West Springfield boys’ basketball picks up play with focus in the post

Previewing the district matchup between the No. 19 Bruins and the Cavaliers. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

On Nov. 8, Jason Eldredge coached the West Springfield football team in its season finale. Three days later, he was overseeing basketball tryouts while pondering how to revamp a team that went 4-19 the prior season.

Though the quick turnaround made for an exhausting stretch for Eldredge, who added head football coach to his duties this past season, the fourth-year basketball coach has been invigorated by the Spartans’ recent strong play on the hardwood. Winners of five of their last six games, the Spartans find themselves at 12-6 and a strong contender in the tough Conference 7.

“We’ve got a personality now,” Eldredge said. “When we started the year, we were hot with our outside shooting and that opened things up for our bigs inside. But then we hit a rut because we weren’t playing a lot of defense and we realized we can’t just outscore everybody.”

The low point came in a 41-point loss to No. 16 Herndon, leading the Spartans to tinker with their scheme so that it catered more to their strength in the post with junior John Cronin and senior Spencer Marin.

After leading the team in scoring last year, Cronin has continued to improve behind the ability to work around the rim, knock down mid-range jumpers and find open shooters like Christian Saulino when defenders collapse in the paint.

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the week of basketball in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

“I feel a lot more confident in my skills and having that trust in my game and in my teammates has really helped us improve our record this year,” said Cronin, who is averaging 17.6 points.

Alongside him is Marin, a 6-foot-8 center whose wingspan makes him a solid shot blocker and rebounder. After avenging an earlier loss to South County, Cronin and Marin demonstrated their complementary skills by scoring 23 and 20 points, respectively, in a win against conference foe Annandale on Tuesday.

“Not many teams have two big guys like me and Johnny, so that makes it hard for us to be stopped,” Marin said. “This year, we tired of being the same team that comes out, tries hard and has talent but still doesn’t get the win. We were ready to compete, and with nine seniors, we felt like we had something to prove.”

The final four games of the regular season will provide another means for the Spartans to prove their mettle. After facing Annandale and No. 19 Lake Braddock this week, the Spartans will host No. 11 Montrose Christian and W.T. Woodson before the playoffs.

“We’re playing well, but I don’t think we’ve seen this team play its best basketball yet,” Eldredge said. “I know that sounds cliché and weird because we’ve won four in a row, but we’ve got to keep improving on the little things, like minimizing turnovers. At this point of the year, you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every night.”

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Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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