FULTON, Ill. — The Fulton Steamers are onto the second round of boys basketball regionals, taking on Riverdale on Wednesday night at home.
Coach RJ Coffey knows that as the Class 2A postseason goes on, they’re going to be looking for leaders.
“There are some guys and gals who have that natural leadership stuff. This group, it’s kind of been a process,” Coffey said. “We’re going to need it down the stretch.”
Luckily, Coffey has found that leadership in two of his seniors: point guard Cody Sanderson and forward Tyler Bruggenwirth. The two may have opposite positions and styles, but you can tell they have a chemistry on the court.
“I’ve been playing with Cody as long as I’ve been playing basketball,” Bruggenwirth said. “We have a feel for each other’s game and it makes us play better together.”
Sanderson runs the offense for the Steamers. You can watch him dribble through any defense, get the ball through any opening, and thrill the crowd with behind-the-back passes and sky-high drives.
“When Cody gets in the open he’s tough to handle because he’s so quick, he’s shifty, his vision is real good,” Coffey said. “One of the things about Cody is you can’t just watch him. You have to get out there and you have to play off him and let him get you get open shots.”
Bruggenwirth does the grunt work in the lane, scoring big points from the block and pulling down board. He also adds in a dunk here and there to put some punctuation on his powerful game.
“It’s definitely a statement, it gets our team going and gets the crowd going,” Bruggenwirth said. “It demoralizes the other team I guess and that’s good when it’s on our side.”
The two lead the Steamers in scoring, assists and rebounds and are the kind of players other athletes look to, even if they lead in different ways.
“Brugg really is quiet,” Coffey said. “Cody is not, don’t let him fool you there. Cody will chirp with the best of them. Brugg isn’t going to do too much talking. He’ll let his game and doing what he does do the talking.”
You don’t often see the power forward say much of anything on the court, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t set an example. Sanderson, on the other hand, is vocal.
“Cody, this past month, has started to come along as a leader,” Coffey said. “I’ve been hard on him trying to get him out of the shell—less of me, more of him. I don’t have to nearly say as much to him because he’s already thinking of what I want him to do before I have to tell it to him, that’s how you know he’s really getting it.”
Now that each and every game is do or die for the Steamers, the chemistry on the court becomes a big asset.
“These are big,” Sanderson said. “Me and Tyler have been playing together for a long time. We take one game at a time. We just have to keep winning and keep going on.”
Sanderson dumps the ball to Bruggenwirth in ways that don’t even seem possible. They say they just have a feel for each other’s games.
“It’s not really communication, we just know what each other’s thinking,” Bruggenwirth said. “That’s something we’ve gotten out of playing together for so long.”
“They’ve got a ton of reps, so they’re together all the time. It’s fun to watch them,” Coffey said. “They’ve been awesome for our program and they’ve been around a long time. They play a lot of games for us, they started a lot of games, logged a lot of minutes and are putting up good numbers for us. As a one-two punch, man, they’re really nice to have. They make my job a lot easier.”
The Steamers split with Riverdale in the regular season: they won 52-45 at home and then lost 44-42 on the road. Fulton is just focused on playing their own game.
“I feel good,” Bruggenwirth said. “We should have beaten them last time. I’m confident; I think we have everything we need to beat them.”
Sanderson is making sure his team is ready.
“We have to make sure everybody knows what they’re doing and that everybody knows their job,” Sanderson said. “We have to keep communicating with everybody and keep going form there.
“It’s going to be a packed house. We just have to come out and put on a show.”
Fulton High School hosts three rounds of regionals, but it’s not going to be an easy feat to make it out. Three of the teams in Fulton’s regional have over 20 wins, including Riverdale and Fulton. It’s bound to be a battle come Wednesday night.
“They got us for the conference title because we didn’t handle our business here against Morrison so it’s a game I’m looking forward to and I know our guys are,” Coffey said. “They’re a good ballclub. It’ll be fun, the atmosphere will be great.
“It’s nice to have regionals at home, you’re in your routine a little more. Now, we have to make it worthwhile. Whatever it takes, get it done.”