By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – For the 18th consecutive time, the high school basketball postseason continues without Bedford North Lawrence. At one point in its history, that kind of program drought seemed impossible. Now, thanks to class basketball and other factors, it’s become a troubling trend.
When the 2018-19 campaign started, the Stars were shooting for a sectional title, among other goals. That goal went unclaimed following a semifinal loss to eventual champion Jeffersonville, one reason third-year coach Matt Seifers publicly pointed blame at himself for that shortcoming. BNL was sure this was the year. The Red Devils proved otherwise.
Calling a 13-win season a “failure” would be ridiculous, especially when scanning the competition BNL faced. Over one-third of the teams on the schedule were ranked in 4A or 3A, including a date with defending state champion Warren Central. But with four returning starters and six seniors, the Stars expected more.
So after some winnable games were lost, after losing in the sectional to a team (by 21 points) that his team conquered during the regular season, Seifers took responsibility.
“With the talent we had, we should have been better,” he said. “I didn’t get them where they needed to be. I let them down, and it’s on me.
“Where I dropped the ball was not managing this team the way they needed to be successful. I didn’t manage my personnel and get them going in the right direction. I wavered too many times. I should’ve settled on a style and type of play. I was trying to push the right buttons, but I think we tried to push too many buttons instead of doing one thing and letting the other team figure out how to deal with us.”
There were moments of brilliance – the road win over Evansville Reitz, the conquest of Jeffersonville, the second-half rallies against Edgewood and Corydon. There were disappointing losses – the 18 missed free throws against Bloomington North, the defensive lapses against Columbus East, the close calls against Silver Creek and New Albany.
“Overall, it was a successful season,” Seifers said after his second straight winning year brought his BNL record to 36-35. “I think we had the most most talent in a long time. I didn’t coach them well enough, and that’s on me. I hate it for this team because we had good kids. They played their butts off.”
BNL will lose a lot, including three starters and two of its three double-digit scorers in Jathan Ritter (13.1) and McCall Ray (11.9). The six seniors (including Drew Shoufler, Lane Hawkins, Canaan Browning and Brandon Flinn) represent half the varsity roster.
“I can’t put into words what those kids have meant,” Seifers said. “They were tremendous. They are going to be tough to replace.”
What lies ahead? Questions. After factoring returning veterans Brayton Bailey and Cale Bunch into the equation, the available spots are wide open, for the reserves on the bench, for the kids looking to make the move up from the junior varsity, even for next year’s incoming freshmen.
“It’s as wide open as it’s been in a long time,” Seifers said. “We have the tools to replace the points and rebounds we lost, but it will be different. Now who steps up? Who will do the work in the summer and be ready to play? There are a lot of options because they are so close in what they can do.”
Option 1 will be Bailey. The rugged point guard averaged team highs of 18.9 points and 6.7 rebounds. He was the top assist man, and he was often asked to defend the opposition’s best. If he can continue to develop, adding a consistent perimeter jump shot to his devastating ability to attack the basket, he will be a force. Bailey has already scored 1,054 career points and could pass everyone but his father on the school list.
“He’s going to be a huge piece,” Seifers said. “If he can continue to work on his jump shot and stretch defenses out, he’s going to be impossible to guard.”
BNL will have to be prepared for challenges in the Hoosier Hills Conference next season. Jeffersonville, the league co-champion, does not have a senior on the roster. New Albany will return the bulk of its offensive attack.
The main area of improvement will be on defense. The Stars made strides there, allowing 56.6 points per game compared to 62.6 two years ago, but took a step backward from last year’s 52.3.