Freeport boys focused on playing together to improve on 8-12 mark
Freeport boys basketball coach Mike Beale fully expects his team to share the basketball this season.
That certainty comes not from a team strategy but from his players’ relationships.
The Yellowjackets finished 8-12 last season, including 2-10 in section play, but all five starters return and bring a year of experience playing together and a tight bond because of it.
“These young men hold each other accountable in all the phases, from the weight room to the summer workouts, to the summer leagues, practices, socially and most importantly the classroom,” Beale said. “This is probably one of the closest-knit groups that I’ve coached in 20 years. As coaches, we feel that last year seasoned them for the next seasons to come.”
Freeport played much of last season with three sophomores in the starting lineup and two juniors without much starting experience.
The Yellowjackets started strong, winning seven of their first 10 games, but lost nine of their final 10.
“We anticipated as coaches that it could be a rough season based on inexperience,” Beale said.
“We technically started four players without any varsity experience. We’re going into this year hoping we’re not only a year older, but a year better, and the experience and the struggles and setbacks we experienced last year will give them confidence this year.”
Inexperience won’t be an issue for Freeport this season. Junior power forward Josh Beale returns for his third season as a starter after leading the team in scoring (13 points per game) and rebounding (8.2 per game) last season. He will be joined in the starting lineup by junior point guard Kris Keppel (8.2 ppg and 4 assists per game), junior guard Mason Eddinger (7 ppg) and senior guard Codey Digiacobbe (6.6 ppg).
Senior 6-foot-6 center Jon Wise and senior forward Marshall McCormick also could see time in the starting lineup.
Juniors Brandon Hochbein, Dylan Hochbein and Derek Jones and sophomore guard Kevin Lynch, a “sparkplug” at 5-foot-7, will see time off the bench.
Mike Beale said shooting should be a team strength, as will “unselfish play and sharing the ball.”
“That goes back to playing for one another,” he said. “That’s one thing this group has stressed.”
Beale said the team played in close to 40 games together during the offseason, competing in various summer leagues and team camps.
The Yellowjackets face a stiff challenge in section competition, with WPIAL Class AAAA runner-up Hampton dropping to Section 1-AAA to compete with Freeport, Burrell, Deer Lakes, Highlands, Knoch, Mars and Valley.
“I think our conference is extremely challenging,” Beale said. “From top to bottom, everybody brings people back.
“I think it’s just (a matter of) who can get their team in the best position and whose team has grown the most during the offseason.”
Freeport will begin the season at the St. Joseph Tip-off Tournament on Dec. 5. Competing teams include Eden Christian, St. Joseph and Trinity Christian. The Yellowjackets will open section play Dec. 12 at Highlands.