A trio of sophomores with very different stories highlighted a Linfield men’s basketball campaign that witnessed the Wildcats’ second consecutive single-digit win season and a last-place finish in the Northwest Conference team standings.
Andrew Batiuk, an honorable mention selection on the all-league team, emerged as one of the most dominating players in the NWC, putting up 18.6 points per night and snagging an average of 8.3 rebounds. Both stats topped the conference leaderboards and made the center the obvious focal point of opposing teams’ scouting reports, at least until Batiuk went out with an injury with seven games remaining on the schedule.
Perhaps not as flashy, but nonetheless consistent, was Brandon Harris. The only Wildcat to start all 25 games, the sophomore point guard put up an average of 11.6 points per night, hitting double figures 16 times, while averaging a team-high 2.5 assists.
On a team that saw 20 different players log minutes on the court, Chris Dirks perhaps most embodied Linfield’s never-quit mentality. After spending most of his time with the junior varsity program or on the bench, the center was suddenly thrust into the starting lineup with Batiuk sidelined. Dirks immediately responded with a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) in 31 minutes against George Fox.
Out of an undeniably frustrating season, these are just three examples of positive individual play worth celebrating.
But basketball is a team sport, and as a whole, Linfield found itself on the losing end of the scoring battle far too often, compiling a 4-21 record, including a 3-13 mark against NWC foes. The team’s ninth-place finish came as a result of many factors, but two of the biggest culprits were shooting percentage and turnovers.
The ‘Cats registered the lowest overall field goal percentage (40.1) and the second-worst 3-point accuracy (30.0) of the nine NWC programs. In contrast, league champion Whitworth topped all teams in both statistical categories. For Linfield, the problem did not lie in getting good-quality shots, but rather in knocking them down. Combine those misfires with an average of 15.2 turnovers per game, and you have a recipe for disaster.
“Turnovers decrease the number of [field goal attempts] that you get, and especially for a team that’s not shooting well, FGAs are important, and quality shots on goal are important,” head coach Larry Doty explained.
Linfield’s struggles with the ball were far from secret. As a consequence, opposing teams regularly adjusted their game plans to pressure the Wildcat backcourt, even when such strategy was atypical.
Speaking to some positives, Linfield held its own in the rebounding department, ranking fifth in the NWC at 36.6 per game, and earned a season sweep over Puget Sound, including a “character-check” 11-point road victory on the next-to-last weekend of the year.
What stood out the most for Doty, however, was his team’s effort throughout the entirety of the season.
“I’ve got to give our guys a lot of credit. The majority of them, especially the veterans, came and brought it every day and worked hard,” he said, specifically commending Cory Hendryx, Jake Hillyer, Dirks, Harris, Tim Pang and Kevin Hurley. Doty also singled out Dakotah Pine for his vocal leadership.
“We may not have seen results in wins and losses, but I think they can take some solace in the fact that they continued to work and gave it their best effort. They should be proud of themselves. I know I am.”