CHARLOTTESVILLE — So close.
If not for one bad quarter in the semi-state, who knows how many titles the Eastern Hancock boys basketball team would be defending this season.
A year ago, the Royals went 22-6, won their first sectional since 2008 and first regional since 2003.
They led Clarksville Providence at halftime, and by five points heading into the final quarter of the South Semi-State in Seymour. The normally hot-shooting Royals went cold in their final eight minutes of the season and were outscored 16-3 in the final period, losing 41-33.
The following week Providence went on to dominate Central Noble in the Class 2A state championship game, getting out to a 25-9 first quarter lead on its way to a convincing 62-49 win.
Oh, what might have been.
“We feel like we have unfinished business. We were right there last year, to be able to compete (for a state title) and that hasn’t changed,” Eastern Hancock coach Aaron Spaulding said. “We’ve got to do the same things. We have to get better and improve throughout the year on both ends of the floor to compete at that high level again when it comes tournament time.”
The Royals graduated five seniors, three that were in the normal seven-player rotation. Leading scorer Landon O’Neal, who averaged 16.3 points per game, was one of those members of the Class of 2022. Cole Rainbolt, a four-year veteran, and Cyrus Burton, a key sub off the bench graduated along with Zach Arnold and Isaac Lewis.
They will miss the graduates, but the Royals still have a strong core of players returning.
Twin sons of the head coach, Jacob Spaulding and Silas Spaulding are back for their senior seasons. A pair of 6-foot outstanding ball-handling guards, both have played big minutes since they were freshmen. Jacob averaged 13.9 points, 3.3 assists and 2.4 steals last year. Silas scored at a 10.4 clip and dished out 3.4 assists per contest.
Senior Edric Miller (6-foot-3) started much of last season, too. He averaged 7.4 points and 4.0 rebounds. Senior Grant Gray (6-3) was another big contributor off the bench. A dead-eye perimeter shooter, Gray averaged 5.7 points per contest.
“We’ve got a lot of experience so you can hit the ground running a lot more than when you have an inexperienced team,” coach Spaulding said. “We’ve been able to get into some things early in the season that might take us weeks, or months, to get in other (years).”
One of the big questions will be who will start and get the heavy minutes outside of the four returning standouts.
Coach Spaulding said he has options. If they go to a smaller lineup, 5-10 junior Luke Morris could get the nod. If he goes for size, 6-4 sophomore Kayden Ruble, coming off an All-Mid-Eastern Conference season on the football field as a tight end, could get the call.
Another senior that is expected to see playing time is 5-10 guard Jayden Stine. He was on the roster last season and played in 16 games.
Morris, Ruble, junior Caiden Willis (6-2, forward) and junior Charlie Halcomb (5-11, guard) were all on last year’s postseason roster. Even though they didn’t get a lot of floor time, they were practicing every day with the varsity team and part of last year’s successful month of March.
Freshman Eli Manship (6-foot, forward) rounds out the varsity roster. Willis, Halcomb and Manship are all slated to split time with the junior varsity and varsity.
The Royals open the season today on the road at Centerville.
2022-23 Eastern Hancock Boys Basketball Schedule
Nov. 23;at Centerville;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2;at New Palestine;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 3;vs. Wes-Del;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9;at Northeastern;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 10;at Daleville;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 16;at Knightstown;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 20;vs. Randolph Southern;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 27;vs. Bloomington South (at Richmond);11 a.m.
Dec. 27;vs. North Decatur (at Richmond);3 p.m.
Jan. 6;at Wapahani;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 13;vs. Union County;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14;vs. Greenfield-Central;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20;vs. Monroe Central;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 21;at Shenandoah;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 27;vs. Lapel;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 4;at Cowan;1:30 p.m.
Feb. 10;vs. Morristown;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 14;vs. Blue River;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 17;vs. Union (Modoc);7 p.m.
Feb. 18;at New Castle;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 21;at Pendleton Heights;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 24;at Hagerstown;7:30 p.m.