By Brandon Speck
Belmont is trying to beef up. That may include getting a little beat up – by an unforgiving schedule – first.
A loss against Class 1A champ Biggersville in last week’s Kiwanis Classic – a game the Cardinals were in until late in the second half – was one of those games coach Guy Gardner has his team playing to see what contending teams look like.
“I want them to play as tough of competition as we can,” Gardner said. “I think we’re getting better from it.”
The schedule also includes a loss at 2A champ Baldwyn and against Alabama independent contender Restoration Academy. Belmont closes the season with a division game at Booneville, a team that has played in the 3A state tournament three years running, with one championship.
The Cardinals (7-5) start five juniors. Guards Harrison Fancher and Luke Alexander do the bulk of the scoring, Fancher at more than 20 points per game. He had a 34-point night against Restoration.
“We’re getting better. I think we’re going to get there,” Gardner said. “We’ve just got to keep doing it.”
Lorenzo Braxton is a 5-foot-8 forward who battles hard in the post and point guard Isaac Sparks is starting to play well against the tough teams in the schedule.
Competitive Division 1-3A play begins in two weeks against Alcorn Central, another challenge against 6-foot-2 guard John Wiley Works. There is a tough road matchup against North Pontotoc to open February.
“We can make a schedule and win several games,” Gardner said. “But I like playing the Biggersvilles and Baldwyns. If you’re ever going to make a run, you need to have seen what it looks like. And we’re seeing that. We’re playing with it, but we haven’t gotten over that hump yet.”