Gielczyk: Baldwin Ready to Take the Next Step
Leading by only one, 48-47, going into the fourth quarter Baldwin knew it had a thin margin for error in its non-conference game against the Onekama Portagers at home Tuesday night.
But, the Panthers had trouble maintaining possession of the ball, turning it over against the Portagers’ pressure, and then failed to cash in on their free throw opportunities when they got to the line.
Onekama put on a full-court press and pushed the tempo in the final stanza, getting the Panthers out of their comfort zone. The Portagers also did a better job boxing out and rebounding, limiting Baldwin to one shot at the basket each trip down the floor.
“For a little while there, they were hustling and they are pretty athletic,” Onekama coach Nathan Bradford said. “We had to get a body on them. When we did that, we started rebounding better.”
The Panthers kept battling until the horn, but couldn’t stem the tide and Onekama pulled out an exciting 70-65 victory which dropped Baldwin’s season record to 8-5. Onekama improved to 8-4.
Baldwin played the game without point guard Scott Anscomb, who sprained his ankle in last Friday night’s 68-61 win at Pentwater, and coach Scott Pedigo had to go with some players who haven’t seen as much floor time.
A rough start left the Panthers trailing by 11, 22-11 after the first quarter, but they came back to take a 33-30 lead at halftime. The two teams traded baskets through most of the third, with the Panthers leading by six going into the fourth.
“We did a good job until the last two minutes,” said Pedigo. “We made a couple mental errors. But, it’s better to happen know than in March. We can watch film, talking about it and learn from it.
“Looking at it, we can talk about what we can do differently, and just be more prepared. You can practice that stuff all you want, but until it really happens and the crowd is going, and the pressure is really on, you can’t simulate it the same.”
Anscomb is the team’s facilitator out front, directing traffic and finding the open player. But he also can score, having dropped 18 points against Bear Lake in an 82-70 win in the second game of the home-and-home series.
He’s a vocal leader on the floor, and serves as a calming influence on the press break, and gets the Panthers into their offensive sets. The Panthers had to adjust not having a vocal leader on the court against Onekama.
Pedigo doesn’t want the Panthers doing any scoreboard watching, and focusing too much on the Western Michigan D League standings where they are two games behind league-leading Bear Lake with a 7-2 record. Bear Lake is 8-1, and 11-2 overall.
“We got wrapped up in the conference stuff, and it’s out of our hands now,” Pedigo said. “The only thing we can control is to keep winning the conference games. I personally don’t see Bear Lake dropping one along the way. Pentwater is the only place I see them having a struggle.
“Our deal now is just worrying about us, and getting ready for districts. If we worry about the conference every night, and check the scores, we’re going to give ourselves a headache.”
Pedigo feels the Panthers have taken longer to develop a team chemistry this season, for a variety of reasons.
“I think Christmas break was a good thing for us,” the coach said. “I had a lot of guys that were playing at 67 percent, because they got beat up in football.
“Even (senior Blake) Dockery wasn’t where he is now. It just took us awhile to get healthy, where we could continuously practice together. A lot of guys were resting in the pre-season, and doing a lot of physical therapy. They were limited in practice time just due to injury.”
Now that they’re finally get healthy, the Panthers are trying to pick up the tempo and become more of a run-and-gun type team.
That’s reflected in the game scores, as the Panthers have started averaging in the 70’s and 80’s more often lately.
Pedigo says that’s more Baldwin’s style.
“Unfortunately, we just had to be held back until we were physically ready,” he said. “Defensively, I think we’re still in search of where we are. Some nights we’re a good man team, some nights we’re a good zone team.
“Since I’ve been coaching, we’ve really been a very strong man-to-man team. It eats me up inside to go to zones, but sometimes we’re doing a lot better with a zone. You do what’s best for the kids.”
Dockery is playing more relaxed after reaching the 1,000-point milestone for his career (his mom, Janel Williams, did it 29 years ago) and he has some college offers on the table. Pedigo says he’s a special athlete and does things that can’t be coached or taught.
Armando Jennings gives the Panthers a scoring threat from the outside with a smooth 3-point shot, and can help inside as well.
Despite his smaller stature as a guard, Anscomb was starting to emerge as a capable rebounder before he hurt his ankle. Another key contributor has been junior Andre Hobbs in giving the Panthers impressive scoring balance.
Thoughts of the district, and hopefully regional, are tucked safely away in the back of the Panthers’ minds.
A lot of season is left to play, and the Panthers aren’t close to where they’ll need to be to make a long run in the post-season.
The Panthers won the Class D district title last year, before losing in the regional final to Tri-Unity Christian, 38-36, and their mission is to take the next step this year.
“It’s felt in the last three games that we’re learning how to consistently play at a high level,” Pedigo said. “If we can play at a high level, we can play tough. The district’s not a cake walk.
“We have a lot of work to do along the way. I don’t know if we have the depth to make a run. We had a lot more depth last year, and came up two points short. Anything is possible. You never know what’s going to happen.
“But, we have to stay healthy, and play defense.”
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. Gielczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.