BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
A nightmarish end to last season’s Class 1A state championship game has fueled the County Line boys basketball team to a dream 2022-2023 season so far.
The Indians are 31-0 this season and top-ranked in their classification heading into a Tuesday night road showdown in Fayetteville with conference rival and No. 2 The New School (29-2) – if weather permits.
“I can’t point to any one thing, but we’ve got a lot of buy-in, the kids are sharing the ball really well and they are willing to sacrifice individual stats for the team to be successful,” County Line head coach Joe Brunson said. “That goes a long way.”
County Line led 41-35 with 4:58 left in last season’s state title game, but failed to score from that point on and Bradley’s Tyrese Harris nailed a 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left to lift his team a 44-41 victory.
“That was really difficult for everybody to go through,” Brunson said of a team that finish the season 40-5. “That feeling and that emotion that went along with that game that is still there and it has been a motivating force for us.
“They come to practice and they are ready to work and whenever we go play – regardless of who it is – they show up and give effort.”
County Line has not had many close games this season despite a challenging docket.
“We didn’t anticipate being 31-0 because we scheduled some tough folks and we have played some really good teams,” Brunson said. “We have had maybe a handful that has been within 10 points or so.”
Brunson expects to be challenged Tuesday night by The New School, who it beat 52-30 earlier this season in a match up at County Line.
“We played really well against them,” Brunson said. “We know how good they are. We have been in the same conference with them now, this his the third year and the two previous years we have shared the conference championship with them. And then we have played them in the district finals and the regional finals.
“We are very familiar with one another. They came to our place and our crowd had great energy. It was just a night for us.”
Country Line is led by 6-2 senior guard Aundrae Milum, 6-6 junior center Cooper Watson and 5-10 junior Trent Johnston.
“We lost one starter from last year so we brought four back,” Brunson said. “We have another couple of guys that came back with them that got significant minutes last season. So we have lot of experience.”
County Line has won 248 games since the 2015-2016 season and this is the sixth 30-win campaign during that time.
“I think a lot of it is culture,” Brunson said. “Guys come into the program and they understand what is expected and they are willing to work hard.
“And people at home, family members, encourage them to put in the time to improve their game. All of it adds up to good stuff.”
Brunson, who has a 524-160 in his head coaching career, acknowledges it doesn’t hurt to have the height his team does.
“We do have a little bit of size,” Brunson said. “Cooper Watson is 6-6 and then our sixth man coming off the bench is Caden Vest, who is about 6-7. For our classification, that is pretty big and Aundrae Milum is about 6-2 so we do have some size out there.
“Offensively, as much as we can, we just let the kids play. We teach them to make good decisions in practice so they can then get on floor in games and just execute. If they can play and I can stay out of their way, we really feel like we are playing our best.”
County Line is also scheduled to play a make up game with St. Paul on Thursday had a regular scheduled one with Thaden slated for Friday.