By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Heber Springs started a tough two-game stretch before Thanksgiving week with a 71-40 loss to Batesville in a nonconference basketball game at the Panther Den Tuesday.
Batesville built a 26-6 lead by the end of the first quarter and increased it to 45-20 by halftime. The Panthers trailed 67-29 going into the fourth quarter.
“You could tell that Batesville is a senior team,” Heber Springs coach Dusty West said. “They have played together for four years and were playing in mid-season form. Batesville made a lot of shots and has a great post in J.P. Morgan. We didn’t have an answer for him, but battled as best we could. Morgan’s physical strength and basketball skill were on a different level.”
Sophomore Conner Riddle, who just completed the football season, scored 10 points for the Panthers in his season debut. Bauer Pruitt, also a sophomore, added seven points.
Morgan led the Pioneers with a game-high 21 points. Caden Griffin had 11 points.
West, who assumed the head coach duties last week, took over Heber Springs program following the resignation of Scott Bramlett, hopes his players will follow Batesville’s example in the future. Thirteen of the Panthers’ 16 players are underclassmen.
“After the game, I told the guys that is the type of a team we want to become,” West said. “We want to push the ball up and down the floor, pass the ball inside and throw it out to the perimeter and make 3-pointers.”
West said his team’s second-half performance illustrated what the future may hold.
“I was happy with our effort,” he said. “Despite trailing by double digits, we still were taking charges, hustling for loose balls and fighting for rebounds. “We played well during the second half and executed better.”
Heber Springs (0-2) will host nonconference rival Greenbrier on Thursday.
“The players were energetic and positive in the locker room after the game,” West said. “They are ready to get back on the floor against Greenbrier on Thursday. Greenbrier will test us, and we hope to show how much fight we have. I prefer playing these type of nonconference games, so we can become a better team and prepare for conference play.”
Heber Springs will play Guy-Perkins, Shirley, South Side Bee Branch, Conway St. Joseph, Riverview and Searcy before the start 4-4A Conference opener at Subiaco Academy on Dec. 11. The home conference opener will be against Ozark on Dec. 18.
The Panthers will play finish Cedar Ridge, Newport, Sheridan, Rose Bud and Clinton before resuming conference play at Morrilton on Jan. 5.
“I told the players not to get caught up with the number of wins and losses, but work to get better and hope it leads to winning conference games,” West said. “The nonconference schedule will benefit us in the long run.”
The Panthers gained six new players — Zach Thomas, Gus Hannah, Dakota Farmer, Riddle, Austin Winchester and Wyatt Winchester — following completion of the football season. West said those players are currently in transition and will become more involved in future games.
“We will be trying to establish our rotation and work with the football players on basketball conditioning,” West said. “You will see the team come more together as the season goes. We have a lot of room for growth. The players have potential.”
Batesville 26 19 22 4–71
Heber Springs 6 14 9 11–40
Batesville scorers — J.P. Morgan 21, Caden Griffin 11, Gunner Shell 8, K.J. Cross 6, John Morgan 6, Kyrese Johnson 6, Wes Lange 5, Logan McSpadden 4, Ben Hopper 2, Kolby Young 2.
Heber Springs scorers — Conner Riddle 10, Bauer Pruitt 7, Gus Hannah 5, Dakota Farmer 4, Zach Thomas 4, Harley Bresnahan 4, J.T. Spears 3, Joseph Ferris 2, Zach Stogsdill 1.