CENTRALIA — Though they've had flashes of great play this season, the Belleville West Maroons still are searching for the level of consistency needed to pull out a big win.
The Maroons head into the Centralia Holiday Tournament with 2-5 record. They took Edwardsville to overtime and led East St. Louis at halftime, but they were unable to sustain their momentum in either game.
"The kids have shown that they can do it, it's just a matter of being consistent," West coach Joe Nunez said. "That's the No. 1 thing we need to start doing, being consistent with everything we do in our game. Right now, we are hit and miss."
After losing all of their starters, including leading scorer Nick Van Osdale to graduation, Muniz knew that it would take the Maroons time to jell this season.
"I knew there was going to be an adjustment period just because we started five seniors last year," Muniz said. "Losing Nick Van Osdale, that's a big loss, but we also lost four other seniors that started for us and another senior that was our sixth man off the bench. We're getting to the point now where those excuses ... they're varsity basketball players and they need to start playing like that. You can have that excuse for the first couple of games, but we have to get better."
The Maroons will play the Jacksonville Crimsons (2-3) at 9:15 p.m. Thursday in the opening round at Centralia.
Muniz said he scouted the Crimsons in the Alton Tip-Off Classic. The Crimsons have 6-foot-7 Blake Hance, a tight end on the football team that has given a verbal commitment to play offensive tackle at Northwestern University.
"They are very fundamentally sound," Muniz said. "The thing I remember the most about them is that they are very, very strong. They're big kid inside is going to be a load. He's not very athletic as far as someone who is going to jump out of the gym and be a guy we might see in our league, but he is somebody who has great touch around the basket, finishes around the basket and uses his body very well."
Muniz said he doesn't mind playing in the late game after opening the tourney in early morning games in two of the last three years.
"Me personally, I am not complaining about playing at 9:15," Muniz said. "The day after Christmas, I would hate to play in that 8:30 game. The day after Christmas, that's a tough job."
This year, that job falls to the O'Fallon Panthers, who will play Christian County Coloniels (2-3) from Hopkinsville,. Ky., at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson said the team bus is slated to depart for Centralia at 6 a.m. Thursday.
"We're going to try to get there early enough for the boys to run up and down the floor," Gibson said. "Try to wake them up.
"They are on vacation and they are in that mentality of being on vacation and it's way earlier than they have to get up even for school. To just hop on the bus before 6 o'clock means your getting up earlier than that and trying to get dressed and eat breakfast. It's definitely going to be a big adjustment."
Gibson said he's gotten a couple of scouting reports on the Colonels.
"They're an atheltic team that has a little size and a little quickness," Gibson said. "They seem kind of young. I think they are a similar team to us."
The Panthers are 4-5 on the season.
Gibson pointed out that all of his team's losses have come to quality opponents.
"I think right now we've won the games we're supposed to win and we've lost the games we're supposed to lose," Gibson said. "We're trying to get a big win, maybe one that we aren't supposed to win."
Donovan Franklin leads the Panthers in scoring with an average of 18.8 points per game. Darien McClain averages 8.8 points per game and Parker Roustio avearges 7.7 points per game.
The Panthers still are experimenting with different combintions of players, looking for what works best.
"We have eight or nine guys that we are juggling around, and we're having some different starting lineups and we're trying to feel it all out and get the pieces put together," Gibson said.
Another team trying to find the right chemistry is the two-time defending champion Cahokia Comanches, who are 6-3 after picking up wins over Mount Vernon, Althoff and Bosse, Ind.,last week.
"Everybody is like, 'Oh, you lost three games,"' Cahokia coach Darian Nash said. "But, sometimes those losses are good early. It has brought them closer together and made them practice harder. They've found out that every night that somebody is coming at you. You have to go out and throw the first punch and keep throwing punches. Don't sit back and let people back in the game."
The Comanches will play the Blue Island Eisenhower Cardinals (4-4) at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Nash said he has little information on the Cardinals.
"In a way we just have to do what we do," Nash said. "We have to run our system and play our game, and we should be all right."
The Comanches are dealing with the loss of leading scorer Keenan Minor to graduation.
Darius Austin is the Comanches' top scorer with an average of 19 points per game. Carleton Rivers chips in 13.7 points per game and Tarkus Ferguson contributes 12.9 points per game.
"Right now, we have a few guys who can step into that role," Nash said. "If we can get them all rolling at once one night, it's going to be a lovely thing to see."
The tournament continues through Saturday with the championship game set for 9 p.m.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.