Sometimes throughout a season, players and coaches just want to hit the reset button. This year’s Litchfield Purple Panthers boys basketball team would look for that button in the second half of the season.
After finishing the 2019 portion of their schedule with a 7-7 record, the Purple Panthers would complete the 2020 portion of their schedule with a 3-13 mark. The change, did not come out of the Purple Panthers’ effort, as they would continue to compete throughout the season. In fact the Litchfield shooting percentage went up in the second half of the season.
The Purple Panthers would also make close to ten percent more of their free throws in the second half and would even score 93 more points in the second half than they did in the first half.
The change came from the strength in schedule in the second half opponents compared to the first half. Litchfield would battle six regional runners-up and two upper class schools in the second half. Their opponents in the second half would log 94 more wins than Litchfield’s first half opponents and compile a .461 win percentage compared to a .354 win percentage from the first half opponents.
The Purple Panthers would continue to battle through the competition and after losing eight straight, they would cap off their season with their second victory over their Route 16 rivals, Hillsboro.
The Purple Panthers would tip off their season in the annual Metro-East Lutheran Turkey Tip-Off, and, as usual, the tournament would bring a competitive field. The Purple Panthers would have to shake some early season rust off during the tournament as they would finish with a 1-3 record. It was not the results Litchfield wanted to start the season in many ways, as they would also loss their starting point guard, Brady Bishop. Bishop would be a preseason favorite to lead the Purple Panthers this season, as he would be the returning scoring leader after losing Sam Painter, last year’s leading scorer, to graduation.
The Purple Panthers would not allow the early season road bump to dampen their season, as they would respond with a four game win streak. The success would allow the Purple Panthers to move their record above .500 with a 5-3 mark. As quick as the Purple Panthers climbed above .500, they would fall back below that mark with a four game losing streak, before ending the 2019 part of their schedule with a bang. Big wins over Hillsboro and Bunker Hill in the Carlinville Holiday Tournament would allow Litchfield to finish the first half of their season with seven wins and seven losses.
In the past, a change in the calendar has always meant the approach of the toughest part of Litchfield’s schedule and this year was no different as the competition would beef up in 2020. The Purple Panthers would start their 2020 portion with one win and two loses before heading into the Rick McGraw Memorial Tournament. Litchfield would look to use the tournament as a bounce back from the slow start, but the competition would get the best of them as they would walk away from the tournament with a 1-3 record. Litchfield would now sit with nine wins and 13 losses.
The nine wins would be an important number as the Purple Panthers would not be able to put another mark in the win column until their last game of the season. Litchfield would enter the last game with a 9-19 record as they would battle their Route 16 rivals in Hillsboro. Hillsboro and Litchfield had played twice before, with each team earning one victory.
In the rubber match, the Purple Panthers would defeat Hillsboro 61-60 in a gutsy effort by the visiting team. The win would move the Purple Panthers to 10-19 and would finish their South Central Conference campaign at 2-7.
Litchfield would enter postseason play in familiar territory against an unfamiliar opponent. The Purple Panthers would be placed in the Gillespie regional against the fourth seeded Breese Central Cougars. Even though the Cougars would enter with a below .500 record their losses would come from 13 teams who held a combined record of 252-120. The Cougars would use their speed and sharp shooting to finish off the Purple Panthers’ season at 10-20.
Even though the Purple Panthers would fall short of a winning record, Litchfield would never give up throughout the season. Led by Brady Bishop, Anthony Boston, John Corso and Austin Niehaus, the seniors would make sure the Purple Panthers would be competitive throughout the season.
Brady Bishop, who missed 17 games this season, would lead the Purple Panthers in points per game as he would average 10.8 points per game. John Corso, a 6’0 senior would help the Purple Panthers on the boards as he would pull down a team leading 171 rebounds. More importantly John would have to remove his shy shell and help lead Litchfield on the court without one of their senior leaders.
Austin Niehaus would also help the Purple Panthers in the rebounding category as he would pull down a team leading 61 offense rebounds. Anthony Boston would contribute inside the paint as well, as he would put in 46 second chance points and 128 points in the paint, 72 percent of his total points.
Even though the seniors would be the backbone of this team Litchfield would get some key minutes from their underclassmen. Sophomore Blaine Stewart would be thrown into the point guard position, a position that was not ideal for him, but one he took by the horns without a problem. Stewart would lead the Purple Panthers with 294 total points. He would also lead the Purple Panthers in free throw percentage as he shot 82 percent, only missing nine free throws throughout the season.
Junior Blake McGill would have a break out season as he also took on a new role when Bishop was sidelined. McGill would put in a considerable amount of minutes and would be a factor on the court throughout the season. McGill would end the season with 233 points, third on the team. Underclassmen Chase Hires and Cameron Crow would log some valuable minutes throughout the season as they both would be thrown in some key opportunities and would excel in those minutes they earned.
Throughout the season the Purple Panthers would be an unselfish team and would share the wealth in the scoring column as six players would average at least six points a game.
With the season now over and the jerseys boxed up, once again the Purple Panthers will say goodbye to a set of seniors, that will now move over and allow the underclassmen to take over the reins of the program. Next year will once again bring some changes as new faces will appear, new players will have break out seasons and take over key roles.
Litchfield will be in a different situation next year than they were this season as the Purple Panthers will bring back two starters and two other players who logged some significant minutes throughout the season.
Even though uncertainties will be out for next season’s squad one thing is for sure, they will be a disciplined and a hard working team day in and day out. Under the direction of Coach Drew Logan, the Purple Panthers have been a respected team throughout his tenure and their hard play attitudes seem to be never overlooked.
Coach Logan, who sits with the fourth most career wins as a head basketball coach at Litchfield High School, will look to turn the experience his returning players picked up this season into an advantage next season as the squad will continue to pound the rock.
Even though the Purple Panthers will bring experience next season they will still be a young team. Even though the 2019-2020 season just finished next season has already started. The offseason will help determine the success in next season, and the amount of time the returning players put in to make themselves better for the team. No one can predict the next season, but the players and their will to want to get better can help make next season an exciting one.