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Central’s Harkey Bal, left, has taken over point guard duties for Central after his older brother, Chan, was lost for the season with a knee injury.
January 30, 2013
STAYTON -- Five games ago, Harkey Bal was playing junior varsity basketball.
He wasn't thinking about winning a second Class 4A state championship.
That thought was reserved for his older brother, Chan, Central High's varsity starting point guard.
But now Harkey, a freshman who looks and plays a whole lot like Chan, is starting at point guard for the Panthers.
"I was pretty nervous the first game," Harkey Bal said after he picked up his second win as a starter, Friday's 45-34 Oregon West Conference decision over Stayton.
"I got pretty tired the first game on varsity -- I mean, wow, I didn't know it was that intense."
With Chan -- who landed awkwardly on his knee on Jan. 8. in Central's first loss of the season -- most likely out for the season with a torn ACL, coach Bob McBeth has made the decision to bring up Chan's brother and fellow freshman Aaron Hobgood to play the point.
It's the only way, according to the veteran coach, to keep the rest of the squad in the positions they need to play in order to maintain some semblance of the Panthers' usual game plan.
It also means McBeth and the rest of the squad have plenty of teaching to do -- along with learning plenty of patience.
"It's baptism by fire," McBeth admitted. "But we've committed to rolling with them, so we've just got to try to make them better than they are, you know?
Central's Aaron Hobgood, right, looks to pass against a Stayton defender in Friday's game. Hobgood is a freshman backup point guard for the Panthers.
"For us to be able to do something at the end of the season, we've got to bring those guys along."
Bal scored 12 points and had two steals in Friday's win and Hobgood netted a bucket in a reserve role, but it's obvious to see they're both learning -- and both making freshman mistakes.
Bal had four turnovers against Stayton and Hobgood got an earful from McBeth after a couple of questionable decisions.
That's OK, though -- and expected.
McBeth, who laughed a bit when asked how tough it is to remain patient with two wide-eyed freshmen, said they're both getting better.
And so is his team, after dropping four of its last seven games entering Tuesday night's matchup with Newport.
The Panthers (14-4, 3-2 OWC) picked up their third conference game of the year with a 42-36 victory over the Cubs.
"They're coming along," he said of his freshmen. "We're getting in sync just a little bit more each game. They're doing a great job -- it doesn't look like it when I'm on them all the time, but we laugh in the locker room.
"Coach in a game situation is a different coach in the locker room. They're taking it well and they're taking a beating, but they're learning, too."
Bal can shoot it -- he drained 2 of 3 from behind the arc Friday -- and Hobgood showed off his hustle and athleticism by causing havoc on the defensive end, where the Panthers used a full-court press to disrupt Stayton.
"They're doing great -- they're improving every day," Central senior forward Branden Cutsforth said of the duo. "They're working hard in practice and they're doing everything you can ask."
It's tough to see Chan Bal, one of the state's best players who has a ton of potential, sit on the bench in street clothes. But he's still very valuable to the growth of this team.
His brother might need him the most.
"He's been running plays over with me at home, he's been yipping at me more on the bench," Harkey Bal said of Chan. "It gets frustrating, but I know I have to get used to it.
"I'll get it."
While Bal and Hobgood continue to hone their point guard duties, Kelton Chapman had a big night offensively against Stayton, scoring 17 points.
In the Panthers' 58-45 win over Taft Jan. 22, Chapman netted 18 points and reserve post Mikael Fant added 11.
Those are performances that Central will need down the stretch if it hopes to accomplish its end-all goal: another state championship.
Because despite everything, the dream of a repeat has stayed the same.
"Goals have not changed," Cutsforth said. "We still have got to get to where we want to be.
"That's always the goal."
I haven't given up on the Panthers just yet, either.
Nicole Watkins is the sports editor at the Itemizer-Observer. Contact her at email@example.com or 503-623-2373. Follow her on Twitter @NicoleWatkinsIO.
Philomath at Central
When: Friday, 5:30 p.m.