Gielczyk: Pedigo Returns to Lead Baldwin Boys
It was over early.
The Baldwin boys basketball team opened the game on a 26-4 run in the first quarter and took all the drama out of its crucial West Michigan D League contest at Bear Lake last Friday before the fans had time to settle into their seats.
Bear Lake made an effort to get back in the game with a minimal rally in the second quarter but still trailed by 14 points, 34-20 midway through the second quarter and never seriously threatened the Panthers thereafter. Baldwin won the game, 76-54.
Although there are still 10 games left in the regular season, the Panthers hold a two-game cushion in the WMD race with a 7-1 record, 9-1 overall. Bear Lake and Brethren are tied for second place each at 5-3 with six league games remaining.
No one else is remotely close enough to have a realistic shot at catching the Panthers, and Bear Lake has to hope for some help from elsewhere because they’ve already lost both of their games with Baldwin.
This is coach Scott Pedigo’s first year back after taking a two-year absence following an 11-year run as the Panthers’ coach which ended after the 2013-14 season when the school chose not to reappoint him without publically giving a specific reason.
Pedigo coached middle school boys and junior varsity girls basketball at Big Rapids Crossroads Charter Academy the last two years and also coached the Cougars’ football team. He is also the Panthers’ track coach.
Baldwin won back-to-back league and district titles his last two years at the helm, and in his absence the Panthers extended that streak to four in a row.
The Panthers picked right up where they left off last year, even with a team decimated by graduation and filled largely with inexperienced youngsters who had to get acquainted with each other.
"We’re finally understanding how to play in my system," Pedigo said. "We had a bunch of kids that never played together before. It took us some games to mesh together. Some were on junior varsity last year, and I had a few kids that were transfers. One just started playing and one was a transfer last year and sat all last year out.
"Any time you can win on the road and add some cushion to the league lead, that’s big. If they (the Lakers) would have won that game it would have put a two-way tie for first place in the conference. Crossroads ended up losing to Walkerville that night."
Pedigo has been impressed with the effort and determination of his charges. The Panthers never quit, and even in their loss to Crossroads managed to rally from a 20-point deficit to tie the score, but the Cougars hung on to pull out a 53-51 win.
Defense has been the one constant with the Panthers, and it’s saved them on more than a few occasions.
Rebounding is still a bit spotty, though, especially on the defensive end.
"One of the things is we block a lot of shots, too, right now and sometimes it hurts us on our defensive rebounding because we come over to help block a shot," Pedigo said. "I think we can get better on our defensive rebounding.
"I can’t ask for anything better on our offensive rebounding. Even against Bear Lake we had more offensive rebounds than defensive."
Blake Dockery, a returning starter, and Deondra McDonald are two players who have stood out for the Panthers this season.
The pair are capable of lighting up the scoreboard, and have often combined for 40 points or more. They can make life miserable for defenses, and the Panthers have a third scoring option in Malik Pollard who is averaging 10 points a game.
McDonald’s strength is his versatility because he’s able to play at forward or guard and rebounds well. Pedigo is also impressed with the senior leadership on the floor he’s shown this season.
Dockery is just a phenomenal athlete. He’s about 6-foot tall and has the leaping ability to play much taller. He cleaned up a missed tip, swiping the ball off the glass and jumped over a Bear Lake player for a dunk.
And he has the speed to get up and down the floor on the fast break to score in transition.
"I think we’re starting to hit that turning point," Pedigo said. "We’re starting to show our improvement."
Pedigo has been counseling his team not to look further ahead than the next game, and take it step by step.
But the Panthers are aware of their run of four straight district titles, and the fact Baldwin hasn’t won a regional title since 1984 in the Reggie Fox era when the Panthers lost to Glen Lake in the quarterfinals.
The current crop of Panthers would like to put their own stamp on the program, but Pedigo is trying to keep it all in perspective.
"I don’t really want to focus on that," Pedigo says. "We have 10 games to worry about."
One step at a time.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News.