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TSA Basketball Stays on Key

  • Austin Oliver, left, and Brandon Tracy chase Andy Bando-Hess as he makes a basket during the boys basketball practice at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on Jan. 14, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Austin Oliver, left, and Brandon Tracy chase Andy Bando-Hess as he makes a basket during the boys basketball practice at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on Jan. 14, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sharon Academy boys basketball coach Blake Fabrikant gives his team a pep talk in the middle of practice boys at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on Jan. 14, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Sharon Academy boys basketball coach Blake Fabrikant gives his team a pep talk in the middle of practice boys at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on Jan. 14, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Austin Oliver, left, and Brandon Tracy chase Andy Bando-Hess as he makes a basket during the boys basketball practice at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on Jan. 14, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Sharon Academy boys basketball coach Blake Fabrikant gives his team a pep talk in the middle of practice boys at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on Jan. 14, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Sharon — Even before stepping onto the gymnasium floor Tuesday for practice with the Sharon Academy boys basketball team, Brandon Tracy was already happy with his performance. As one of three Phoenix juniors auditioning for a student-produced musical, Tracy sang Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon and was satisfied with his range and delivery in front of the casting staff.

“The people with the clipboards seemed to like it,” Tracy said.

Those keeping track of the Phoenix this season have to be pretty impressed, too.

Tracy, who’s scoring 11.2 points per game, is one of three Sharon players averaging double figures as the Phoenix (4-1) lead the Upper Valley in both points per game (69.8) and points allowed per game (38.2). All five Sharon starters are contributing at least 8.0 ppg for a team excelling despite the loss of graduated 1,000-point scorer Trenton Morrison, now playing for Green Mountain College.

Aside from a 75-64 loss to Rochester (7-1) on Dec. 30, the Phoenix’ schedule has admittedly been weak, with opponents toting a combined record of 2-23 prior to Tuesday night’s games. Yet Sharon figures to be better equipped than last year, when it finished 11-10 and exited the Vermont Division IV state tournament with a first-round loss to West Rutland.

“Trenton scored 22 points a game last season, so obviously that’s a pretty big hole to fill,” said Blake Fabrikant, Sharon’s athletic director and fifth-year coach. “At the same time, we’re a more complete team this year. Last year we had one senior (Morrison) and the rest were sophomores and a freshman starting for us. Now, we’ve got a lot more experience and balance. We have different guys who can step up and lead us in scoring on different nights, which is a luxury we didn’t have a year ago.”

Junior Andy Bando-Hess — who sang Death Cab For Cutie’s I Will Follow You Into The Dark for his audition song Tuesday — has emerged as a go-to forward for the Phoenix with a team-high 15.6 ppg after netting 5.2 per game a year ago. Sophomore point guard Jay Knoerlein is scoring 11.8 per game to complement Tracy. Steve Davis, a senior and transfer from Whitcomb High, is scoring 9.2 per game and junior Tanner James is contributing 8.0.

“The biggest key for us has just been how well we get along and communicate,” Tracy said. “We’re playing like brothers and we trust each other to play at a high level.

“Last year was Trenton’s team and he was running the show. He knew what he was doing and had a lot of experience and confidence. But now the rest of us are more capable and we have confidence to play (up to) our own full potential. We’re comfortable sharing the load.”

Sharon has improved vastly on defense after allowing nearly 60 points per game last year, less than three fewer than their scoring average. Fabrikant has implemented a system that combines a half-court trap scheme with zone formations, a combination that has proven effective.

“We’ve been much more on the ball defensively,” Fabrikant said. “We’ve played some weaker, inexperienced teams, but I think (Thursday’s 63-33 win over South Royalton) was a break-out game for us defensively. We held them to 17 points through three quarters with great pressure, which isn’t easy to do against the athletes they have.”

The Phoenix will need to adjust to the pending loss of Bando-Hess, who in two weeks departs to spend the spring semester at Vershire’s Mountain School. He’s eligible to play a limited number of games for the Phoenix even after leaving, Farbrikant said, and will be saved for the postseason.

“We’ve got a good bench and I expect a number of different guys to step up when Andy’s gone,” Fabrikant said.

“(Junior) Austin Oliver was our leading scorer for the jayvee team last year. (Senior) Ben Hayslett is in his third year on varsity and is a co-captain and (senior) Cotey Anderegg is another co-captain who’ll play more. They’re all capable players and at this point, they’re experienced guys. We’ve been saying for the last few years that we’re a young team, but we’re not anymore.”

Fabrikant hopes the experience and depth will help the team advance in the postseason after four consecutive first-round losses. The Phoenix’ last playoff win came in 2009, when assistant coach Colin Hope was a senior and they reached the semifinals at Barre Auditorium.

“All four of our (returning starters) played AAU all, and I think we’ve already surprised some people,” said Fabrikant. “The commitment and the effort that the guys have put in is starting to be rewarding.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.