By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Jesse Lalka is gone and the Tonawanda boys basketball team has been left with the reality of moving on. The school’s all-time leading scorer was the heartbeat of the Warriors, who won the regular season ECIC IV championship last season when Lalka, now at Daemen College, eclipsed the 1,000 point mark in the midst of the memorable campaign.
This year’s squad is a completely different team despite returning Lalka’s sidekick, senior center Clayton Hess, and from the get-go the Warriors are going to look to run on teams and utilize some added quickness.
“There’s no doubt, offensively, you’re never going to replace Jesse Lalka — ever,” said Tonawanda coach Henry Hughes. “But we look more like we can run and we’ll see if we’re going to change our philosophy.”
Hess has developed into an all-around force on the basketball court. He can shoot it from every spot on the floor, can handle the ball and perplexes opposing coaches because of his ability to take center’s off the dribble.
But even though the senior is talented, the pressure is going to be elevated this season on Hess without Lalka in the mix. Hughes said that it’ll be important for the senior to take everything in stride and maintain his composure when team’s are game-planning to stop him.
“Clayton’s going to have to really step up because teams are going to be all over him,” Hughes said. “Hopefully he doesn’t get frustrated and he’s able to keep his composure. He’s always had Jesse there and last year they were all over both of them and this year it’ll only be him.”
The Warriors have been a half-court team the past few seasons behind Lalka’s shooting and Hess’s all-around game, but this year Hughes said he may be forced to let his young team loose.
In the team’s two scrimmage’s, Hughes said he’s been impressed with the way the players have trapped and pressed, and the team’s been hard to stop on the fast break. Junior point guard Ben Stitch has the responsibility of guiding the Tonawanda ship when it comes to the break and how they defend.
Hughes has been impressed with how quickly Stitch has improved after getting thrown into the starting lineup in mid-December last season.
”Ben handles the ball and I trust him 100 percent to call the right plays, to dribble and he has a pretty nice shot,” he said. “I’m hoping he looks to score a little bit more this year. I hope he looks to penetrate and kick a little more too. He really evolved as a sophomore last year and he’s one of the key guys that really stepped up.”
Rounding out the Tonawanda starting lineup will be senior Tyler Hughes, junior Connor Pumm and either sophomore Tristan Boling or senior Nick Pullo.
Boling had a breakout season on the football field and coach Hughes has been impressed with how quickly the young forward has adapted to the varsity game on the court. He’s putting in a lot of effort, especially in practice, and it’s allowed him to really stand out defensively in the team’s scrimmages.
Tyler Hughes didn’t have to score much last season because of the production of Lalka, but this season he must assert himself more offensively and look for his shot. Coach Hughes is hoping the up-tempo style of play will allow players to be more aggressive.
The Warriors will go about eight deep and will incorporate sophomores Lorenz Jefferson and Riley Gardner off the bench.
Tonawanda begins its season tonight at Christian Central Academy. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.2012-13 THS Boys Hoops Schedule Nov. 30 at CCA 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at Roy-Hart 7 p.m. Dec. 7 at North Tonawanda 7 p.m. Dec. 11 Starpoint 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14 Holland 6:30 p.m. Dec. 18 JFK 6:30 p.m. Dec. 20 Eden 6:30 p.m. Dec. 27 W. Seneca E Tourney TBA Dec. 28 W. Seneca E Tourney TBA Jan. 3 at Holland 6:30 p.m. Jan. 11 Cleveland Hill 6:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at Lackawanna 7 p.m. Jan. 17 Alden 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at JFK 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at Eden 7 p.m. Feb. 4 at Cleveland Hill 6:30 p.m. Feb. 8 Lackawanna 6:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at Alden 7 p.m. Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.