Take a hit and move on.
That was the repetitive step for the Webster University men’s basketball season.
The 2012-13 season ended with a blowout in the semifinals of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship tournament in Louisville, Ky. The Gorloks dropped the contest to host Spalding University (Ky.), for the third time this year, by a final of 70-56.
Webster coach Chris Bunch said he believes others around the SLIAC didn’t think the Gorloks would make it as far as they did.
“A lot of people thought that with the guys we were losing (through the duration of the season), that we’re not going to be one of the top five teams,” Bunch said. “I think we surprised some of the other people in the league.”
Six months before the season started, the Gorloks found out they were losing their starting forward and returning SLIAC Player of the Year, Stefan Whittingham.
Despite his absence, Webster still started the year at 4-2. In the first two conference games, Webster beat Greenville College (Ill.) and Blackburn College (Ill.) by a combined point differential of 63 points. Senior guard Cody Bradfisch, in his fourth and final season, said a big reason for that was because of the incoming transfer, sophomore center Aaron Griffin.
“(Griffin) was a type of guy we had never really had here before,” Bradfisch said. “We have never had someone that athletic playing center for us since I’ve been here, and I was really excited.”
Griffin averaged 9.2 rebounds and 10.6 points per game through his first nine games with Webster.
Then another blow for Webster was academic ineligibility. Griffin played his final game of the season on Dec. 15, 2012, at Rust College (Miss.). In that game he pulled down 21 rebounds and scored 20 points.
Griffin’s suspension added to the Gorloks’ dismay in the middle of a seven-game losing streak.
“That seven-game losing streak probably would have been the end to most people,” Bunch said. “I was proud of how they came back.”
The Gorloks were picked to finish outside the top four in the conference this season and miss the SLIAC tournament by the preseason coaches’ poll. Their final spot was fourth, a spot Webster had to earn by winning four of its last five conference games and finishing the season on a four-game win streak.
“From everybody else’s expectations, I believe we surpassed what they expected us to do,” said senior guard Dietrick Sooter. “I felt like we could have even gone to the national tournament.”
Bunch said he believes one thing that was always there to fall back on during the year was senior leadership. Guards Bradfisch, Sooter, Jurgen Rama, and forwards Roman Robinson and Derrell Lee all departed from Webster basketball with the conclusion of the season. Two guys that were often the most counted on, Bunch said, were Robinson and Bradfisch.
“Roman (Robinson) probably worked as hard as anybody that I had ever coached,” Bunch said. “Cody (in his fourth year playing for Webster) had a little better feel for the league and the teams that you’re playing.”
Junior center Jarrod Huskey believed those two together made almost perfect leaders for the team. He said Bradfisch — in his second year of being captain — was also looked to as a leader, and Robinson was always a lead-by-example kind of guy.
“Roman (Robinson) did more of the everyday things,” Huskey said. “He would say something before the games. But whenever it was a key moment or before really big games, it was Cody (Bradfisch) who would step up and say something there. And when (Bradfisch) talked, you really needed to make sure you listened.”
The Gorloks finished the year 14-12, continuing the streak of .500 or better seasons to seven for Chris Bunch.
Spalding went on to the SLIAC championship game and beat Eureka College (Ill.) 64-62 in overtime. The Golden Eagles will play against host school Washington University (Mo.) in the first round of the NCAA D-III national tournament on March 2.