Win a few, lose a few.
That seemed to be the path the Boonville Pirates basketball team took for the 2018-19 season.
Although the Pirates finished the season with a winning record both overall and in the conference at 14-12 and 4-3, respectively, head coach Jesse Oswald said he felt like his team could never keep it going.
“I thought we had a successful season considering where we were at in November compared to where we are at now,” Oswald said. “Obviously there are always games you want to have back, but we competed on a nightly basis in a tough conference and with a tough non-conference schedule. These kids came to work every day and it showed on the court. We went on stretches where we won three games in a row a couple different times, but then it seemed we couldn’t keep it going when we should and lost some games we should have been more competitive in.”
While floundering around the .500 mark for pretty much the entire season, Boonville also had its moments by finishing 6-5 in November and December and 8-7 from January and February.
The Pirates also had some big wins along the way by beating Versailles in the season opener-the very same team that knocked Boonville out of the postseason in 2018 in the finals of the district tournament. The Pirates also upset the Centralia Panthers on their home floor.
But that was just a few of Boonville’s 14 wins. In addition to beating Fulton three times, the Pirates also brought home some hardware with a fourth place finish in the Tri-County Conference Tournament, a third place finish in the Centralia Tournament and a fifth place finish in the Southern Boone Tournament.
“All tournaments were extremely tough,” stated Oswald. “I thought we had a good showing in all three tournaments, but felt we could have been playing for first had the ball bounced a different way. But again, we can’t get them back and we adjusted and moved on.”
The Tri-County Conference was also something new for Boonville this season. While competing in the North Central Missouri Conference the previous 10 seasons, Boonville wound up finishing 4-3 in the TCC behind Blair Oaks, Southern Boone and California.
Oswald said the TCC was extremely tough conference top to bottom.
“Southern Boone and Blair Oaks were at the top, with Blair Oaks winning it,” Oswald said. “Both of those teams had extremely tough players and were well coached. California fell next and they had some key senior players and played a different style that kept teams on their toes. After that was us. I felt we let the California game slip away from us and felt we could have competed better against Blair Oaks. We came out flat and they made us pay early and often. After that fell Versailles, Osage, Eldon, and Hallsville. All four of those teams had different pieces that made them tough.
“Hallsville lost one of the best players in our conference to injury right before conference play started, but they were well coached and had some big time players step up and have big games. Osage and Eldon both had new coaches, but they are well respected and had their teams playing at a high level. Versailles has the best 1-2 guard combo in the conference and they were extremely tough. Bottom line was you couldn’t take a night off in the conference or you would get blasted or play catchup all night and with the caliber of players and coaches, it was extremely tough.”
Oswald also pointed to reasons why the Pirates may have struggled at times this season. While shooting just 58 percent from the free throw line as a team, he said shooting from the outside was also inconsistent. Boonville finished the season with 1,573 points for an average of 60.5 ppg but shot just 42 percent from the field (which isn’t bad) and 28 percent from the three-point arc.
“I thought we would be a better shooting team all around but we struggled early and I think it got in our heads a little bit,” Oswald said. “I think the main reason was confidence early in the season. As the season progressed and we hit some shots and scored inside more, the rim opened up more and seemed bigger because we started playing with more confidence. Again, I thought we would be a better shooting team from the free throw line and really thought that would be a strength. Again, confidence played a key role in that and it stayed in our heads. We would go through stretches where we started hitting them, but something would happen and it would throw us off.”
Despite the inconsistencies shooting the ball, Boonville also had moments of greatness. In addition to the three game win streaks on two different occasions this season, Oswald said the stretch of games where they beat Clinton, Centralia and Hallsville was the team’s best stretch.
“We beat Clinton on a Friday after being off for two weeks due to weather and not knowing who we would play next or when,” Oswald said. “But we came out on fire and had a game that night. The following week we played state ranked Centralia at their place and knocked them off by three. We were up at halftime and they went on a run to start the second half and took a six or seven point lead, before we played back and forth. Josh Chrisman took a big charge late and we knocked down some free throws to win the game. Two days later we played Hallsville and in another back and forth game we were able to take control late and walk away with a victory. I also think both Fulton and Versailles games were battles where we showed what kind of team we could be.”
Of course no game is tougher to lose than the final game, which happened for Boonville in the semifinal round of the district tournament against top-seeded Warrensburg. While the Pirates rallied past Fulton 54-49 in the opening round, the Tigers and their seven seniors were just too tough for Boonville while cruising to a 64-34 victory.
“I felt any team could win the district tournament,” Oswald said. “When it was released we knew we would be the smallest Class 4 team, but still knew we had to go out and compete. We wanted to get a one or two seed to get a bye, but that didn’t’ shake out so all we could do is go out and play. I knew Warrensburg and Helias would have the biggest bull’s eye on their backs, especially as the season progressed. Both of those teams are capable of going far in state with the pieces they have. Marshall was another team that I kept my eye on quite a bit, because I think their guard play is exceptional, and they needed some other players to step up.”
The good news is that Boonville returns four starters for the 2019-20 season. Oswald, however, said losing the three seniors is hard, and it’s always hard to say goodbye to them.
“We do have a strong core coming back with the other four starters and then Wesolak off the bench who played a lot of starter type minutes,” Oswald said. “Sam Esser is a ballplayer as well, and if we weren’t such a guard heavy team he would have seen some more playing time. I can see him stepping his game up and having a big senior season. Luke Green is another young guard who will be able to score. We missed out on Lane West this year due to injury and adding him to the mix will give us another strong athletic body on both ends of the floor. Next year’s team will be extremely tough with the pieces coming back and the experience they have.”
As for the highlight of the season, Oswald said it’s always building the relationship with the kids. He said there are always games and moments you remember, but for him it’s always what did you do with the kids that they will remember and can bring up for years to come.
“I have too many memories from conversations in the locker rooms, practice, games, but rides, etc.,” Oswald said. “I always feel those are the highlights from being involved in a team.”
As far as individual play this season, senior Clayton Gochenour led the team in scoring with 349 points and free throw shooting while hitting 34 of 50 shots for 68 percent. Charlie Bronakowski, meanwhile, averaged a team high 14.9 ppg along with 10.7 rpg while shooting 57 percent from the field. Josh Chrisman was the team’s leading three-point shooter while hitting 17 of 44 shots for 39 percent. As for steals and assists, Avian Thomas had 89 assists for an average of 3.4 apg while Tramell Coleman averaged 1.6 spg with 40.