Conant boys looking to make deeper run

  • Conant returns its leading scorer from a year ago in junior Peyton Springfield, as four of five starters are back for the Orioles, who finished last year with 15 regular season wins. Staff photo by TIM GOODWIN

  • Conant senior Jake Drew is one of four returning starters this year, as the Orioles look to improve upon last year's 15 win regular season that ended in a first round playoff exit. Staff photo by TIM GOODWIN

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, November 28, 2018 11:15AM

Conant boys basketball coach Eric Saucier knows his team has to speed up games.

Without a legitimate big on the roster, something the Orioles have lacked over the last few seasons, they’re going to rely on tough, aggressive defense, a full court press and moving the ball quickly and efficiently. Good thing that fits right into Saucier’s style of play.

But what Saucier finally does have at his disposal is a group of experienced players. The last two years, the Conant varsity team was filled with underclassmen, but now those young guys have grown together and gained some valuable experience thanks to all those minutes of floor time. It also allows Saucier to teach more.

“Now I can concentrate more on the details,” Saucier said.

Having lost only Ryan Smith to graduation from last year’s team that won 15 regular season games and earned the fourth seed in Division III – before suffering an upset loss in the opening round of the tournament to White Mountains – the Orioles have a lot to build off from a year ago.

“That was a big experience for us,” said senior Jake Drew of the playoff loss. “Now it’s time for all of us to step up. We want to use that as motivation.”

And if anyone knows how important experience is, it’s Saucier. The top end of the Conant rotation has been playing together for many years on school and AAU teams, so by this point it’s almost second nature when they’re on the floor together. That togetherness is something Saucier is looking forward to using to his advantage this season.

“Last year, playing at the varsity level and getting those minutes, they gained a lot of experience and that will only help,” Saucier said.

Conant returns four starters in seniors Gavin Motuzas and Drew, to go along with juniors Peyton Springfield – last year’s leading scorer – and Anthony Gauthier. To fill that void of Smith, junior Connor Hart, who was the first one of the bench last season, will slide into the starting lineup.

While Springfield will be the one leading the charge most nights, Drew and Motuzas have shown to be more than capable to putting the ball in the hoop. Actually, just about anyone in the rotation.

“The good news is that those five guys can all put the ball in the basket,” Saucier said.

The plan is to consistently play six or seven, with junior Hunter Guevara and senior Aaron Rich, who returns to the program after two years in Florida, coming off the bench, so depth may be an issue, but if there’s one thing that a Conant team is known for, is being well prepared for late game situations. That’s why they practice just like they play – hard.

“It’s so much more fun to play like that,” Drew said. “That’s why we work hard in practice.”

Saucier has always implored his teams to play tough on the defensive end. It generally starts at the opposing end line and is an in-your-face approach that can quickly frazzle opponents and make them work twice as hard just to get past half court.

“The more we put it together defensively, the more that becomes our strength and that will be key to how well we can play,” Drew said.

It also works as a strength on offense, as the up tempo pace on both ends can tire opponents and lead to defensive breakdowns. And when those happen, Conant will be ready to take full advantage.

“Our speed is our biggest asset,” Saucier said. “So it benefits us to play at a quicker pace.”

Its been three years since Conant last made a trip to the Division III finals and four years since the last of its record 11 Class M/D-III titles after going back-to-back in 2013 and 2014 – which seems like an eternity for this program.

“I know we all have a specific goal and coach doesn’t want us to talk about it, but we know what we want at the end of the season,” Drew said.

The Orioles open the season at home on Dec. 7 against Newport.

“We’ve got a much tougher schedule this year,” Saucier said. “We have no let downs, so it’s going to be tough.”