After a slow start, the Hankinson Pirates were able to tear through the end of the 2022-23 boys basketball season. The team ended things with an eight-game winning streak going into the postseason. The Pirates didn’t have a single loss in the entire month of February.
“In a nutshell I was quite pleased. We started off a little slowly. Lost a game or two that I would like to have back. At the end of the day, we played well. A 16-8 record and finishing fourth overall isn’t too shabby,” Head Coach Mike Gaukler said.
For the Pirates, the game was all about playing small ball. While they did have good interior play in David Round, Andrew Jean and Ruston Kath, the Pirates lacked height compared to other teams.
“We tried to play quick and hard on the defensive end. We had to resort to playing some zone because of the size factor, we are smaller than most of the teams we played all year long. The team liked zone, so it stuck. I am not really a zone coach, more man to man, the kids bought in and they liked it,” Gaukler said.
On offense, the Pirates pushed the ball, playing aggressively to prevent their opponent’s defense from getting in position. This led the Pirates to play in some high-scoring games. In many games, a full four quarters would end up coming down to if the Pirates were able to get enough stops on defense rather than their scoring on offense.
On both sides of the ball, the Pirates were led by Cruz Hernandez. A senior, Hernandez has had many milestones as a Pirate, including joining the 1,000 point club this year. His time in Hankinson ended with him in fifth for career scoring, with over 1,200 points total. Hernandez also holds the record for assists and is in second for career steals.
Even with all of the accolades, what stands out most about Hernandez is his ability to direct the team on the court. Gaukler has described Hernandez as an extra coach on the court. His ability to communicate, mixed with a deep understanding of the sport, has given the Pirates a big advantage in coordinating plays.
“Academically, all of these kids are A types of students, they excel in the classroom. You don’t often find a kid who is a great player who isn’t also a great student,” Gaukler said.
With Hernandez and Kath graduating, the Pirates will be searching for players to step up into leadership roles. One player Gaukler has his eye on is RaeShaun Earl, who spent this season showing his ability to score from across the court.
This was Earl’s freshman season. He did get playtime last year, though injury kept him benched for a part of it. This year, Earl’s versatility shined through as a top scorer for the Pirates.
“RaeShaun exceeded our expectations a little bit in scoring abilities. I didn’t know where he was going to score from, whether it would be in transition, from the perimeter, or if he would dribble and drive,” Gaukler said.
With plenty of talent in veteran and up and coming ages, the Pirates were in a good place this year to make a run. The team ended fourth in the region, after they lost the third place game to Sargent County, North Dakota. More impressively was their game against Cass County, North Dakota, when the Pirates were within striking distance until the very end. Had a single drive gone differently, it would have been an upset.
As teams gear up for the 2023-24 season, the Pirates have a few weapons that they are looking to use. Players like Logan Falk, Parker Hubrig, Oaklee Medenwaldt, and many younger up and coming players, should get the chance to find more time on the floor next season.
Until then, it is up to the Pirates to work through the summer and see if they can’t improve their tournament standing next year.