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SATURDAY SENTINEL: Night of firsts could signal improvement for Coalers

COAL CITY — Tuesday was a night of firsts for the Coal City varsity boys basketball team as the Coalers opened the season at their own Turkey Tournament.

Coal City's 55-28 defeat of Gardner-South Wilmington means that the Coalers are over .500 for the first time under third-year coach Brad Boresi. The win was their first in the three-year history of the Coaler Turkey Tournament.

Boresi wasn't positive when I asked him right after the game, but he agreed that the margin of victory might be the Coalers' largest during his tenure. And when I told him that, according to my numbers, the Coalers had just one turnover during the first half of the game, he agreed that had to be another first for them during his time at the helm.

"That will probably not happen again, but taking better care of the ball is something we feel we can do on a consistent basis," Boresi said.

It isn't as if the Coalers have a completely new cast of ballhandlers this season. Their startling lineup Tuesday — senior Chris Jenke and junior Brennen Shetina at guard, seniors Jake Aichele and Jon West at forward and junior Nick Peters at center — consisted entirely of players who were members of the varsity team in 2011-12.

What the Coalers do have is a group of familiar names that now have much more experience than they once did. Aichele, Peters, Shetina and West are all in their third varsity seasons; Jenke is in his second.

In 2010-11, those guys were freshmen and sophomores forced into action for a rebuilding varsity team. Now, they are seasoned veterans playing at the level they're supposed to be at, and to Peters, the mistakes and the losing that were so common in the past couple of seasons might soon be forgotten completely.

"Coach Boresi's a great coach, and he always stresses that in practice ... that we have to take care of the ball and get rid of the empty possessions," Peters said. "I think it says a lot that Brennen and Colin (Anderson) and Jake and Chris Jenke have already been in the program as long as they have. They're the guys we're trusting to handle the ball, and they're all good enough to get the job done."

Coal City was the only local team of the three I saw to win its opener Tuesday in Coal City, but it's not the only one with reasons for optimism. For Morris, which lost 45-43 to the defending champion St. Bede Bruins, optimism could be taken from the first eight minutes of its season.

With several of their players either missing the tournament due to football (the football team, if you haven't heard, is playing in the Class 5A state championship today in Champaign) or injured, the Redskins had a number of questions coming into the game. Behind the hot hand of sophomore guard Austin Patterson, Morris opened up a 10-0 lead on St. Bede and stayed ahead through the end of the first half.

"Coach (Todd) Kein and I had no idea what to expect with two guys who have had any significant varsity minutes," Morris head coach Joe Blumberg said. "I couldn't dream of a better start for (Patterson). That gave him confidence and gave us confidence as well."

You might expect that reasons for optimism would be more difficult to come by for GSW and its first-year coach, Justin Stevenson, after a 27-point loss. After watching his Panthers make just 4-of-28 field goals during the first half — while being out-scored 35-9 by the Coalers — Stevenson was confident that they would be much more competitive going forward.

"We have guys who will make 10 in a row from a given spot in practice," Stevenson said. "We had so many shots that we normally make that wouldn't fall. It was just one of those nights."

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