CLIFTON PARK — The Shenendehowa boys' basketball team believes it can be a tough out come sectional time, if it can clean up its act.
"We've seen how good we can be," Plainsmen senior TJ Sangare said Tuesday night after a 53-37 Suburban Council win against Shaker. "We've seen our ceiling. We've just got to be more consistent."
Shenendehowa head coach Tony Dzikas can see that happening with his team that started the season with only three players who saw quality time last winter in Sangare, senior James Altenburger and junior Jake Reinisch.
"The exciting thing is we're going to get better over the next month and a half," Dzikas said. "We had some bumps last year and kept our heads up, and won a sectional title. We kept at it, and good things happened. The key thing is to surround yourself with other good coaches and have good kids to work with. That's what we have."
They also have a problem with turnovers. They were good enough to overcome 17 of them Tuesday night, but several higher-echelon opponents didn't let the Plainsmen off the hook in the first half of the campaign — and future ones likely won't, either.
"Coach always says turnovers are the devil," Altenburger said. "We have to handle pressure better and run our stuff better."
Several of Shenendehowa's turnovers were unforced while it worked its offense against Shaker.
"Turnovers are a killer because we pride ourselves on not turning it over," Dzikas said.
Sangare said he has seen improvement in a team that climbed over .500 (5-3 league, 6-5 overall) with Tuesday's bounce-back victory. Shenendehowa lost to Troy and West Genesee in its previous two contests after a win against Fairport.
"We have to put the pieces together," Sangare said. "We have a young team. We're just starting to understand what we have to do to take it to the next level."
Shenendehowa is trying to get there with a group that includes sophomores Andrew Martin and coach's son Devin Dzikas, and juniors Nick Lemire, Thomas Krill and Lucas Seyoum. Martin and Krill joined the varsity veterans Sangare, Altenburger and Reinisch in the starting lineup against Shaker.
"We haven't hit our stride, but we're working to get there," said the 6-foot-5 Altenburger, who is also a football standout. "All of these [young] guys are gym rats, and they're going to get better. We're all going to get better."
Despite its turnover woes, all of Shenendehowa's losses have come by five points or fewer. That includes a 58-56 loss against Schenectady and a 49-48 setback against West Genesee.
"We have to learn to finish games," Tony Dzikas said. "That's part of being young."
Shenendehowa has only four seniors on its 13-player roster.
"Coach said this is the youngest team he's had in a while, but we're still the defending champs," Altenburger said. "Everyone wants to beat us. We're still looking to defend our title."
Altenburger helped Shenendehowa build an early 13-5 lead Tuesday with three assists and a pair of putback baskets. He finished with a team-high 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and received high praise from his coach.
"He was a warrior tonight," Dzikas said. "The last couple games, he's gone after every loose ball. Here's a guy that goes 250 [pounds], and when he gets after it, he's going to get some of them."
Devin Dzikas and Reinisch both scored nine points, and the 6-foot-4 Seyoum made a big contribution off the bench with eight rebounds, three blocked shots and two layups that were part of Shenendehowa's fast start.
Sean Seymour paced Shaker, which dropped to 1-11 overall on the season, with 13 points.
Rosa 1-0-2, Clayton 1-2-4, Burt 1-0-2, Seymour 6-1-13, Mirabile 3-0-9, Mariano 2-0-4, McHugh 1-0-3. Totals: 15-3-37.
Martin 1-0-2, Lemire 1-2-4, Krill 1-1-3, Seyoum 2-0-4, Sangare 3-0-6, Dzikas 3-0-9, Reinisch 4-0-9, Konarski 2-0-4, Altenburger 6-0-12. Totals: 23-3-53.
Shaker 7 6 5 19 — 37
Shenendehowa 13 13 13 14 — 53