Benton High hoopsters looking for even more postseason success
The Benton boys basketball program has become accustomed to getting past the first round of the state tournament.
Last season, the Rangers, who went 25-6, reached at least the regional semifinals for the sixth-straight campaign. Three starters from that team are back this season, hopefully to continue the run of postseason success.
Senior guard Derek Oxford, an All-Southern Illinois River-To-River Conference pick the last two seasons, returns alongside fellow starters in senior guards Timmy Henson and Austin Wills.
“We also return a very deep junior class,” head coach Ron Winemiller told Southwest Illinois News.
The other seniors on this year's team are Tony Tillman and Scott Moseley.
Expectations are high for Herrin, which is coming off a 10-17 season. Seven of last season's top nine players – including all five starters – return this season.
The front line consists of center Jake Downing, who averaged 12 points and five rebounds a game last season; forward Ty Downen, who racked up 10 and four, respectively; and forward D.J. Spell, who averaged 10 and four as well.
The starting backcourt tandem is Dalton Bush and Bronson Nesler, who each averaged eight points a game. Other key players on last year's team who are back for more battles this season are guards Jake Hartline and Matt Cagle.
Drew Ringel, Hayden Holloway, Tate Johnson, Emilio Rivera and Trenton Stucker are underclassmen who are expected to be contributors.
Although injuries have hamstrung some players who were hurt during football season, head coach Mike Mooneyham expects the team to be in the mix for the Southern Illinois River-To-River Conference title “and make some noise come tournament time.”
“We have good size, good experience and good depth,” Mooneyham told the Southwest Illinois News. “We have good post play and good perimeter shooters. We have a talented sophomore class as well, and a lot of those sophomores will be asked to play important varsity minutes.”
They were short on wins last season, but this season, the Foxes are long on experience, as the top nine scorers and all five starters from the 2015-16 campaign are back and planning to improve on Hamilton County's 4-25 record.
Leading the charge this season will be senior Oakley Dial and junior Jake Whipple, who each averaged 13.5 points per game last season. Senior Ethan Rapp is coming off averages of six points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Other seniors on the team include Noah Rapp, Tyler Gray, Austin Potter, Terry Dedrick and Dalton Miller. Matt Rubenacker and Kyle VanAbbema join Whipple among varsity juniors.
“We are excited about all the experience we have returning for this year,” head coach Jeremy Varner told the Southwest Illinois News. “We learned a lot about ourselves in the second half of last year and over the summer. These kids, and their coaches, expect to compete against every team on our schedule. We are looking to move up the chain in the Black Diamond East and to prepare ourselves for the end of February.”
Note: Not all schools responded to requests for information from the Southwest Illinois News by press time.