SULLIVAN TWP. — Like any typical high school coach on opening night, Black River boys coach Cynthia Berry was nervous.
Put aside the fact she entered the history books as the school’s first female head boys coach Saturday night against Rittman, or the fact she’s one of just three women in the state to lead OHSAA boys programs.
Berry didn’t care about all that hype. She was more concerned about her team.
“I was very nervous … I don’t know why,” she said after the Pirates’ 55-31 loss. “I was standing there during the national anthem, focusing, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’ve been here for so many national anthems as a player and a coach … I was thinking, I’m really here.”
In front of a near-capacity crowd that gave Berry a nice ovation before the opening tip, the Pirates struggled with the sharp-shooting of the smaller Indians.
After a quarter in which both teams were still getting the first-game jitters out, Rittman, which was also playing its season opener, began to use its dribble-drive motion offense to go on a 14-0 run in the second to push the advantage out to as many as 16.
It was a lead the visitors never gave up.
“We just had to be patient,” Indians coach Chad Milosevich said. “You could see a little bit of first-game jitters on both parts in the first quarter, but I think once we calmed down once we started hitting our shots.
“We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of height, so we work the dribble-drive and drive and kick, and once we started making a couple of threes we were able to build that lead and keep that lead.”
With a roster that has no one over 6-foot-2, the Indians did most of the damage with their guards knocking down contested shots or getting the ball to the rim and scoring in the lane.
The tactic worked as junior guard Jordan Endress led the way with 15 points, while Reid Fetter and Brennan Johnson added 10 each. Reserve guard Ryan Musser added eight points and a team-high six assists and the Indians’ perimeter players shot 9-of-23 (39 percent) from the outside to pull away.
“They’re some shooters,” Berry said with a laugh. “We thought we were ready for it, but they’re even in-your-face shooters. I don’t think any of them were uncontested.”
Black River struggled to keep up with the hot shooting on the other side as it mustered just nine field goals the entire night, but was able to get to the free throw line 27 times.
Tyler Potter, a 6-3 junior forward, ripped down eight rebounds and had 11 points to lead the Pirates, while fellow letterwinners Zach Sword (eight points) and Stephen Zumack (seven) also contributed offensively.
Berry knows that this season is a process, however, as the Pirates haven’t won a game in their last 21 tries.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room that I’m just so happy for,” she said of her team’s demeanor after the game. “We play to win and I tell the guys that, but don’t just focus on that because what does it take to win?
“So we’re trying to get those little things that mean a lot, and when you do all the right things fundamentally and hustle, hard work and go the extra mile, that’s what creates the win.”
And their new coach will still be nervous for them like she was in her coaching debut, but she knows she has a great support system around her.
“I’ve got three great assistants that are there and I told them don’t be afraid to keep me in check, because you can’t do it alone,” Berry said. “I’ve got a great group of boys and I’ve got great people that are committed to these boys with me, so we’ll just keep continuing what we’re doing.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.