When Caleb Stewart shifted from small forward to the point, everything changed for Mekeel Christian Academy’s basketball team.
“We had such a tough start. We were searching for the right combination and the right flow,” Mekeel coach Chad Bowman said. “Sometimes, we were so out of sync.”
With Stewart protecting the ball in the backcourt and initiating the offense at the other end, Mekeel has scored over 60 points in five straight games, all of them victories. The Lions managed just 44 points in a season-opening loss to Mayfield, and were limited to 33 in a setback that followed against Mechanicville before their surge.
“He’s done a great job the last few games,” Bowman said of Stewart, a four-year starter. “He’s provided the ball-handling we need. In the beginning of the year, we had a difficult time getting our act together and putting together good possessions.”
During their winning streak, the Lions equalled a program record with 95 points against Amsterdam, and collected 80, 75 and 71 in Western Athletic Conference Southern Division games against Duanesburg, Berne-Knox-Westerlo and Sharon Springs. Stewart and fellow seniors Courtney Penson, Spencer Bath and Dan Alteri have shouldered the scoring load in the absence of Collin Stewart, who graduated last spring as the school’s all-time point producer and first Division I recruit (Monmouth).
“The kids are playing hard and playing well together,” said Bowman. “It’s encouraging. The last few games, we’ve found a rhythm.”
Mekeel knocked off King’s Christian Collegiate of Toronto, 64-42, in a non-league game Saturday, when Bath nailed six three-point baskets and totaled 22 points. Bath nailed seven threes for all of his 21 points against Amsterdam, Penson also netted 21 against the Rams, and Stewart recorded a triple-double in the 95-80 win with 32 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
“The big challenge for us is to continue to develop as a team, especially at the defensive end,” said Bowman. “We have to get better at that end.”
Schoharie (3-0, 6-2) will attack the Lions inside and from the perimeter in tonight’s game between WAC Southern Division leaders on Mekeel’s court at 7:30.
“They like to swing the ball around and shoot the three,” said Bowman. “Any team that shoots the three can be dangerous.”
Like Mekeel, Schoharie has put together some high-scoring games, beating Saratoga Catholic (76-73 in overtime), Sharon Springs (76-40) and St. Johnsville (61-53). James Sackett hit four threes and finished with a season-high 18 points against Sharon Springs, and Conner Brown put up a season-high 21 points against Saratoga Catholic. Brown has scored in double figures in every game.
“He’s a tough kid who loves to penetrate. He looks to attack. He’s a maximum effort kid,” said Bowman of Brown, a junior guard. “He’s their engine, and they’ve got shooters outside in Sackett and [Tanner] Stone.”
Mekeel won a couple of high-scoring affairs last season against Schoharie, 81-68 and 88-71, as part of its 10-0 Southern Division mark and ninth straight championship. The Lions later captured the overall WAC title and reached the Section II Class B semifinals, finishing at 19-2 after a loss to Cohoes.
“They’re going to come in confident and understanding the magnitude of the game. Although we’ve been talking about getting better more than the league, we’re well aware of what it’s about, too,” Bowman said. “For the league, it’s a huge game. This game will have a lot to say who takes the crown.”