COLLINSVILLE — It has been six years since the Pirates have made the playoffs and so while that elusive postseason berth is always a goal, the progress for the program may be measured in other ways.
That is where Collinsville finds itself as the success on the court hasn’t come easily, although it has shown up in spurts.
“We’re trying to teach these kids across all the sports, not just basketball. They’ve got to build that winning mentality,” said head coach Eric Johns, who is in his first year at Collinsville. “They’ve got to believe in each other and work to make it happen. We’re not there yet.”
After falling behind by 12 points at the end of the first quarter, the Pirates were unable to keep pace with Bland in a 70-48 loss in non-district action.
Luis Hernandez scored 17 points while Colby Shull, Nathen Bocanegra and Grayson Ward all finished with nine points for Collinsville (4-8), which plays at Trenton on Tuesday before opening District 12-2A play on Jan. 17.
Gabe Butler scored 25 points, C.J. Hoffman added 14 points and Andrew Linmer and Wyatt Wigington each totaled eight points for Bland (10-10).
“We’re going to keep pushing them and the light will click on at some point,” Johns said. “We have some moments we do things really well but it’s not consistent. We’re going to work and try to catch up.”
Some of the early work has paid off. The Pirates, who have only one senior — Shull — on the roster, have already won as many games as they did last year when they went 4-22. And there were stretches against the Tigers where it showed.
“This team’s a lot better than they were last year. I believe that,” Johns said.
There is still work to be done, however, as Collinsville was down 41-19 at half-time and the deficit went past 30 points near the end of the third quarter.
Wigington and Hoffman made back-to-back three-pointers early in the second quarter to pump Bland’s lead to 18. Bocanegra came up with a pair of steals that led to buckets, the last converting a three-point play with 16 seconds to go in the half.
After scoring just 19 points in the first half, Collinsville nearly matched that in the third quarter by netting 15. Ward and Hernandez were the main catalysts. Ward banked in a jumper and nailed a three while Hernandez scored eight points in the frame.
But the Pirates had trouble containing Butler and the six-foot-eight center was not only able to dominate the paint but also step outside for a three-pointer which gave Bland a 62-30 lead.
Collinsville finished with a strong fourth quarter by outscoring the Tigers, 14-8, on the strength of a 12-4 run in the final four and a half minutes. Bocanegra scored twice, Schull converted a three-point play and Hernandez hit a three-pointer after opening the stretch with a floater in the lane.
Bland held a 20-8 lead after the first quarter. Hernandez had six points to lead Collinsville while Butler scored six points to pace the Tigers.