If there was one thing about the Pilot Grove Tigers basketball team in 2018-19, you didn’t want to count them out of any game no matter the team.
Although the Tigers finished two games under .500 for the season at 12-14, they were two games over in the Central Activities Conference at 6-4.
 Derek Skaggs, who is in his 14th season overall and seventh at Pilot Grove, said the team is hoping their success from last year fuels them as they prepare for the upcoming season.
“We graduated a couple starters, but return three starters and our six, seven and eight men,” Skaggs said. “We expect to be just as competitive and have another great year. As always we feel like we have a great shot for postseason success. Our conference is going to be solid and very competitive again this year.”
Two reasons for the optimism this year goes back to the 2018-19 season. Skaggs said the Tigers lost a close game in the district semifinals at the buzzer and then had one of their best conference years since joining the CAC by going 6-4.
The players also feel like the team is on the rise. “We’re reloading, not rebuilding,” said Pilot Grove senior Cole Meisenheimer.
Only time will tell whether the Tigers are still in the rebuilding phase.
But if Meisenheimer or junior Bailey Quint have anything to say about where the Tigers finish, opponents should beware.
Meisenheimer, a three-year starter for the Tigers, returns averaging 13.4 points per game along with 6.6 rebounds. 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals. He was also selected to the all-conference, all-district team for the 2018-19 season.
“Cole is one of our leaders of our squad,” Skaggs said. “He plays multiple roles for us on offense and has a great IQ.”
As for Bailey, the Tiger point guard held his own last year while averaging 12.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.4 apg and 6.0 spg. And like Meisenheimer, Quint is a returning all-district performer.
Skaggs said Quint is one of the best he has seen at finishing and is tenacious on defense. “We look forward to his perimeter game elevating this year,” Skaggs said.
The brother duo of Kealin and Bo Vinson will also return this season for Pilot Grove. Skaggs said Kealin is a returning forward who has perimeter assets as well.
“We look for him to expand his versatility,” Skaggs said. “As for Bo, he is a power forward who can play anywhere 3-5 on the floor for us. He has a year under his belt and will add strength to both sides of the floor for us. We look forward to his maturity and the growth that will provide him within the game.”
Other players that will have to help out this season for Pilot Grove are Dylan Schupp, Dade Christy, Seth Blumhorst, Dalton Reuter and Hayden Krumm.
Skaggs said Schupp has become a great defensive player and worked hard at becoming a set shooter this summer. “He needs to have three phases of the game: defense, transition finish and perimeter threat,” Skaggs said.
As for Christy, Skaggs said he has great energy on defense as well as transition. “We need him to be confident with his abilities to shoot the perimeter three as well,” Skaggs said.
Like the Vinson brothers, Blumhorst will also see some time at strong power forward. Skaggs said Blumhorst is undersized but finds a way to clean up the glass and finish around the rim at a high percentage.
As for Reuter, Skaggs said he will play as utility for the Tigers. “He can play on the interior as well as the perimeter,” Skaggs said.
Last but not least in the Tiger arsenal this season is Krumm, who Skaggs says does a great job at hitting perimeter shots and getting out in transition.
“We are really pushing him to become a great defender,” Skaggs said.
Although the Tigers will have to overcome 17 points per game and over 8 rebounds from Gavin Shepherd and Lucas Fahrendorf last year, Skaggs said see other players step up.
Last year as a team, Pilot Grove averaged 53.7 ppg and 32.7 rpg while shooting 38 percent from the field and 56 percent from the foul line. The Tigers also averaged 9.1 apg and 8.0 spg in 2018-19.
Skaggs said the Tigers will once again run a transition and motion-type offense and play man to man on defense.
At 66-81 in his career, Skaggs and the Tigers will try for win No. 1 in 2019-20 on Tuesday, Nov. 26 on the road against the Smithton Tigers, starting at 6 p.m.