Just over a week ago at Fairfield High School the five Highland County boys varsity basketball teams met and participated in the 2018 Highland County Shootout. The event saw each team play four games, one against each of the other four county teams, and gave locals an early look at their 2018-19 squads.
All of the participants played hard and it was apparent that many of the returning players across the county had worked diligently to improve their game.
One of the things that I noticed immediately when watching the McClain Tigers play was the way the players appeared to move as one on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers rotated well when forced into a switch and kept their hands up in the passing lanes.
It is apparent that the new Tiger coach Joe B. Stewart is having an early impact on the McClain program. I think it is safe to say that the Tigers may surprise some teams in the Frontier Athletic Conference (FAC) when the 2018-19 basketball season rolls around.
Hillsboro, also of the FAC, showcased its athleticism and youth with several younger players getting the opportunity to play in the shootout. The Indians also played excellent defense and forced several turnovers because of their overall activity defensively.
The Indians have a strong returning core of players with varsity experience as they lost only one senior from the 2017-18 team. However, the development of the underclassman will likely determine how successful Hillsboro can be in 2018-19.
Lynchburg-Clay brought its brand of tough-nosed basketball to the shootout and played tenacious defense combined with unrelenting attacks on the rim. Despite losing its leading scorer from last season the Mustangs appear to be ready to compete in the Southern Hills Athletic Conference (SHAC) with a strong returning core of players.
One thing that stuck out as I watched the Mustangs was the improvement of big man Ray Connor. Connor was a strong player for the Mustangs in the 2017-18 season as he gobbled up rebounds and collected extra chance points at will. Connor showed the ability to make plays for himself and others with an improved handle and body control that bodes well for Lynchburg in 2018-19.
The Fairfield Lions will be a tough game for any team next season as their returning core of players have a year under their belt in head coach Josh Howland’s fast-paced system. The players, new and old, looked comfortable in the offense and it was clear their level of confidence has increased since the close of the 2017-18 season.
The team from Whiteoak High School looked much the same as it did at the end of the 2017-18 season as they played frenetic defense and consistently beat their opponents to loose balls. The Wildcats will miss the leadership and calmness that Trever Yeager brought as the main ball handler a season ago, but the improvement of Traeten Hamilton with the ball in his hands will go a long way in determining the trajectory of the program in the 2018-19 season.
Overall, the talent and commitment displayed by the young men across the county is a testament to the communities they emulate. It is also safe to say that their hard work and dedication is certain to provide communities across the county with something to cheer about this winter sports season.
Reach Ryan Applegate at 937-402-2572, or on Twitter @RCApplegate89.