RIMERSBURG — Coming up just shy of going to the playoffs a year ago, second-year head coach Eric Mortimer wants this year’s District 9 Class 1A playoff bracket to include his Union Golden Knights.
Finishing 8-14, Mortimer cited his team’s obvious inconsistency in costing it a trip to what was a wide-open bracket. After perennial power Elk County Catholic at the top of the class, the other three other state playoff berths are up for grabs again.
The Knights could be one of those, with senior 1,000-point scorer Lucas Bowser returning to lead the way for a team that’s big, but will have to look for some scoring with Bowser and junior Nolan Cumberland the only ones out of the top five scorers back from last year.
“The key thing is not relying on Lucas to carry the heavy load and for someone to step up and take control when he can’t play or gets tired,” Mortimer said. “We can give guys more breaks. We tired out last year and it’ll benefit everybody this year. Defensively, we have to step up. We lost six games fewer than 10 points. That’s a big difference if you can step up a little bit more offensively and defensively.”
The 6-foot-3 Bowser went over 1,000 career points in the season finale. He’s at 1,013 and with a healthy year could vault to the No. 2 spot on the team’s all-time scoring list.
“He’s gotten quicker and wants to run with the ball and he can feed people off that,” Mortimer said. “I still want him to play in there and use that height. That’s still evolving and he’s understanding that. He finally saw that last year where he didn’t have to shoot outside all the time. By him moving around, it’ll help us and opens everybody else.”
Bowser will be surrounded by 5-11 senior point guard Hunter Johnston (5 ppg.), the team’s second-leading returning scorer and Cumberland (2.0 ppg.), a 6-foot forward who appeared in all 22 games as along with Bowser and Johnston.
Among the other key players looking for time the rotation include Reice Saylor, a 6-1 junior forward; Truman Vereb, a 6-1 sophomore; Coleman Buchanan, a 6-4 senior; Greg Duncan, a 5-8 senior guard; Quintin Weaver, a 6-1 junior; 6-1 junior transfer Tyler Heinie; Luke Bowser, a 5-11 sophomore; and 6-1 sophomore Layton Stewart.
“I’m very happy with what I have. They are competing every day for that position and that’s bringing out the best,” Mortimer said. “Height-wise we’re good. We have to make sure we can rebound. I’ve been harping on that so far in practice.”
Tracey Bowser, Jason Johnston and Jeff Shirey will be on Mortimer’s coaching staff.
Seniors: Coleman Buhanan, Lucas Bowser, Hunter Johnston, Greg Duncan.
Juniors: Kristian Vogel, Reice Saylor, Corey Barger, Quintin Weaver, Nolan Cumberland, Tye Sapien, Tyler Heinie.
Sophomores: Truman Vereb, Luke Bowser, Layton Stewart.
Freshmen: Kylar Culbertson, Gavin Bowser, Brock Jordan, Karter Vogel.
8-9-at Brookville Tip-Off Tournament
15-Redbank Valley, 4 JV, 7:30 varsity
19-at Karns City
21-at A-C Valley
27-28-at Sheffield Tournament
3-Keystone, 6 varsity, 7:30 JV
10-at C-L, 6:30 p.m.
15-Tidioute Charter, 6:30 p.m. varsity-only
17-at Venango Catholic
19-Clarion, 4 JV, 6 varsity
31-at Redbank Valley, 4:30 JV, 7:30 varsity
— Games begin with junior varsity at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Varsity doubleheader games with the girls begin as noted.