The Boonville Pirates basketball team had its share of ups and downs this season under first year coach Jesse Oswald.
Although the Pirates closed out the season at 11-17 overall and 3-9 in the North Central Missouri Conference, they were probably one of the few teams in the state to play for a district title with a losing record.
Of course with just two starters returning from last year, you can see why the Pirates had so many highs and lows.
“We had a lot of ups and downs this season, which was to be expected,” Oswald said. “We had a coaching staff that brought a different style of play to this team, and a lot of inexperience and youth, so there was a big learning curve. Avery Reardon was the only player returning with significant varsity experience. I thought we came a long way from where we started and where we ended up.
“I asked the guys to play a different style of defense from what we have in the past and they embraced that. Even though we were young, we competed in just about every game. There were 10 games decided by single digits that we lost. I believe our inexperience is what cost us a lot of those games, because we held a lead late in a lot of them, or were within striking distance of taking the lead. I can say this, from about mid-January on, we never lost a game because we were out-worked or had a lack of effort. The family we formed at that point really came together and found a way to compete night in and night out.”
The Pirates were definitely competitive this season. Of the 17 losses, 10 were decided by eight points or less. Boonville also went 1-2 in overtime games and won only two games back to back twice this season.
But on the bright side, the Pirates finished third in the Centralia Tournament and second in the district tournament as the No. 3 seed.
Oswald said one of the biggest highlights for a lot of these kids was sweeping Moberly.
“Moberly is a traditional powerhouse and even though they struggled at times this year, they still had really good pieces on their team,” Oswald said. “We beat them by double digits at their place and then by six at our place. Both of those games were two of the best games we played all year. Another highlight was beating California in the district semifinals by 20. California plays a style of basketball that creates a lot of possessions with how fast-paced the game gets. Even though we had a handful of turnovers, there were more possessions created in the game and our average possession was actually lower than other games. We hit some big shots and played a team game to send us to the district championship.”
Oswald said other highlights outside of winning ballgames was coming together as a team and sharing memories together. He said success can be measured in different ways and even though many people only look at winning and losing, there is so much more to it than that.
“We were the youngest team in the conference with Fulton, Mexico and Marshall each having at least five seniors with experience,” Oswald said. “But we were able to compete against those teams and the others in the conference. This group has laid the foundation for the future of our program and I’m here to go on record to say we will improve and get better and be a team that is tough to guard and tough to score on. The team we had this year set the tone and the future success of our program will be because of what we have done this year.”
As it turned out, Fulton finished the league play with one loss at 11-1. Hannibal finished second at 10-2, followed by Marshall at 7-5, Mexico at 6-6, Kirksville at 4-8, Boonville at 3-9 and Moberly at 1-11.
Oswald said the conference is extremely competitive and if you don’t do your homework, you’re going to get turbo-clocked. Oswald went on to say that even though Fulton won the conference at 1-11, many teams were right there with them every night.
“Us, Moberly and Kirksville were at the bottom but we battled with the teams above us playing many of them to one or two possession games,” Oswald said. “We finished in sixth place ahead of Moberly, but we competed in every game outside of when we played Hannibal. Obviously we wanted to win more games than we did, but we had ourselves in position to win a lot of them. We lost to Marshall at Marshall after holding a lead late. We lost to Fulton twice, but were leading in the fourth quarter at some point in both of them. Mexico was a battle for us on Courtwarming and we only lost by two. We split with Kirksville and swept Moberly.”
Of the nine losses in the conference this season, Boonville lost to their opponents by a margin of 9.6 points. Meanwhile, in their three conference wins, the Pirates average margin of victory was eight points.
However, Oswald said nothing is tougher than losing your final game of the season.
“The worst feeling was walking into the locker room after losing to Versailles in the district championship, knowing this would be the last time the team would be together,” Oswald said. “It’s tough when you have two seniors who have poured everything they have into this team, and then feel like you fail them by not winning that district title game. Even though we were the underdogs, we jumped out early and appeared in control before they starting hitting shots in the second half. I hate saying goodbye to our seniors and going through the what-ifs. Coaches live their lives in hindsight and so it makes it that much harder.”
Oswald said had the Pirates shot free throws better this season, they may have turned some of those losses into wins. As a team, Boonville hit only 298 of 500 shots from the foul line for 60 percent.
“I thought free throws played a huge factor in a lot of games,” Oswald said. “Ideally, I would have liked to have shot at least 70 percent as a team, but we struggled and shot below 60 percent. Defense was never a factor, but at times we did struggle to score offensively.”
While averaging 59.4 ppg, which is average for high school, the Pirates also had 392 turnovers for an average of 14 tpg. Boonville also averaged 28.7 rpg, 9.8 apg and 6.5 spg for the season.
Oswald said the best game of the season from his standpoint was the win over California in the district semifinals.
“We had a lot of players step up and hit big shots or get some key stops on defense, from our two freshmen all the way up to our two seniors,” Oswald said. “This was a game we controlled from start to finish and led from the mid first quarter on. Not only that, we got stronger as the game went on and gradually built on our lead.
“Another game that stands out is our win over Kirksville. We had just faced some adversity and was coming off a tough loss to Southern Boone late the night before. We turned around and beat Kirksville in overtime. Everybody was feeding off the momentum and adrenaline late in the game and we again had different guys step up. Bronakowski played key minutes in the fourth and overtime, especially for being only a freshman. We leaned on Avery Reardon a lot late in the game, even drawing up one of Kirksville’s plays to get him a bucket to take the lead with under a minute to go. And then Semaj Clark had a huge rebound and layup later in overtime to seal the game.”
With nine players returning next year, six of which started at some point throughout the season, Oswald said the future definitely looks promising.
Boonville will also make the move from the NCMC to the Tri-County Conference next season.
Oswald said this conference will be highly competitive just like the NCMC was.
“A lot of good teams with good coaches who have their foundation laid and their team philosophy and chemistry amongst their guys in place,” Oswald said. “We have a lot of work to put in this summer because I know their guys are going to be doing it. We have to get better as individuals, which is something that takes place during the summer. The coaching staff and I will continue to grow and evaluate what we need to do to get ourselves and our team better. The top of the conference will be very competitive. I know these teams had a lot of success this year, and I don’t know how much they will all lose, but I know they will reload and be ready.”
As for individual leaders this season, senior Avery Reardon finished tops on the team in points with 382 and average at 13.6 ppg along with 270 rebounds for an average of 9.6 rpg. Reardon also led the team in field goal percentage while hitting 152 of 276 shots for 55 percent. Junior Clayton Gochenour, meanwhile, led the Pirates in three-point percentage while hitting 41 of 118 threes for 35 percent. Semaj Clark had the best free throw percentage on the team at 71 percent while averaging a team-leading 2.1 apg while Josh Chrisman finished with an average of 1.5 spg.