Cougars energized, excited for postseason hoops

Lance Waldron and the Cougars enter Friday night’s playoff game against Westminster Christian.

By Malcolm Butler

Lance Waldron wasn’t named the Cedar Creek boys basketball coach until July 1.

Waldron didn’t get the majority of his starting five until the Cougars football season ended with a playoff loss to Vermilion Catholic in mid-November.

Yet, despite some obstacles, Waldron’s Cougars hoops squad will host a first round playoff game Friday at 6 p.m. at the Brickhouse. Creek is the No. 16 seed and will face the visitors from Westmnister Christian, the No. 17 seed.

And for five Cougar seniors, it marks the final playoff run of their high school hoops career.

“It has really set in that this is it,” said senior guard Carter Hill. “Coach has been preparing us all year. We have been working all year to this point, and now it’s time to shine.”

That shine took some time to evolve.

First, Waldron re-entered the coaching ranks after an eight-year absence. He led Simsboro to a 246-87 mark from 2006-15, including six district titles and two state championship game appearances. He left the high school coaching ranks following the 2014-15 season in order to join the corporate world and spend more time with his family.

He then re-emerged in July. And according to Hill, the leading scorer for the Cougars, the players are glad he did.

“Coach Waldron has been a blessing,” said Hill. “I wish we had him longer. He has made such a difference and an impact on us. He has taught us stuff we haven’t done before. We are hoping to make a good run.”

The Cougars game out of the starters block slow, losing six of their first nine games. Some of those struggles could be attributed to the late arrival of Waldron last summer and then the fact three of Creek’s five starters didn’t suit up until the regular season started in mid-November

“We didn’t have much of a summer with him and then football … so three of us starters didn’t join them until (after the season started),” said Hill. “It took a little while to mesh. But us seniors have always been together and have always played together, and Coach Waldron does a good job of meshing us together. We have been playing as a team better lately.”

The entire Creek starting five are seniors: Hill, Jack Echols, Connor Norris, Brian Osborne and Davis Walsworth. And Waldron gives the five-some a lot of credit for the Cougars success this season.

“This group of seniors really work well together,” said Waldron. “They are all on the same page. They communicate well. They have each others back. It’s been great seeing them grow. I wish I would have more time with this same group. I wish we could keep going. I am really enjoying this year.

“They have grown so much. Their attitudes when it comes to working in practice and buying in … They believe in everything they are doing and in each other. It’s great.”

This year has led to a 12-13 record for Cedar Creek, who enter Friday night’s playoff game winners of three of their final four games. That speaks to the growth of the team under Waldron.

“Our biggest area of growth has been in our mindset and how we work together as a team,” said Norris, who leads the Cougars in rebounds per game this season. “We have been working better (lately) in transition, knowing where to go and where to be and what to do. Personally, I put a lot of work in this summer with my shot and my dribbling. It’s paid off, more so with my shooting than the dribbling.”

Shooting. Dribbling. Rebounding. And a lot of defense is what the Cougars will need to bring to the court Friday night if they want an opportunity to move to a second round match-up against No. 1 seed Northwood-Lena.

“Westminster has a couple of guys on the inside that are really tough,” said Waldron. “They are very explosive. One of them is 6-foot-3, and he is very good inside. The other guys is stronger, not as tall, but very explosive.

“We can’t let them get going. If we let them get going we will be in for a long night. We have been working in practice on how we are going to defend them. They are athletic. It should be a good match-up.”

Westminster, out of District 6-1A, enters the game with a 13-11 record, which included an eight-game winning streak in the middle of their season. However, they enter Friday night having lost five of their last eight contests.

Creek hopes to make that six out of nine.

“I just know it’s win or go home,” said Norris. “So I’m trying to win and keep going. We want to win on our home court. And we sure don’t want to go home yet.”