Good mix of players, will to win help Ballston Spa boys’ basketball to undefeated start

Ballston Spa’s Ben Phillips drives to the basket during high school basketball practice at Ballston Spa High School on Thursday.

Ballston Spa’s Ben Phillips drives to the basket during high school basketball practice at Ballston Spa High School on Thursday.

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BALLSTON SPA – The Ballston Spa boys’ basketball team’s 9-0 start began in December, but has roots back to the 2014-15 season.

That’s when the high-scoring trio of seniors Nick Verdile, Michael Miller and Ben Phillips began playing Capital District Youth Basketball League together. That journey culminated in a CDYBL age-group championship in 2018-19.

Three players, however, cannot win championships, and Ballston Spa coach Ben Eldridge has the luxury of having the rest of his roster be filled with multi-sport athletes who are dedicated enough to basketball to skillfully contribute whatever is needed.

“It starts with the players,” Eldridge said. “We have a good mix of these guys here that are basketball 12 months a year, and putting in the time, gaining knowledge and gaining skill and ability, and then mix it with their buddies who are two- and three-sport athletes here at Ballston Spa. I don’t think any sport here will be successful if you don’t have those two- and three-sport athletes. They’re not playing basketball 12 months a year, but they’re working on their athleticism and mindset and all the other things they can bring to the table. It’s just a great group of kids and they love playing together.”

That has shown on the court, but it hasn’t always been easy for the Scotties, ranked 15th in the latest state Class AA poll. After a season-opening win over Averill Park, their offense struggled a bit in a 54-43 win over Shenendehowa and a 48-44 victory over Colonie. 

“It wasn’t clicking perfectly, but there’s no way anyone was going to work harder than them, and that’s what won those first few games,” Eldridge said. “Then they stuck with it and trusted each other, getting better every game, and it starts to click, and then you see the games that came after that.”

What followed were wins over Tamarac, Guilderland, Broadalbin-Perth, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, Hudson Falls and Troy in which the Scotties averaged 84.8 points per game.

As with most good teams, that offense started on the defensive end.

“I think our effort is really driving our defense. Just forcing teams to take bad shots and make bad decisions, then capitalize on that on the offensive end,” said Verdile, who along with Miller and Phillips is looking to continue basketball at the Division III level.

“We will man-up anyone,” Miller added. “Doesn’t matter what team it is, we will play man and work as hard as we can.”

It has been a long time since Ballston Spa has had notable success in the sport. It last won a Section II title in Class B during the 1963-64 season.

“Growing up, I had a lot of success in travel sports with these guys, so that really motivated us,” Verdile said. “I’ve been thinking, at least, of a sectional championship since I was in middle school, and just working toward that goal.”

“Going in, we knew all the different strengths and diversity we have on the team,” Phillips said. “We know from the past years of us playing together, we’re able to be a really competitive team. We just need to have it click. And it has happened the last couple of games, where we really met our potential.”

The trio of Verdile, Miller and Phillips have done the bulk of the scoring, but at any given moment, other players such as Blaine Zoller, Nico Savini or James Haughton can supplement the scoring. And whoever enters the game will contribute something.

“Depth has got to be a factor,” said Eldridge, who began coaching the varsity when Keegan Zoller, now a sophomore at Saint Rose, was in the process of becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, but the team didn’t have the depth it’s blessed with now. Still, Zoller’s legacy is that his hard work paved the way for an interest in playing for Ballston Spa basketball. The current players want to leave a legacy in the form of team success.

“All of us have been a tight-knit group,” Verdile said. “We’re building those relationships where we trust each other.”

“They were definitely capable of [the 9-0 start], for sure,” Eldridge said. “There’s always the potential for setbacks and roadblocks. As a group they’ve just worked really hard and avoided that stuff and got the start that we knew we could have, but never take for granted.”

Categories: High School Sports, Saratoga Springs, Sports, Sports

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