Bulldogs taking it slow and steady

Hopewell Valley boys basketball

By: Mike Molaro
   As the Hopewell Valley Central High School boys basketball squad receives its baptism by fire this season and lays the foundation for what should be an exciting future, the Bulldogs realize this maturation process is slow but steady.
   "We are going through learning pains," Hopewell coach Tony Mormile said after his Bulldogs dropped their third straight game, 55-45 at Notre Dame on Friday. "Our inexperience shows, sometimes at crucial times. We are learning as we go.
   "The effort has been good throughout, although losing sometimes takes some of that energy away."
   The Bulldogs (3-7 overall, 0-5 in the Colonial Valley Conference) fell to West Windsor-Plainsboro South 52-43 at home Jan. 10 despite a game-high 21 points from sophomore guard Mike Valcarcel and 13 from junior guard Pat Jablonski.
   Against the Irish, senior center Craig O’Shea led the way with 16 points, but a 16-5 fourth-quarter blitz enabled Notre Dame to put the game away.
   "We were playing well going into the fourth quarter," Mormile said. "We rebounded much better against Notre Dame than South. We played our best game of the year in a lot of ways.
   "We had opportunities to make layups but didn’t come through. We could’ve had some better defensive stops in the fourth quarter."
   A 19-7 second-quarter advantage for the Knights proved to be the difference, as HoVal found itself trailing by six points at halftime.
   "We had a tough second quarter," Mormile said. "They switched defenses, and we didn’t react to that. Our big downfall in this game was our lack of rebounding. We addressed that challenge during practices leading up to this game, but we didn’t execute.
   "We had to play catch-up in the second half, and that’s not our style. We were overmatched inside. We played hard."
   Knowing that they had a young group going into the season, the Bulldogs have adjusted their coaching philosophy.
   "We are doing a lot of teaching and a lot of basic things," Mormile said. "I anticipated this. Some of the Xs and Os that we usually teach we have scaled back to get the guys comfortable with a few things.
   "We are slowly adding more and more things."
   Building the team’s confidence while working through those learning pains is one of HoVal’s greatest challenges. How the guys react will set the tone for the rest of the season.
   "We are trying to do things to put the guys in different situations for them to succeed," Mormile said. "I have learned a lot about this group over the last month. We are getting better every game.
   "Our sophomores have been the most consistent of our players. We need our sophomores to play like juniors and seniors."
• NOTES: HoVal visited Princeton on Tuesday and hosts Hamilton on Friday night. Last Sunday’s game against Lakewood in the Ocean County Challenge was postponed due to inclement weather and is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 20, pending the Bulldogs’ participation in the Mercer County Tournament.