BY JACK BULLOCK
A Baseline View
With just two seniors missing from a 10-17 lineup in 2017-18, head coach Rodney Lane will head into the new season with three starters back and some talented newcomers that will look to keep things going forward.
The won/loss mark from last season is very deceiving.
Since they began playing at the Goreville Invitational Tournament to begin the season, the Cougars have opened the last two seasons 0-5.
Playing larger schools and a talented 1A team that went to Peoria last winter, Hardin County went 10-12 the rest of the way and were in contention in most of the lost games.
The early season schedule, according to Coach Lane, made them a better team the rest of the season.
A last second shot beat them on the road at Gallatin County last February, proving that they could play with the eventual league champs.
This season look for Coach Lane to build around his core group of kids that return.
Six-foot-one senior Jaron Austin has been around the block as a four-year varsity player.
He helps run the show for the Cougars and he has been a big part of the success in the last three seasons.
Gabe Fowler, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, also returns for Hardin County.
Fowler and Austin will be important pieces for the Cougars this season as they contend once again with a tough schedule.
Six-foot-five senior Conrad Cowsert is also back after extended duty last season.
He has battled injuries in his prep career but Coach Lane is hoping for a healthy season for Cowsert and the rest of his squad.
Those three will give the Cougars some size, skill and experience for 2018-19.
Austin Smock, a 6-foot-2 senior, has shown a great deal of improvement, according to Coach Lane.
However Smock will miss the first part of the season after breaking his arm during the first week of practice last Friday.
He will be out 4-to-6 weeks.
Noah Henderson, a 5-foot-11 senior, also lacks varsity experience but his junior varsity time will help in the transition to the A-games.
Coach Lane is looking at some other kids to step forward this season.
Six-foot-two junior forward Lanceton Fields, according to Lane, is another player who could help out.
Twin brothers; 5-foot-9 Johnny Johnson and 5-foot-7 Jermaine Johnson, are sophomores who played quite a bit as freshmen last season.
Both started on varsity and both have improved over the summer.
Hardin County will have even more depth as 5-foot-9 sophomore Calen Banks is back after a good freshman campaign.
Look for the Cougars’ freshman to also help out.
Coach Lane mentioned Jake Vaughn, Ben Vaughn, Kailin Gerdes, Gavin Smith, Bryson Cullum and Jonah Austin.
All are going to make things interesting, especially in practices.
At schools at the 1A level, having large turnouts for basketball isn’t the norm.
The Cougars’ program has some kids willing to work at getting better.
And they better be ready with the schedule that Hardin County has put together.
“This is probably the hardest working, most fun team as a group I have had in nine years as head coach at Hardin County. The work some of them have put in on the court and in the weight room over the summer far surpasses any team in the past,” said Coach Lane. “With a group of talented freshman and sophomores coming up our schedule has gotten even tougher from a year ago.”
Besides the Goreville tournament, the Cougars will play multiple teams who are 2A and larger.
Crittenden County (KY.), Union County (KY.) and Webster County (KY.) are on the slate.
Three teams on the schedule from Illinois; Massac County, Vienna and Johnston City, are all bigger schools in enrollment.
“Our team will will rely on our senior’s Jaron Austin and Gabe Fowler to lead this team by example and hard work. They both have the experience and talent to do a great job in leading are team. Cowsert and Smock don’t have a lot of varsity experience, but a lot of our success will depend on how quickly they can give us some points on the offensive end,” said Coach Lane. “We have 10 or 12 kids who will be working for minutes on the court, from seniors to freshman. We will have a pretty deep bench with some talented players, but just a few with varsity experience. How quickly those young players can adjust to the varsity game will have a lot to do with our success.”
OUTLOOK – These Cougars have some good ones returning that have experience. The bench looks to be very good as well, which will get a test the first week of the season when they play five games in six days at Goreville. This coach has gotten a lot out of his kids in the past few years, including a regional championship in 2015. Look for Hardin County to be much better than its record will show at the end of the year and they will have a say in the GEC championship race.
EDITOR’S NOTE – ABV wants to mention someone who has been very important to southern Illinois high school sports in her many seasons as athletic director at Hardin County. Sharon Austin is retiring at the end of the 2018-19 school year and she deserves a good send off. Her and her school have done a great job hosting major events under her watchful eye while being “a class act” above all else. ABV wishes Sharon a happy retirement. Two thumbs up, Sharon!!!