Julian Pilgrim

Julian Pilgrim scored 18 points to lead the Keene Chargers to a 64-52 win over Maypearl on Tuesday.

KEENE — The Keene Chargers wrapped up the first round of District 9-3A play with a 64-52 win Tuesday night over Maypearl to improve to 6-1 in league action.

Tuesday’s win over Maypearl came on the heels of a 56-54 victory over three-time defending district champion Grandview. Friday’s win over Grandview was the Chargers’ first victory over the Zebras since a 68-63 win on Jan. 27, 2017.

Keene will enter the second round of league action just one game behind Dallas Madison (7-0), the No. 1-ranked team in the state in Class 3A.

In his first season as Keene’s head boys basketball coach, Billy Coffin said the win over Grandview was a confidence booster and proof to his team that the Chargers are capable of hanging with the best in the state.

“I think it was big because Grandview has set the standard for district play for the last few years,” Coffin said. “They’ve set the bar and have done things right and they carry themselves in the right way. They’ve been the best, so that’s something we kind of hold ourselves to. Grandview has graduated a few of their key players but they’ve also built a culture of winning in all of their sports. That’s what we’re trying to build here at Keene. I think that was big for our community to prove that we can compete and play with these top-ranked teams in the state.”

Going into the 2020-21 season in a new district, Coffin said they knew the challenges that were in front of them, but they were also ready to welcome the challenge.

“With this new district, and with Madison being No. 1 in the state and Grandview being as dominant as they’ve been, we knew we had our work cut out for us,” Coffin said. “You have to want to compete. If your program’s going to be any good, you have to want to compete and put yourself at those same standards. That’s something we’ve talked about as a team. It’s something I’ve been trying to preach to our boys, we can compete with anybody but it’s doing the little things every day that will push us to the top and make us competitive in those games.”

Coming off the emotional high from Friday’s win over the Zebras, Coffin said he was proud to see his team keep its focus going into Tuesday’s game against Maypearl in what could’ve been a classic trap game.

“It’s tough to get a big win like that against a great Grandview team and then not have that hangover affect for the next one,” Coffin said. “I gave the analogy to the kids that it’s kind of like climbing a mountain. When you first start, it’s pretty easy and not as steep but then when you get close to the top of the mountain the air gets thinner and the mountain gets steeper. We’re halfway there now so we have to stay focused on the task at hand. From here on out, we’ve seen everybody once so everything is going to be tougher this next time around. But I definitely like how we’re playing.”

In the victory over the Panthers, the Chargers jumped out to a 16-8 lead in the first quarter but Maypearl battled back over the next two to make it a 43-38 game heading into the fourth. Keene out-scored Maypearl by seven in the final 8 minutes to pull away for the win. Julian Pilgrim led Keene with 18 points while William Heine added 11 points. 

Coffin said one important thing about the Chargers this year is how everyone has accepted their role, from the leading scorer to the end of the bench.

“We have a very deep team,” Coffin said. “I’ve got 13 guys on the roster and on a given night I’ll play eight to nine guys but even those four that aren’t getting much playing time could come in and contribute. We definitely have our leading scorers and offensive leaders but we’ve had different guys step up defensively. Friday night, our sophomore, Noah Lewis, had a great game defensively. He really stepped up. He hit a big 3 late and defensively he was huge. 

“That’s something our guys have done a great job with this year is finding their role and running with it and understanding that every team is going to have a leading scorer and every team is going to have a best defensive player, so knowing their role and everyone fitting in has been huge for our team.”

Now that the Chargers are set to begin the second round of league action Friday at Uplift Hampton Prep, Coffin said Keene’s focus is continuing the same competitive spirit and intense they had the first round.

“We have to keep our intensity and that same competitive spirit,” he said. “We have to stay focused and make sure we keep competing every day in practice and knowing that the next play is always the biggest play.”

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