The St. Thomas Aquinas Knights hope to extend their winning streak this weekend when they host Mooney and face Salem at the Mercy Medical Classic.
The end of the holidays signaled the start of what the St. Thomas Aquinas High School boys basketball team hopes is another sprint to the finish.
Aquinas will carry a three-game winning streak and an 8-5 record into tonight’s home game against Mooney. A matchup with high-scoring Salem follows Saturday when the Knights appear at Hoover’s Mercy Medical Classic for the 10th time.
The Knights overcame a 0-6 start, won their final four regular-season games, and reached a district final as a 10-win team a year ago.
First-year head coach Matt Hackenberg’s team did not have to climb out of as big a hole, but an early run of four losses in five games did not derail the Knights.
“We try to focus on the game at hand and just bring energy, effort and intensity to each game,” Hackenberg said. “If we’re proud of our effort, then win or loss it really doesn’t matter. We’re trying to prepare to be the best team we can be later in the season.”
There have been a lot of changes within the Knights’ program.
Hackenberg inherited a team that graduated 95 percent of its offensive production in 2012. The players who returned also had to become accustomed to a new system.
“We’re starting to get the big picture of what we’re trying to do,” Hackenberg said. “Now, it’s time when we’re really tightening the screws on finding our identity and firming up all the infrastructure that is our system.”
Will Burger started almost half the games for Aquinas last season. The 6-foot-3 senior center scored a game-high 20 points Tuesday against Newton Falls.
Guards Anthony Snyder and Sam Pusateri and forward Joe Huberty are the Knights’ other returning lettermen. Snyder, a 5-10 senior, combined for 41 points in a pair of wins last week and averages a team-best 14.3 points a game.
Austin Hill has made an immediate impact in his first varsity season. The 6-2 junior power forward averages 11.5 points and leads Aquinas in 3-point shooting and steals.
“He is coming off a knee injury, but was with us all through the summer,” Hackenberg said. “His skill set really fits in with what we’re trying to do. We use his position as a court spacer and shooter. He has a nice touch and release on his shot, so he’s able to keep the defense honest and make people guard four guys on the perimeter.”
Following their game against Mooney, the Knights will face a Northeastern Buckeye Conference title contender at the Mercy Medical Classic.
Salem enters tonight’s game against West Branch 10-2 overall and tied with Canton South for first place in the NBC at 6-1. Aquinas will try to slow guard Ryan Bush, who scored a school record 47 points in the Quakers’ win over Liberty on Tuesday.
Page 2 of 2 - “We’re going to have to really keep an eye on Bush to make sure he doesn’t get loose,” Hackenberg said.