Fortunes rest on humble shoulders

Published February 15, 2007

Last year, it would have been hard to believe Springstead's postseason hopes rested on the slender shoulders of senior guard Tim Hennigan.

At the time, the Eagles were led by a slashing point guard named AB Rodriguez and Hennigan was simply a jump-shooting junior who would stand behind the arc and throw up 3-pointers like they were Gasparilla beads.

Now everything has changed. Rodriguez is gone graduated, as is his replacement, sophomore Dante Valentine (suspended), and Hennigan has picked up increasing amounts of slack.

He is still slender and still does most of his damage from behind the 3-point line. But Hennigan is an all-around player now, and Springstead will need every facet of his game if it hopes to beat Orlando Bishop Moore in tonight's region quarterfinal.

"Last year, he was more of a one-dimensional player, just jacking up 3-pointers," Eagles coach Craig Swartout said during a break in practice Wednesday evening. "Now he's more of a well-rounded player. He can put the ball on the floor and go to the basket. He's definitely one of our primary options."

In fact, over the past 10 games or so, he has been the primary option. In the past month, his scoring average has risen by two points per game, from 13.6 on Jan. 19 to 15.7.

In a district title win over Nature Coast, Hennigan scored half of the Eagles' 36 points, the last two on a 16-foot jump shot at the buzzer that gave Springstead the victory.

In addition to his jump shot, Hennigan appears to be growing more comfortable with his mid-range game.

He has added a nice little baseline jump shot to his repertoire, and he is creating shots for himself with more ease.

"Last year, AB was there; he was the all-around player and everyone else had their role," Hennigan said. "I knew my role."

The statement is typical of the senior captain. With a 6-foot-5 frame and tattoos crawling up his arms, he looks very much like a basketball player on the surface. But he is soft-spoken and demure, and much more eager to talk about teammate Jeff Haynes' 17 rebounds in the district title win instead of his own performance.

"To be honest, I think that's why we won," Hennigan said of Haynes.

That may be, but for the Eagles to beat a Bishop Moore team that has long been a thorn in the side of Hernando County teams, they'll need a lot of what Hennigan brings to the court, particularly leadership.

Swartout said last year the Eagles showed up to their region quarterfinal game with "that deer-in-the-headlights look." This year, though, they'll need to draw on their experience.

"If you don't have a little bit of nerves, then you aren't ready to play," Hennigan said. "But we're not as nervous as last year."

Though he may be loathe to admit it, his play is a big reason.

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1407.

Fast Facts:

Class 4A Region Quarterfinals

Who: Orlando Bishop Moore at Springstead and Nature Coast at Eustis

When: 7 tonight

Springstead outlook: This is the second straight year the Eagles have faced the Hornets in the opening round of the playoffs. Last year, Bishop Moore beat Springstead 56-46 and eventually advanced to the elite eight before losing to Eustis, whom Nature Coast faces tonight. According to Springstead coach Craig Swartout, the Hornets run a guard-centric offense, but have a decent big man down low. The Eagles will have to play defense and rebound - they'll likely have a size advantage - if they hope to advance.

Nature Coast outlook: The Sharks will have their work cut out for them against a team that advanced to the Class 4A final four last year. It has been an interesting season for Eustis. Coach Rob Gordon was suspended in the middle of the year while the FHSAA conducted a recruiting investigation. Interim coach Corey Rolle is leading the team.