Not only did John Kroeger win his first game as Fallbrook High School’s boys varsity head basketball coach, but he also won his first league game as the Warriors’ head coach.
A 50-43 victory Jan. 14 at home over Rancho Buena Vista gave Fallbrook a 1-0 Avocado West League record, a 6-12 overall record, and a three-game winning streak.
“We have the starting five I kind of imagined,” Kroeger said. “They started to kind of click together.”
Kroeger encouraged his players to play multiple sports during the summer, and some of his 2012-13 starters didn’t have even that limited time playing basketball together. One of his top six players is a transfer from Illinois and another was out of town for the summer. “As a group they didn’t really know how to play,” Kroeger said.
The players also had to adapt to a new coach. “They’re adjusting to a completely new system,” Kroeger said, who noted that his duties include trying to change the philosophy of the program.
Fallbrook opened its season at the Morro Bay Tournament. The Warriors’ first game Nov. 29 was a 54-36 win over Pioneer Valley High School of Santa Maria. The Warriors led 23-20 at halftime but outscored the Panthers by a 16-4 margin in the fourth quarter.
Fallbrook ended the tournament Dec. 1 with a 2-2 record. The Warriors hosted the Dec. 10-15 North County Classic tournament, defeating Paloma Valley by a 71-60 score but losing their other four contests. “Not happy with the wins and losses, but being realistic,” Kroeger said. “If we came out with wins it would have surprised most.”
Fallbrook’s losses in the tournament were to Santa Fe Christian, San Clemente, Murrieta Mesa, and Chaparral. “We played really competitive teams,” Kroeger said.
The loss to Chaparral was by a single point. “We’re so young and inexperienced that we couldn’t find that consistency,” Kroeger said.
Chaparral finished third in the 16-team tournament won by Army-Navy.
Fallbrook posted a record of 0-4 in the Dec. 26-29 Mt. Carmel Holiday Hoops Classic tournament. “We’re just trying to get a group together that kind of clicks and plays in a good rhythm,” Kroeger said.
One of Fallbrook’s two non-tournament defeats prior to the start of league play was a 62-49 home loss Jan. 5 against San Marcos. The other pre-league loss was in overtime at Escondido. “One of the best games of the season for sure was our Escondido game,” Kroeger said.
The game was played on Dec. 7, which was a Friday night. “It felt like old basketball,” Kroeger said. “Both crowds were loud.”
The Cougars had a 20-13 lead after the first quarter. Fallbrook narrowed the deficit to 39-34 by halftime. The score was tied at 60 points apiece after three periods and at 79-79 when the buzzer ended the final regulation quarter. “Both teams were shooting the heck out of the ball,” Kroeger said.
A 13-4 advantage in the overtime period put Escondido on the preferred end of the 92-83 final score.
Fallbrook has four seniors, including two starters, on the roster. “A lot of the losses we had were due to inexperience,” Kroeger said.
Tough opposition also contributed to the Warriors’ adverse win-loss statistic. “We played a heck of a schedule and my goal was to get us ready for league, and hopefully that’s going to show,” Kroeger said.
The loss to San Marcos gave Fallbrook a nine-game losing streak. “This team very easily could have folded,” Kroeger said.
Instead, the loss preceded the Warriors’ winning streak. On Jan. 11, the Warriors hosted Orange Glen and took a 79-48 triumph over the Patriots. “That one was really lopsided,” Kroeger said. “Every single kid on the team scored that night.”
That included three Warriors who had double-digit point totals.
Fallbrook traveled to Oceanside for a Jan. 12 game. The Pirates had a 20-18 halftime lead. “We had wide open shots. The ball wasn’t going in,” Kroeger said.
Kroeger’s halftime talk included the phrase: “We’re going to go out there and shoot.” The Warriors began taking three-point shots, forcing the Oceanside defense to adjust, and then began peppering the Pirates with layups. Fallbrook had a 45-21 scoring advantage in the second half for a 63-41 victory. “Obviously defense did something right,” Kroeger said.
Fallbrook led Rancho Buena Vista at halftime in the league opener. “We weren’t playing great, we weren’t clicking, but we weren’t turning the ball over,” Kroeger said.
The Longhorns nearly overcame the deficit. “I’m glad they dug in,” Kroeger said of the Warriors. “They learned to compete together on the basketball court.”