BRANDT — Even after a 2-0 start, first-year Bethel boys basketball coach Brett Kopp was on edge before his Bees’ home opener Friday night against Bradford.
“Walking out into the gym tonight, I was a little nervous,” the Bethel graduate said. “Its been, what, 12 years since I’ve been on that floor on the Bethel bench. You have some memories pop into your head, you see some of those old high school buddies here to watch … it just feels good to be able to do it at home.”
Fortunately, his Bees had everything under control.
Bethel (3-0, 2-0 Cross County Conference) went on a 23-3 run to start the game, three Bees were in double figures offensively — including another stellar outing by sophomore point guard Caleb South — and the defense forced 21 turnovers and held the Railroaders in check in a 78-43 victory Friday night at Bethel High School.
For Kopp, the nerves disappeared on the game’s opening possession as South hit Tyler Terry for an easy back-door layup.
“When we ran that first set play for Tyler, the kids ran it to perfection. That told me they were ready to play,” Kopp said. “That’s a set play we’ve been practicing a lot this week, and when I saw the way they executed that, I knew they were in the game mentally and ready to go.”
And while he was on the floor, Bradford (1-3, 1-2 CCC) simply didn’t have an answer for South.
South had 11 points and four steals in the first quarter alone, and the Bees would have led by 20 if not for a 3 by Andy Branson at the buzzer, instead leading 25-8. And while the Railroaders did get some offense early in the second, a 14-2 run late put the Bees up 48-22 at halftime. By then, South already had 19 points and four assists.
Even while resting the entire fourth quarter, South finished with a game-high 27 points, four assists and six steals. Jacob Evans came off the bench to score 12 points and Terry added 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“That’s one thing you try to do, go in with a gameplan and execute it,” first-year Bradford coach Mackenzie Perry said. “When they’ve got a kid like (South), you try not to play scared, to go right at him — and he responded. And more than that, his teammates responded, as well. That was what impressed me about them.”
“We’ve got great kids, and we’ve got athletic kids,” Kopp said. “We’ve got three guys 6-foot-3 or taller that start, and we have two more that are 6-0 that come off the bench and play bigger than that. We’re athletic, and we’re going to use that to our advantage.”
Bradford, which turned the ball over 13 times in the first half, only did so three times in the third quarter — and, as a result, the Railroaders were able to make up a little ground. Drew Patty converted a three-point play early and Branson hit his third 3 of the game, and a floater by Parker Smith late in the quarter made the score 62-38 as Bradford outscored Bethel 16-14 in the third.
But five more turnovers forced by the Bee defense in the fourth — and Bethel only committing five turnovers itself in the entire game — sealed the ‘Roaders’ fate as the Bees closed the game with a 16-5 fourth quarter.
“That’s one thing we’re still trying to learn, cutting down turnovers,” Perry said. “But that comes from practicing and getting better, from trusting the gameplan and trusting yourselves. But we’ll get there.”
Patty led the Railroaders with 14 points and six rebounds, Branson scored nine, Alex Swabb added eight, Smith and Josh Phillips each scored four and Dialaquan Millhouse and Walker Branson each scored two.
It was the third straight loss for the Railroaders after they won their season opener against Ansonia, with narrow losses to both Covington and Fairlawn since.
“We’re trying to build confidence, and that is one thing I will not waver on,” Perry said. “I believe in these kids. We will do big things this year with this group.”
Christian White added eight points and three assists off the Bethel bench, Ian Anderson had six points, five rebounds and four steals, Evan Hawthorn had four points, four rebounds and three blocks, Jesse Nickell had four points, Korry Hamlin had three, Nate Rimkus had two and Connor Hockett had one.
“When you go 3-0, you’ve got a chance to go 4-0,” Kopp said. “We’ve got a big test on Tuesday. But our goal this year is to win the league title, and we’ve started off right toward that. We’re not trying to make any statements. We’re just trying to improve each time out — and we’ve been doing that while also winning.”
Which is the best way to shake off nerves.