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Raiders look to rally around Zuber

The Tamaqua boys basketball team posted 13 wins last year and knocked on the door of a PIAA state playoff berth.

This year, the Raiders will look to build upon that strong campaign. But it won’t be without some early-season adversity to overcome.

Tamaqua graduated Josh Inama and Zeke Wassell, who were an integral part of the starting cast a year ago. Additionally, they’ll be without their second-leading scorer and rising Schuylkill League star in Brayden Knoblauch for a while.

“We’re a little banged up right now,” said Tamaqua head coach Jim Barron. “Brayden Knoblauch (So., 10.50 points per game) is going to be out for a couple of weeks with a broken collarbone, and hopefully we get him back soon and healthy. But we return three starters from last year, and probably four other kids that probably made solid contributions for us off the bench last year. Mitch Kurek, Casey Rother, Lucas Gregoire, Darian Stianche, and Michael Bonetsky; all those people played a part in what we did last year.”

Without Knoblauch, this year’s cast of returning Raiders will lean on gritty senior Thad Zuber early and often. Zuber led the team in scoring (12.14 ppg), and his in-your-face defense is irreplacable. The Raiders will also welcome Nate Boyle, who has superb foot speed, and was one of the stars of the Raiders’ football team in the fall.

“We’re a tough team,” Barron said. “We’re going to be more physical than we have in the past. When you’re led by Thad (Zuber), you know, he’s just a tough kid. We try to generate our toughness through him. One of our goals is to really improve on what we did last year. Last year, we made a big jump from six wins to 13 wins. Now we want to make that jump from 13 to 17 wins. We want to set ourselves up pretty good for the league playoff run and districts. We fell one game short of the state playoffs last year. I’m hoping that we’re a year older and stronger now and we can get those one or two wins to qualify for the state playoffs.”

Two years ago, the Raiders couldn’t buy a bucket. But last year, they scored at will.

Barron noted the improvement on offense, as his club ranked third in the Times News area in points scored (50.57).

“We were able to score last year. Two years ago, we struggled to put the ball in the hoop sometimes. It’s nice to have a foundation to build on with Thad. He did everything for us as a sophomore and junior. Having Brayden feed off him and knocking down shots last year was huge; I think our strength this year is going to be our all-around athleticism. Last year, we got ourselves in trouble because we turned the ball over. If we take care of the ball a little more this year, and don’t give up as many easy buckets, we’ll be a better team.”

Barron’s squad will have to figure out a way to collectively substitute some offense for Knoblauch during his absence, as he ranked fourth last season among the TN area in three-pointers with 48.

“I feel really solid,” said Barron. “We have a solid nine and other kids pushing for playing time on top of that. I think coming back this year, we’re going to be deep and athletic. The more we get into it, the more competition we have, which is a good thing to have ... We’re ready to go, and we’re ready to start playing.”

Members of the Tamaqua boys basketball team for the 2017-18 season include, front row from left, Luke Mateyak, Michael Bonetsky, Wesley Griffin, Devon Zehner, Nate Boyle, Brayden Knoblauch; back row, Thad Zuber, Lucas Gregoire, Tavio Agosti, Casey Rother, Gabe Gregoire, Mitchell Kurek and Derian Stianche. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS