Courier Staff Writer
OTTUMWA – Centerville figured to be in for a battle for bragging rights in their own conference this year.
Who knew they’d be in for a battle for bragging rights within their own county.
There are still plenty of games to go between now and Jan. 22. However, as it currently stands, the matchup on that night between the Big Reds and Moulton-Udell could be one that matches two of the best in the area.
Heading into the holidays, 7-1 is the best record of any area boys basketball team. That record belongs to M-U - Appanoose County rival of Centerville, and Chariton - a South Central Conference foe that the Big Reds will have to contend with twice.
Of course, Matt Kruzich’s squad isn’t in too bad a shape themselves this holiday season. The Big Reds shook off a close 59-55 road loss at Fort Madison to open the season with six straight wins, giving Centerville a 6-1 record of their own.
The Big Reds and Chargers, who won their first six games before falling to Davis County on Dec. 14, will open the second half of the season with a conference showdown in Lucas County. The two teams are separated by half a game atop the SCC and will take part in what could be one of several battles for first place in a very competitive conference.
Centerville is no stranger to playing in big games, especially in the SCC. The Big Reds battled Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont last year for the conference crown, dropping a 64-61 contest in late January that helped the Rockets win the title outright.
Centerville got revenge just before the holidays this year, winning 70-44 over a shorthanded EBF squad at home. The Big Reds have been one of the most balanced teams in the area, featuring four players averaging double figures for a team that has pressed their way to 73 points per game so far this year.
Junior Kolton Gonnerman enters the holidays as the slight leading scorer for Centerville, averaging 16.3 points per game while also leading the defense with 26 steals. On the inside, Logan Dabney’s off to another big start for the Big Reds with 13.4 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks per game.
Centerville’s first half success hasn’t been too surprising considering the Big Reds went 18-5 last year and came within a win of the Class 3A state tournament. After an 8-14 season last year, Chariton’s 7-1 record is one of southern Iowa’s surprising boys basketball stories led by a breakout first-year star.
The Chargers, like the Big Reds, have been very balanced so far this year with three players averaging double figures. Leading the way is freshman T.J. Hockenson, who leads Chariton with 14.9 points and 9.9 rebounds a game.
Both the Big Reds and the Chargers will have plenty of big games in the SCC as four of the six teams have winning records at the holidays. Both EBF and Albia are 4-3 on the season with a head-to-head meeting set to open the second half of the season on Jan. 4.
The Rockets hopes of winning a second-straight SCC title will require a big comeback as EBF has lost all three conference games thus far this season. Travis Stout’s team is led by one of the top post presence in the area in senior Christian Bambrook, who averaged 18.8 points, 12.3 rebounds and 5.2 blocks while playing in six of the Rockets’ seven games.
Albia, meanwhile, has two top-flight scorers in senior post player Tanner Kellogg and sophomore sharp shooter Matt Baker. Kellogg has averaged an area-best 23.9 points a game while grabbing 9.9 rebounds on average while Baker has scored 19.6 points including a 50 percent shooting clip (27-54) from behind the 3-point line for head coach Kevin Crall.
Davis County ended a first half of the season spent strictly on the road with a tough 54-49 win at Fairfield followed by the 65-46 victory at previously unbeaten Chariton. Head coach Jeff Graves has seen his team improve to 3-4 with those two wins as senior Park Mikels has stepped up to lead the Mustangs with 18.1 points and a team-best 20 steals in the opening seven games.
Moulton-Udell, meanwhile, is building off a successful 15-6 season last year. As part of the common theme around the area this season, balance has led the way for the Eagles with senior Kalen Martsching showcasing that balance.
Martsching is leading the team in scoring (15.5) and assists (5.6) per game as four players have averaged double figures during a high-scoring first half to the season. The Eagles have scored 73.3 points per game.
The Bluegrass’s second-best area team can be found in Bussey, where Twin Cedars is 4-4 at the break with 13.9 points per game by sophomore Otis Roby and a 10.8 scoring average by senior Eric Clark leading the Sabers. Freshman Avery Waybill leads Moravia (1-4) with 7.4 points a game while Seymour (0-5) is led by junior Jace Poole’s 10.2 points and 15.2 rebounds a contest.
Sigourney is leading the area trio from the South Iowa Cedar League, winning five of their first seven games before the holidays. Senior transfer student Vaclav Bujnoch lead the Savages with 22.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.4 steals a game for the Savages.
North Mahaska will be looking to break past .500 after splitting their first eight games of this season. Junior Conner Hehli leads the Warhawks with 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.1 blocks a game.
Junior Austin Blythe is Tri-County’s top scorer, averaging 9.8 points for a Trojan squad that is 1-5 so far this season. Nick Watts is also the top force in the paint for Tri-County, grabbing over three times as many rebounds as any other teammates with 12.2 rebounds while scoring 8.7 points a game.
In the Southeast Iowa Superconference, the Pekin Panthers have been able to find a winning formula in the post-Sathoff era. Without Jordan and Trey — the two leading scorers in the history of the program - having moved on, the Panthers have gotten to 5-3 thanks to senior Graham Wittrock’s 19.5 points per game and a 16.3 ppg average by junior Cade Millikin.
Cardinal enters the holiday break at 4-4 for the season with the trio of Jonathan Pedersen (12.6 ppg), Charlie Rachford (12.5 ppg) and Dakota Showman (11.5 ppg) leading the Comets. Junior Thomas Fitzsimmons leads 2-3 Van Buren with 13 points, seven rebounds and 3.1 blocks a game while MSAE (2-6) is paced by junior Surya Koran Sawhney’s 7.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game average.
Fairfield enters the holidays at 1-6 under head coach Tyler Miklo with star senior Spencer Peterman leading the Trojans with 10 points per game and 37 total rebounds. Oskaloosa, who beat Fairfield in the season opener for both teams, is 2-5 at the holidays paced by senior Tyce Sarver’s 15 points per game, 16 total assists and 18 of the Indians 54 steals.