SACKETS HARBOR — With the playoffs on the horizon, Austin Griner and his Sackets Harbor teammates are hoping to forge another banner season in basketball.
And Griner, who was already a versatile contributor, has emerged an even more of complete player for the Patriots as a junior.
In the wake of the talented Tyler Green’s graduation last year, Griner has stepped in leadership as well as in executing his skills on the court.
“The whole team, really, we’ve kind of been working on our leadership,” Griner said. “I think I’m doing pretty good, the whole team is doing good, everyone’s getting better day by day.”
With Griner leading the way, Sackets Harbor has generated a 16-1 record this season, including a perfect 14-0 mark in the Frontier League.
“I’ve talked to him a lot and I think Austin’s kind of a quiet kid, the leadership thing doesn’t come naturally to him as it does to some kids, especially like the vocal part of it,” Sackets Harbor coach Jeff Robbins said. “So I’ve really just talked to him and been on him that that’s the biggest part of the game where I want to see his growth, and he’s really done a good job of that from the beginning of the season until now, handling adversity and handling when he might not be shooting that well.”
The Patriots, who have already clinched the league’s “D” Division regular-season crown, are also ranked No. 5 in the state in Class D.
“Tyler just brought a lot more then just scoring with the ball,” Griner said of Green, who finished as Sackets Harbor’s all-time leading scorer by generating 1,548 points in five varsity seasons. “He played defense every possession, he would rebound, pass and did a lot for the team, and we’re just trying to pick up on that where he left off.”
Griner provides Sackets Harbor with a solid presence with all of his talents as a guard, not only as an outside shooter, but with a strong inside game.
“This year, I’m running point guard, so I’ve got to facilitate and get my teammates the ball,” Griner said.
He leads the team in scoring as he’s averaging 21.6 points per game, and paces the squad in 3-pointers (39) and in assists (100) and is second in steals (41).
Griner also stands third in rebounding with 127, for an average of 7.9 per game and ranks second in blocked shots (nine) and enjoys deploying an inside game when he gets the opportunity.
“I try to get to the boards every time I can and get rebounds when I can,” said Griner, who is 6-foot, 150 pounds. “I just find ways with whatever I’m doing, if I feel good that night, I’ll start shooting it. If I can’t really shoot that night, I’ll drive to the basket and get my teammates open.”
Griner is coming off a 36-point effort, in which he also totaled six rebounds, four assists, and six steals in an 82-36 home victory against Alexandria on Tuesday night.
His career-high of 38 points came in an 84-36 triumph over Thousand Islands on Dec. 17, In all, he’s recorded four double-doubles in points and rebounds thus far this season.
“Even in those games where he might not be shooting as well, he still does so much for us as far as handling the ball, rebounding, defense and setting up his teammates,” Robbins said. “He’s seen a lot more defensive pressure this year obviously because he’s the focal point of most scouting reports. So even when teams are trying to key on him and take him away, he can still make a major impact and still be a big-time leader for us, so I’m definitely happy with the progress he’s made there.”
Griner is one of only two juniors on a team that also features seven sophomores, a freshman, and only two seniors.
“I think everyone has like improved a lot since last year and over the summer, everyone’s just got a lot better,” Griner said of his teammates.
Sophomores such Marcus Castine and Ethan Tracy, who are both forwards, and guard Jake Peters, to a degree also have been thrust into leadership roles and taken on more responsibility on the court.
“Some guys are stepping up as leaders, that was the biggest thing that we were going to miss from losing Tyler,” Robbins said. “ ... The leadership part was the part I wasn’t sure if we would be able to replace. But I think by committee we’ve got some guys doing that, they work extremely hard and they did that last year, but this year they’re bigger and stronger and faster.
“I think sometimes we beat teams just because we outwork them.”
Castine is second in the team in scoring, averaging 17.6 a game, and leads in rebounding (141) and steals (92). Tracy stands third in scoring (11.1 ppg) and is second in rebounding (152), while Peters averages 10.1 points a game.
“I think we play defense to offense, getting out in transition, getting steals, stops on defense, which leads to offense,” Griner said. “We really like to pressure the other team.”
The postseason is quickly approaching for the Patriots, who will conclude their regular season tonight when they host Lyme in a “D” Division game.
“I think we’ve played well and I think we’ve definitely surpassed my expectations,” Robbins said. “I knew we would be competitive and it’s really still a young group, my main rotation of players is five sophomores and two juniors, so I thought we would have a little bit more growing pains.”
The Frontier League playoffs begin next week with semifinals Tuesday and the “D” Division final will be played at 6 p.m. next Friday at Jefferson Community College.
Last year, Sackets Harbor outlasted Belleville Henderson, 69-56, in the final to win the division’s playoff championship after winning the regular-season title.
“I’m feeling pretty confident going into playoffs, we’ve been working hard since the beginning of the season,” Griner said. “So playoffs should be fun for us.”
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