Blackhawk down, but not out Injuries have hit the Braves hard

It hasn’t exactly been the easiest year for the Blackhawk Christian boys basketball team.

Lofty expectations seemed pretty justified when this frog first talked about the Braves after their quality play against North Side back in November. After all, they had almost their entire team back from the year before, everyone was playing better and Jalan Mull’s transfer had business booming in the backcourt.

“We were a very deep team to begin this year. Our lineup has slimmed down some, but I believe we still have what it takes to achieve our goal of state,” Mull said.

But I also talked about how the Braves just couldn’t finish previous seasons off at their best. Those, as the saying goes, were the breaks. This year, the breaks have run deeper.

First it was Drake Thompson’s foot, then it was Lucas Kroft’s toes and finally last week, it was Kole Barkhaus’ arm. Injury after injury after injury. Lost starter after lost starter after lost starter. Blackhawk was 6-1 when the Huntington North/Columbia City Holiday Hoops Tournament was the site of the first strike of the anti-Brave injury bug, claiming Thompson during the best game of his season, perhaps his career. And things went south suddenly.

“I think initially the team had to find how to play without Lucas and me, and it seemed like for a few games the season was over, at least from the perspective of fans, but many other players stepped up, and worked twice as hard,” Thompson said.

And players did step in for Thompson and righted the ship with wins over Summit Athletic Conference foes South Side and Concordia after the three-loss holiday tournament. Kroft added a strong post-up game to his repertoire, and names like Kyle Zurbuch and JP Visser leapt into our vocabulary. Then Kroft was out, and they needed to rely more on backcourt players like Devin Donaldson and Barkhaus.

Blackhawk was down, but not out.

“Our coaches have great confidence in us that it is just another opportunity to step up and show what we have been working so hard for,” Donaldson said. “Our depth is being put to the test. We believe in our togetherness to keep rolling as a team no matter what has happened.”

Donaldson’s emergence has been one of Shooter’s favorites to see, adding yet another competent and gritty player on the perimeter for a team that was already loaded with them. And inside, Zurbuch has become a force in his own ways, teaming with Kroft before his injury and Visser after it to give the Braves a boost against teams with bigger players in the post.

It is that toughness that has always been a hallmark for Blackhawk under coach Marc Davidson, but perhaps for the first time in his stay on State Boulevard, Davidson has a team deep enough to make toughness matter.

Depth, after all, is a lie.

A certain coach, who will remain nameless for fear I become frog legs, said in the preseason that his team was 12 players deep. No high school team is 12 players “deep.” But Blackhawk sure has been a true nine deep all year long. Nine players who can compete, who show that even if you lose a step or two, you can fire back. And that, to Shooter, is as impressive as any story in the city this season.

For Thompson, Kroft and now Barkhaus, the wounds have been tougher. While the Braves miss their hulking post, their smooth and versatile scorer and a long range threat, those three are losing big parts of their seasons. Kroft, who will see his doctor next Tuesday, may still hold out hope for a chance to return for any regional or semistate play. Thompson’s return for this season seems unlikely, and Barkhaus, one of just four seniors on the roster, may have seen his high school basketball career come to an end.

It has brought them along in a different way, one that Kroft sees benefit in.

“I’m not going to lie it’s rough, but I see the game in a different way from the sideline. I see different things on the sidelines than I did on the court,” he said.

The loss of top scorer Kroft has also allowed fellow sophomore Frankie Davidson get more comfortable in a leading role similar to what brothers Wes and Will have played in previous seasons for the Braves. Injuries have opened many holes in this team that once looked invincible. But perhaps a true test of invincibility is that they have found ways to plug all of those holes and still have a 14-9 record with one game to play this regular season.

“Our mentality is next man up. We all believe in each other, and we know what we’re capable of as a team. I believe that will show when the tournament comes,” said junior Luke Sassmannshausen.

And there, as the sharpshooter with the alphabet for a last name notes, is more good news for Blackhawk fans: postseason play starts next week.

And no matter how depleted that the Braves are and how much more excitement there would be if a full lineup was in place, the Braves are still strong for a Class 1A team, still a sectional favorite and still a top 10 team in their class.

1A teams don’t have the depth Blackhawk does. 1A teams don’t have a point guard like Mull.

With that postseason success in a smaller class coming in to play, the Blackhawk players have shown great poise in sticking with their plan. There is something to be said about a group of kids who do not waver in what they say about expectations and clearly actually mean it.

“There is always gonna be that little bug going around. Saying ‘you guys would be so much better if you still had so and so,’ but we believe we have everything we need still, in order to make a deep run,” Mull said. “We have smart players who know how to get the job done.” <br>

<i> This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Shooter at </i>