Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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Despite a roster dotted with freshmen and sophomores, the surprising Miami East Vikings are off to another fast start under coach Allen Mack…which, when you think about it, is no surprise at all!

Versailles – Allen Mack smiled and called Friday night’s 53-46 win over Brookville in the opening round of the Versailles Holiday Tournament…a pedestrian win.

Hey, if that’s the case Mack’s beaten a lot of pedestrians in his 20 seasons as coach of the Vikings.  Brookville coach Jeff Davidson…take your place in line.

It marked the Vikings’ sixth win of the season, they’ve yet to lose, and that comes as no surprise, either.  Mack and the Vikings simply don’t lose many games.

What does come as a surprise is being 6-0 the year after another massive loss of experienced talent to graduation, seemingly the only thing that ever slows the momentum of one of the area’s best and most consistent programs.  Gone are Gunnar Shirk, Bradley Coomes, Josh Snyder and Evan Wolfe.  Back are their replacements…Luke House, Franco Villella, Nick Beard, A. J. Hickman and Garrett Mitchell.

You say, who?  Exactly!

Of Mack’s five starters Friday only two, Hickman and Mitchell, saw varsity time of any significance a season ago.  House saw limited time.  Villella and Beard were JVs.  Obviously undaunted at the prospect of rebuilding…of starting over…old-school Allen Mack just smiled as he studied an I-Pad shot chart following Friday’s win, and the patterns it showed of how the Vikings were able to win.

“6-0 is 6-0,”  said Mack.  “That’s what we talked about in the locker room with the kids.  We’ve got to play better than we did tonight, and we will.  We’re awfully young, and sometimes it shows.”

The fact is they are young.  And the fact that showed it most Friday was that 29 of the Vikings total of 53 points came from those two returning contributors from last year, Hickman and Mitchell, who scored 15 and 14 points, respectively.

But rebuilding is nothing new, and Mack admits that he never tires of the responsibility and opportunity to teach the game.

“We’re young all the way around, but these kids are enthusiastic, they love the game and they work hard to improve.” – Allen Mack

“Not with a group like this,”  he adds, smiling.  “We’re young all the way around, but these kids are enthusiastic, they love the game and they work hard to improve.  The one senior that plays (Mitchell), adds a lot of stability.  He’s bigger and stronger than a year ago, and he does so much on the floor.  Tonight he handled the ball, he got to the glass, he finished, and he finished with authority.  He’s had a dunk in each of our games thus far and it’s nice when you can count on a senior like Garrett.  His performance tonight was exceptional (14 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 steals).

“Yes, we’re young.  We have five freshmen and sophomores in our top eight or nine, but we have some exciting players.  I feed off their enthusiasm, and I hope they feed off mine.  What we’ve needed and what we’ve seen so far is the leadership that Garrett’s given, and really, the other three seniors on our roster with their attitude and approach in practice.”

It must have looked familiar to Mack. Brookville, a team that’s much improved from a year ago, came out in an aggressive zone defense that forced Mack and his young Vikings to play with patience.   Down six in the third quarter, East’s own defense held the Blue Devils without a field goal for nearly three minutes while House, Beard, Hickman, freshman Braxton Donaldson and Mitchell chipped away, finally taking the lead for good with their final possession in the quarter.

“We were on the ropes at halftime,”  said Mack.  “We were down five points and we weren’t playing very well.  But we found a way to win,”  he said with a twinkle in his eye.  Defense, a staple with any good Allen Mack team, can do that for you.

For his part Garrett Mitchell admits that he misses his old teammates, Shirk, Coomes, Snyder and Wolfe.

“It feels strange being the only senior out there playing now,”  he said afterwards, the Press Pros Dave Arbogast Buick Star Of The Game.

Of East’s four underclassmen starters, only sophomore A.J. Hickman (above) saw significant (if any) varsity action last season. Hickman scored 15 points in Friday’s win over Brookville.

“You go from having three starters with three years varsity experience to a bunch of freshmen and sophomores, and only one, and that’s A.J., who has much experience.  Luke played some last year, but with everybody else it’s their first year on varsity.  They don’t know when to push the ball up the floor, they don’t recognize the holes in the (opposing) defense, they don’t have the experience and the instinct yet.  You only get that from playing.  It’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s fun, too, because everyday we get better and better.”

14 points, yes, but more, it was Garrett Mitchell’s experience and patience that was the key to Friday’s win.

“We had to be patient, but we’ve seen that already this year.  National Trail played us like that, too, and you have to learn to make the most of every possession…limit your turnovers and take good shots.  We have to learn quick.  We’ll see more of that, and some big physical basketball from teams like Covington, Tri-Village and Bethel.  If we can match up down low, and our young guards come along and shoot well and make the plays, we’ll be fine.”

While it’s a fact of basketball that players come and go through graduation, it’s a fact also that the good programs always adapt.  Former Springfield South coach Wayne Wiseman once said that if you can withstand the temptation to cut all those freshmen and sophomores, some day they’ll grow up to become basketball players.

And while the game and the toys have changed over Allen Mack’s 20 years, the one constant has been his patience to adapt with it.  He smiled when reminded of that fact Friday…of the notion of his high school coach at Covington, Bob Huelsman, using an I-Pad to chart the game and share the pattern of how you got down by five points through technology during halftime.

“It’s all right here,” said Mack, flipping up a screen that showed every Brookville shot in the first half.  “Only three shots from the perimeter.  The rest came from inside.”

It’s how kids learn today.  It’s how Allen Mack has learned.  It’s how Mack and the Vikings keep adapting and winning, even with those freshmen and sophomores.

And really, why should anyone be surprised!

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