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Members of the 2019-20 Winchester Golden Falcons are (front row, from left) Dane Sickels, Levi Slusher, Brooks Burelison and Wayde Sickels. (Back row) Cole Campbell, Gage Patterson, Payton Sparks and Nathaniel Dunica.

Winchester now has experience, many weapons

Winchester’s boys basketball team appears to be on the upswing as Dustin Baldwin enters his third year at the helm.

The ingredients are there for the Golden Falcons to once again be a force in Class 2A. But with a difficult schedule, only time will tell if that will translate into more wins, or even championships.

Most everyone returns from an 11-13 squad that may have been a little better than its final record. A late season injury to Payton Sparks, the team’s 6-foot-7 big man who was the leading scorer and rebounder, missed the last five games and the Falcons won just one game during the stretch.

“We have lots of experience and leadership back,” says Baldwin, who reminded that a year ago at this time only Sparks was returning with any experience.

“We have a meat grinder of a schedule in our first four games, so we should know pretty quick where we stand. “We have eight guys that will be in our rotation, and they can all play. They will all see their share of minutes.”

Winchester’s offense starts with Sparks inside the paint. As a sophomore, the big guy averaged 16.6 points and 11.3 rebounds, and just as importantly patrolled the paint, generally being a menace to opposing offenses.

But with a year under their belts, the Falcons will have much more balance. The Falcons have some great shooters, a couple of leapers, some aggressive defenders and a couple of up-and-comers who are ready to make a mark.

Senior Cole Campbell, 6-1, a state meet hurdler and coming off an historic season in football, can jump out of the gym. He’s going to score, rebound and the team’s best defender. Campbell will be a key component in the Falcons’ overall success.

Junior Nathaniel Dunica, at 6-6, scored at a 6.3 clip a year ago and shot 54 percent from the field. He had a season-high 16 points in the county tournament finals against Union City – one of fives games he scored in double figures.

Another senior, Levi Slusher, gives the team an outside shooting threat.

Junior Wayde Sickels (9.9 ppg) is a solid playmaker and floor general with excellent court instincts, perhaps ready for a breakout season. As a sophomore, Sickels led the team in assists (4.1) and steals while knocking down 24 three-pointers.

Sophomore Brooks Burelison (7.2 ppg) made a team-best 41 treys a year ago, knocking down 40 percent of his attempts. Another sophomore, hardworking 6-foot-2 Gage Patterson, came on strong at the end of the season. He made 6 of 7 fielders in the team’s sectional loss to Union County.

Freshman Dane Sickels has a motor and is filled with great potential. A shutdown defender, he could make an immediate impact.

Although Sparks’ ill-timed injury in a 49-32 loss to Northeastern was unfortunate, one positive was that it allowed some other players – in particular Dunica and Patterson – to gain some added valuable experience. That should pay dividends this year.

On big change for the Falcons in 2019-20 will be in the sectional. Winchester was moved from a Sectional 41 field made up of predominately Tai-Eastern Conference teams, and into Sectional 40, hosted by Lapel. The 7-team field includes Alexandria-Monroe, Elwood, Frankton, Wapahani, host Lapel and county rival Monroe Central. Frankton and Lapel each have won Class 2A state titles in the past four years.

The brutal opening stretch referred to by Baldwin includes an opening game at New Castle, and after a date with Randolph Southern, home contests against Delta (27-1 last year) and Wapahani (17-7). The Falcons’ schedule also includes match-ups against Jay County, Bluffton, Yorktown, Richmond, as well as Blackford, with state-leading scorer Luke Brown. Winchester could also face an expectedly talented Monroe Central up to three times this season. If the Falcons want to get to an elite status, they will need to win some of these games.

Baldwin will be assisted by Wes Koch. Kyle Deboy will coach the junior varsity and Dustin Overtime the C-team.