BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Cline returns, hopes to build on Richland's success

ESSEX — First-year Richland boys basketball coach Matt Cline has fond memories of the rural Stoddard County school and this year’s team.

Cline coached the Rebels for three seasons before leading Scott County Central for the past four. He returned this year to take over a team that posted its first winning season since 2009-10 when it finished 21-7.

“I’m comfortable here,” Cline said. “I was here four years ago. I went to Scott Central for a little while. When this job came available, I was itching to get back here. I enjoyed it. It’s a great community to work in. My administration and community are very supportive.”

Last year, the Rebels finished 13-12 and return three starters from a squad that won its first tournament trophy in nine years by placing third in the Oran Invitational.

Cline wasn’t surprised by last year’s breakout season.

“You could see it when I was here before,” he said. “They had quite a bit of success in junior high. I thought they were a good bunch. They were a good bunch last year. I hope that continues. They’re a great bunch of kids. They’re very respectful, good hard-working kids.”

Senior Andrew Partenberry and sophomores Jack Bell and Tanner Freeman are the returning starters.

Freeman is the Rebels’ leading returner scorer. He averaged 13.1 points per game. Bell was third with 8.7 and Partenberry was fifth with 7.1.

Richland lost leading scorer Daniel Reyna, who averaged 16.2 points last season, and Riley Glass, who averaged 8.1.

“We lost a couple big pieces,” Cline said. “I had them when they were junior high kids. They were good ballplayers and I watched them throughout their careers. Riley’s playing for Williams Baptist.”

The Rebels are focusing on defense in the preseason.

“We’re really focusing on getting down defensively and getting stops,” Cline said. “I feel like that’s where they struggled last year. We need to get tougher, both mentally and physically.”

Cline said the Rebels will be deep for a Class 1 school.

“We’re seven or eight deep,” he said. “We’ve got two or three kids that’ll help off the bench. We’ve got a couple younger kids, Damon Ivy and Matt Finch. I feel like as the year progresses, they ought to be able to help at the varsity level.”

Cline said the Rebels will need significant contributions from seniors Skylar Oakley, J.T. Pinkley and Chris Siebert and junior Shai Sheffield.

The Rebels started strong last season, winning five of their first six games but lost four of their last six.

“We want to improve as the season goes on and be playing our best ball come district tournament time and challenge for a district title,” Cline said.

The Rebels will compete in District 2 along with Bell City, Delta, Gideon, Leopold, Oak Ridge, Risco and Scott County Central.

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