tigers get back into SBC-American play on Friday, Jan. 24 when they travel to Norwood followed up by playing league-leading New Richmond the next night.
Perhaps the game to circle would be the Jan. 5 game at Felicity-Franklin. The game could offer a glimpse into the future of the conference as two first-year head coaches square off to likely claim their first wins of their respective regimes. That game is slated for a 7:30 p.m. tip.