The Wetumpka boys basketball team begins area play this week, and head coach Byron Gaskin likes where his team is entering the matchups.
Wetumpka, which has an 11-5 record, travels to Benjamin Russell on Thursday night to begin AHSAA Class 6A, Area 5 play. The Indians then turn around and host Stanhope Elmore on Saturday night.
The Indians (11-5) have won seven of their last eight games following back-to-back losses to Prattville early in December, but lost their last game. The Indians faced Stanhope Elmore in a non-area game in the Elmore County basketball tournament, and lost 87-79.
“I feel like we’ve been playing better lately,” Gaskin said. “We fell to Stanhope in the county tournament, and it happened last year as well. I think the guy’s mindset will be in the right place. I think it was a wake up call for us. We’ve been playing good ball as of late, but had that one drop to Stanhope last week.”
Gaskin said his team made way too many miscues that he hopes can get cleaned up this week before facing Stanhope again. But before the Indians host the Mustangs on Saturday, Gaskin’s team has their eyes on Benjamin Russell.
Benjamin Russell enters the week with an 8-4 record. The Wildcats have won three consecutive games against Montgomery Catholic and Talladega twice. They open area play against Stanhope on Tuesday night, where Gaskin can get a better look at each team.
Gaskin remembers Benjamin Russell well from last year, and said the Wildcats returned most of their team from last season. The two teams split the two regular season games last year, each team winning their respective game by 11 points.
“We’re trying to take those miscues and getting them cleaned up,” Gaskin said. “We had probably our worst game of the year both offensively and defensively against Stanhope. Benjamin Russell is always a scrappy, hard fighting team. They shoot the ball well, so we have to be aware of where their shooters are and rebound the ball well.”
Wetumpka has plenty of talented players on its roster this season, but the two most cosisten have been sophomore point guard Nate Rogers and senior forward/center PJ Merkerson.
Rogers is the team’s leading scorer at right near 20 points per game, but Merkerson has improved every game this season and is right behind Rogers at 18 ppg. Merkerson is also the team’s leading rebounder on the year.
“They work well together,” Gaskin said of Rogers and Merkerson. “PJ handles everything inside and grabs a lot of rebounds on both sides of the court and gets a lot of baskets that way. Nate just kind of finds a way to score. He can score inside and shoot outside as well. Having both of those guys doing those things propels us a lot.”
While those two continue being consistent and leading the team, Gaskin is hoping to have a few more guys step up as area play begins. Guards Xavier Harris D’marcus Peake are playing right behind Rogers, and have both been playing well every game.
Peake has led the team in assists in every single game this season, and center Breyln Young has helped bring the team another big presence inside. Standing at 6-foot-7, Gaskin said Young is averaging nearly 3 blocks per game and 6 rebounds per game this season.
“We need to get those guys going and keep playing well for at least these next four or five games so we can be sitting where we want to sit in area play. We’ll let the chips fall where they may after that.”
“We are looking forward to big things from those two guys going into area play and the rest of the season as well,” Gaskin said. “PJ has been coming along as the season is moving. He’s definitely helped us offensively and he’s been a machine rebounding. Hopefully he can keep that up and we need to get a little bit more help from some of our guys as well.”