Mekeel, Sharon Springs in WAC South showdown

Mekeel Christian Academy would much rather be the hunted basketball team, rather than the hunter. Th

Mekeel Christian Academy would much rather be the hunted basketball team, rather than the hunter. That will be the scenario with a successful outing against fellow unbeaten Sharon Springs.

“In the league, you want to get a leg up in the race,” Mekeel coach Chad Bowman said in anticipation of tonight’s matchup between state-ranked squads. “It’s real early, but it’s a big game in that sense. You want to be out front and in control of things.”

No team caught Mekeel — formerly Schenectady Christian School — last season when it swept through the Western Athletic Conference Southern Division. A 71-56 victory over Sharon Springs capped that 12-0 effort, and marked the eighth straight season that the Scotia-based school won outright or shared the division title.

With Canajoharie’s move to the Northern Division, this season’s Southern Division race will be decided in 10 games. Mekeel (2-0, 6-0) will host tonight, and travel to Sharon Springs (2-0, 8-0) on Jan. 27.

“Our goals always include getting to the Glens Falls Civic Center and winning a Section II championship, but we try to win our league first,” said Bowman. “The league is important to us.”

Bowman sees Sharon Springs as a big threat to his team’s div­sion sup­remacy. In the last eight seasons, Mekeel put together 85-11 Southern record, and seven of those teams won at least 10 league contests.

“They’re scoring a ton of points. Their average winning margin is 19 points. They’re obviously formidable,” he said of the state’s

No. 11-ranked Class D team. “When someone puts up gaudy numbers like that, they get your attention.”

Sharon Springs has four starters back from last year’s Section II semifinal team led by 6-foot-3 senior guard Brett Ullman (24.3 ppg). Ullman opened the season with eight three-point baskets and 35 points in a 64-44 win against Moris Central, and connected for 27 points in the Spartans’ division wins over Schoharie (64-56) and Berne-Knox-Westerlo (71-56).

“It starts with Ullman. He’s 6-3, and he averages five threes a game. He’s going to get his. He scores the ball,” Bowman said of the long-distance ace. “We’ve got to hold him in check, if we can.”

Though Mekeel has scored plenty of points with its up-tempo offense, it has also surrendered a good chunk of them. The state’s No. 10-ranked Class B team outlasted Cairo-Durham Tuesday, 76-70, and dealt Mechanicville its first loss before that, 72-62.

“Defense has been a challenge for us,” said Bowman. “If we’re going to have a special year, we have to do it at the defensive end.”

Mekeel’s offense is led by 6-7 Monmouth-bound guard Collin Stewart (27 ppg.), who became the program’s sixth 1,000-point scorer Tuesday when he fired in a career-high 32. Stewart piled up 30 and 27 points, respectively, in the Lions’ division wins against Berne-Knox-Westerlo (67-58) and Duanesburg (93-50).

“Collin is the engine, no question, but we have options,” said Bowman, who has also had Caleb Stewart, Ohieno Miller, Ben Wager and Courtney Penson score in double figures. “We’re very confident with anyone shooting the ball.”

The Stewart brothers are the only guys who shot with any frequency on last season’s 18-win team.

“I love the makeup of our team. They’re unselfish. They work hard. The only thing they don’t have is a lot of big-game experience,” said Bowman. “Collin and Caleb are the only ones who played a lot, where they [Sharon Springs] have five seniors who have played together since they were little. As a coach you love to have that experience. They have the pieces.”

Dan Schilde, Alex Johnstone, Tyler Larkin and last season’s sixth man, Josh Manko, join Ullman in the Spartans’ veteran lineup. Schilde (14.3 ppg.) has scored in double digits six times, including a 19-point performance when Sharon Springs beat Schoharie in its tightest contest.

“They gave us a couple of good games last year. We have to be prepared, and I think we will be,” said Bowman. “It’s going to be a big challenge, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Categories: High School Sports

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