“They were so close last year they could smell it,” said Bret Harte head coach Jeff Eltringham, who is in his first year after taking over for former coach Jerry Rucker.
Eltringham described himself as “not really a gimmicky guy.” He likes to run the same half-court man-to-man defense, as was used heavily last year, and a fast-paced offense that can spread the floor to give shooters some open looks.
“We’ve been working really hard on pushing the ball and getting it out fast,” he said. “We have quite a few guys who can put the ball in the hole, so a lot of what we’ve been working on is fast break stuff.”
The Bullfrogs are coming off an impressive 2011-12 season in which they went undefeated in the Mother Lode League, clinched the title and just missed the finals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Championships.
But now they will have to do it without stars Jordan Gomez and Danny Radford, who both graduated last year and are currently playing for Columbia College.
Radford set a single-game school record last season when he scored 47 points against Summerville. He was later named All-Area MVP, while Gomez earned a spot on the All-Area First Team.
“It’s hard when you have to put juniors in key spots, but we feel like we’re more balanced than we were last year which makes it harder for other teams to key on us,” said Eltringham.
Bret Harte senior Rodney Riner said juniors have been working hard in practice to help make up for the loss of Gomez and Radford.
“We lost some good players last year but we also gained some really good players this year,” he said. “Brandon Kelly plays just like Jordan (Gomez), honestly. Will Whited is also really going to be something when he goes to the hole.”
Riner is one of the taller players on the team at 6-foot-2, so he anticipates being the one fighting for rebounds each night. He said the Bullfrogs’ uptempo style and intensity will make up for their relative lack of size compared to others in the MLL.
“Teams better not underestimate us because we’ve got a lot in store,” he warned.
Bret Harte senior Tyler Evans thinks the Bullfrogs have a chance at competing for a league title and much more.
“We have a younger team right now but we’re more willing to move the ball around and distribute to the open person,” he said. “It’s going to be harder for us because we lost our MVP and offensive player of the year, but I think we have the possibility to get further in playoffs.”
Evans sees himself in a leadership role on the team and set a personal goal of being named MVP at the end of the season.
“But I’ll be happy as long as my team wins,” he said.
Eltringham has yet to draw up a starting five as he is still evaluating players at different positions and waiting to see the outcomes of upcoming preseason games.
Bret Harte on Saturday will scrimmage Escalon and play a foundation game at Sonora on Monday. The Bullfrogs officially tip-off their season in Mesa Verde on Nov. 28.
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