GLOUSTER — Howie Caldwell admits that he might be expendable this season.
The Trimble Tomcats are such a veteran group that the long-time head coach says they may not even need him.
“To be perfectly honest with you, sometimes I don’t think they need a coach out on the floor,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think they need a coach in practice. I think they could almost coach themselves, but I’ve got to be there to yell every once in a while.”
The Tomcats have their first win in the books for the 2019-20 season, as they controlled a 56-37 victory over the Belpre Golden Eagles inside Bill White Gymnasium.
It was a workmanlike opener for the Tomcats, who never trailed after the opening quarter.
Trimble returns four starters from last season’s 19-win squad that claimed league and sectional crowns. The Tomcats once again have high expectations, led by their six seniors.
But while Friday’s victory ended up being relatively comfortable, there were still things that will keep Caldwell from completely turning the reigns over to his players.
For example, Trimble finished with 16 turnovers and at times stalled offensively.
The Tomcats led 29-18 late in the second quarter and went scoreless for 4 minutes and 56 seconds of game action before Tyler Weber’s three-point play in the third quarter.
“We were running and turning the ball over at inopportune times, but like I told them after the game, one of the things we can do, we can get better,” Caldwell said.
That scoreless stretch from the second to third quarter represented a golden opportunity for Belpre (0-2, 0-1 Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division) to get back into the game.
Instead, the Golden Eagles managed only two points over that stretch and found themselves behind 32-20 after Weber’s three-point play.
Trimble’s defense appeared to be in mid-season form, holding Belpre to 26.9 percent shooting (14 for 52). The Golden Eagles made only 2 of 21 3-point tries.
“I thought our zone defense worked very, very well tonight,” Caldwell said. “Forced them to shoot from the outside, but there are some things we need to work on with that also.”
The Tomcats (1-0, 1-0 TVC-Hocking) were able to pick up the offense in the fourth quarter, running off six points in the first 48 seconds.
Blake Guffey found Brayden Weber for the first bucket, then Cameron Kittle pushed the ball up to Tyler Weber for a 41-25 lead. Another assist from Kittle, this time to Brayden Weber, completed a fast break and gave Trimble an 18-point lead.
It was too much for Belpre to overcome.
“In the fourth quarter, when we ran off those six straight, I thought it was hugely important,” Caldwell said. “When you get up 14, 15 points, that’s a huge advantage. The other club sometimes starts to panic and starts to shoot some shots that they probably shouldn’t.”
The Tomcats will rely on their senior class all season, but their talented sophomore Blake Guffey led them in scoring in the opener.
Guffey had a game-high 21 points on 7 of 15 shooting.
Guffey, a starter as a freshman, scored 15 of Trimble’s first 19 points to help set the tone.
“Blake’s a special kid,” Caldwell said. “He’s very hard worker. He’s very mature for his age.”
Guffey’s corner 3-pointer gave Trimble the lead for good, at 15-13, late in the first quarter.
From there, the Tomcats kept the pressure on the Golden Eagles, who weren’t able to keep pace.
It wasn’t hard for Trimble to find motivation on Friday. The Tomcats were 14-2 in the TVC-Hocking a season ago, but one of the two losses came at home to Belpre. They didn’t want that piece of history to repeat itself.
“One of the things that we mentioned to them was, Belpre celebrated very, very hard in the other locker room (last year), and we told them out on the floor during practice this week, it wasn’t a good feeling,” Caldwell said.
Tyler Weber scored 10 points off the bench for Trimble, while Brayden Weber and Kyle Kennedy each scored eight points. Kittle handed out eight assists. Connor Baker led Belpre with 10 points, six rebounds and two assists.
The Tomcats have won four of the last five TVC-Hocking titles, including the last two years in a row. They took the first step toward chasing another crown with the win over Belpre.
Caldwell joked that the Tomcats may not need them — despite the fact that Friday was his 523rd career win — but he’ll continue to coach them nonetheless. There are still things they can work on before traveling to South Gallia for their next game on Tuesday, but they can do so with the first win of the season under their belt.
“There were some very pleasing things that happened,” Caldwell said. “I thought our zone defense was good at times. I thought our man was good at times. At points I was disappointed with the way we rebounded the ball, but anytime you can win by however many we won by, hey you have to be satisfied with it.”
Trimble 56, Belpre 37
Belpre 13 7 5 12 — 37
Trimble 17 12 8 19 — 56
BELPRE 37 (0-2, 0-1 TVC-Hocking)
Evan Wells 2 0-0 5, Eric Dotson 0 0-2 0, Logan Adams 1 1-3 3, Connor Baker 3 4-6 10, Nick Godfrey 2 1-1 5, PJ Alder 3 1-2 8, Dylan Cox 0 0-0 0, Jordan Harrington 0 0-2 0, Makiah Merritt 3 0-2 6, Tyce Church 0 0-0 0, Brady Shriver 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 14 7-18 37; 3-point field goals: 2 (Wells, Alder 1 apiece)
TRIMBLE 56 (1-0, 1-0 TVC-Hocking)
Brayden Weber 3 2-4 8, Kyle Kennedy 1 5-7 8, Cameron Kittle 0 2-2 2, Blake Guffey 7 6-7 21, Sawyer Koons 2 0-0 4, Zach Guffey 0 0-0 0, Tyler Weber 4 2-2 10, Bryce Downs 1 0-0 2, Tucker Dixon 0 1-2 1, Clarence Jones 0 0-0 0, Austin Wisor 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 18 18-24 56; 3-point field goals: 2 (Kennedy, Blake Guffey 1 apiece)
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Belpre 14-52 (.269), 3-point field goals 2-21 (.095); Trimble 18-46 (.391), 3-point field goals 2-7 (.285); Free throws — Belpre 7-18 (.389), Trimble 18-24 (.750); Rebounds — Belpre 37 (Godfrey 8), Trimble 38 (Blake Guffey 8); Assists — Belpre 5 (Baker, Godfrey 2 apiece), Trimble 16 (Kittle 8); Blocks — Belpre 3 (Godfrey 2), Trimble 3; Turnovers — Belpre 17, Trimble 16; Steals — Belpre 7 (Alder 3), Trimble 8 (Tyler Weber 3); Team fouls — Belpre 20, Trimble 17; JV game — Trimble 36, Belpre 19