The Fort Scott High School freshmen basketball boys' team is off to a 5-4 start, while steadily helping build for the future of the high school program.
The Tigers opened the season with a narrow 45-44 loss at Labette County Dec. 7 in overtime on a last-second shot that beat the buzzer.
Fort Scott bounced back and won its second game, at home against Coffeyville, 50-46, Dec. 14. In the third game at Parsons Dec. 18, Fort Scott struggled offensively and finished on the short end of a 52-23 score.
Next followed a 49-40 setback at Independence on Jan. 4 and a 60-48 loss to Chanute on Jan. 8.
The Tigers have since won four games in a row and are "starting to play a better brand of basketball," freshmen head coach Pechone Stepps said.
The Tigers prevailed at Girard 43-33 on Jan. 11.
At the Iola Freshman Tournament Jan. 14, the Tigers downed Prairie View in the first round, 55-22. On Jan. 21, they played Iola in the second round of the tourney and rolled 41-29. Josh Hudiburg led Fort Scott in scoring with 16 and Marcus Stepps chipped in 11. Hudiburg had 10 rebounds and Stepps and Jordan Phillips both had five steals apiece.
The championship game brought a second meeting with Chanute. Fort Scott took the contest, 38-33.
"Our guys were excited for a rematch against them, because we lost to them earlier in the season," Stepps said. "It was a hard-fought, intense game. We had balanced scoring across the board."
Marcus Stepps led with 10 points, Austin Cook had eight, and Josh Hudiburg and Jordan Phillips seven each. Hudiburg had 19 rebounds and Carter Young 11.
Making up this year's roster are Jordan Phillips (6' 0"), Austin Cook (6' 2"), James McNeely (5' 4"), Trenton Sinn (5' 7"), Josh Hudiburg (6' 2"), Vince Tome (5' 4"), Marcus Stepps (5' 10"), Carter Young (6' 0"), Wyatt Tourtillott (5' 9"), Nick Woods (6' 1"), and Tyler Allen (6' 4").
So far this season, Hudiburg is leading the team in scoring, averaging 14.3 points per game, with Austin Cook next at 7.3.
Hudiburg is averaging 12 rebounds a game and Cook six to lead the board effort.
Jordan Phillips is handing out 2.5 assists per game, with Marcus Stepps adding 2.2. Stepps is also averaging 5.3 steals per game.
There are several coaching connections within the team.
"This year I have the honor of coaching my son, Marcus, which has been an exciting experience," Stepps said. "I get on him just like any other player, but he knows I do it all in love. I have enjoyed our time together.
"One of our freshmen, Kaleb DeLaTorre, Coach (Jeff DeLaTorre's) son, got moved up to varsity. He is a very talented player who is having a solid year on the varsity level. Because he was the point guard on their traveling teams growing up, it has taken a little bit for our guys to adjust to playing without him.
"Even though I hated to lose Kaleb because he is so talented and definitely would have helped us, it has been better for the other guys' development. In the long run, it will help them all to become better all-around basketball players."
The coach pointed to the school's proud history in basketball as the foundation and culture of the program that the freshmen seek to help perpetuate.
"It takes a little while for freshmen to understand what it takes to compete on the high school level and have 'Tiger Pride'," Stepps said. "So early on in the season, there are always some ups and downs. Usually about mid-January, the light comes on for the guys and they start to figure things out. They start to implement the things we teach in practice into games."
Coach Stepps was quick to praise the coaches in the program for their help and guidance.
"My assistant coach is Kent Gant and he has been with me the past two years. He has been instrumental in helping me maintain a successful freshman program.
"Our job as freshman coaches is to help them build a proper foundation and develop the necessary basic skills which will help to propel them into their sophomore, junior and senior years. We want to develop not only good basketball players but good young men as well who will one day be good fathers and productive citizens in the world."
The next game for the Fort Scott freshmen is Friday night against Iola at 6 p.m. at Buck Run Community Center.