Even when it was apparent he was hurt, Noah Bonsant held out hope, as did the rest of the Erskine Academy boys basketball team.

All chances for a midseason return were ruled out Monday, however. Bonsant found out there was more damage to the meniscus in his left knee than he originally thought, and that he will need surgery and will be out for the next four to six months.

“I just had an appointment with a surgeon, and I got news that the tear was actually worse than they thought it was initially,” he said. “It’s pretty disappointing, because I worked pretty hard in the offseason to get ready for my senior year.”

Bonsant told his team Monday afternoon, and coach Tim Bonsant said the news stunned him and his players.

“Today was a total shock,” he said. “We had been hearing maybe four-to-six weeks out, which put us in the middle to end of January with about four games left (and) having him for the playoffs. We would have been a pretty good team to play against.”

The concerns about the second-team all-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference center’s availability began when he went down roughly two weeks before the season opener during a preseason game at the Augusta Civic Center. The fear initially was a season-ending ACL tear, but an MRI showed that the ligament was intact, and even though it also revealed a torn meniscus, Bonsant’s lack of pain while bending his knee or walking led him to believe he could be on the court after just a temporary absence.

“I was trying to think positively,” he said. “I knew I was going to miss time, but I wasn’t expecting to miss the whole season.”

Instead, Bonsant will be undergoing surgery after Christmas and the Eagles will try to return to the playoffs without the 6-foot-5 senior’s 13 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game. Erskine will have to play more full-court press without the post presence that was the key piece of their halfcourt matchup zone. The adjustment will be difficult, and Coach Bonsant will need the rest of the starters — Jack Jowett, Braden Soule, Austin Dunn, Caden Turcotte and Gavin Blanchard — to collectively step up to keep the team competitive.

“It’s going to have to be a whole team effort now,” said Coach Bonsant, whose team recovered from the news to beat Cony on Wednesday. “You knew Noah was going to get us 12 to 15 rebounds. That’s a huge void, one person can’t fill that void for us. It’s going to have to be two or three people.”

• • •

After a season in which its boys and girls basketball teams went a combined 34-1 in the regular season, only to go 1-2 in the playoffs, Richmond moved to the Mountain Valley Conference, hoping the larger schools would provide more competition that would pay off in the brighter lights of the postseason.

So far, for the Richmond boys at least, the acclimation process couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.

The Bobcats are 3-0 in their new league, surging out of the gates in a manner that even has coach Phil Houdlette impressed.

“I think we can compete with (these) teams,” Houdlette said. “But am I surprised that we’re 3-0? Yeah, I would say.”

The second-smallest school in Class C South, Richmond — for years a member of the mostly Class D East/West Conference — has been getting the best of teams in the C and B MVC. First came a win over a C South finalist last year in Madison, followed by wins of four and 24 points over Class B Mountain Valley and Oak Hill, respectively.

Not bad for the new guys.

“We’ve played pretty good defense, I think we’ve rebounded the basketball pretty well,” Houdlette said. “I think we’ve held our composure well, because it’s a struggle. The Madison game and the Mountain Valley game, they’re throwing walls of people at us.”

They’re walls that Richmond, with its low numbers, can’t match, but while the Bobcats’ bench might be thin, their starters are good. Zach Small has two 30-point games already and is averaging 32 points per game, while Matt Rines scored 32 against Madison and is scoring 23.7 per contest. On Wednesday, the pair combined for 61 points to outscore the whole Oak Hill team (56).

“They are our scorers. They’re our playmakers. They bring the ball up for us. They play the best players on the other end, along with Nate Kendrick, who usually takes the best player for the other team,” Houdlette said. “So what I’ve asked them to do is, really, do everything for us.”

Houdlette said he saw during summer competition against even Class A KVAC competition that his team would have the top-end talent to compete. The question was always depth, and he said getting some more contributors is the key for the hot start to equal a strong season.

“We’ve got some contributions. Casey Gorman’s had eight and 10 (points), Danny Stewart’s had 15, 16 rebounds in a couple games,” he said. “I think for us to be a top-level team, those kids that don’t have a lot of experience will have to be more of an offensive threat at some point.”

• • •

It’s been a good first week not just for Richmond, but for its top scorer.

Small reached the 1,000-point milestone Wednesday while leading the Bobcats to an 80-56 victory over Oak Hill. The senior guard needed eight points to reach the mark, but passed it comfortably with 39.

Small has turned himself into one of the area’s best pure scorers, but Houdlette said it’s his fiery demeanor that has stood out the most.

“He’s just ultra competitive,” Houdlette said. “He will do anything you ask of him. … He can defend, he can shoot, he can go to the basket. He’s just a really nice player.”

• • •

While teams like Richmond, Winthrop (3-0) and Gardiner (2-0) have found their form early, Cony is still trying to get going.

The Rams are 0-2 and have looked sluggish in the process, falling to Lawrence, 58-50, in the opener and then Erskine, 79-56, on Wednesday. It’s early, but coach T.J. Maines has seen plenty of concerning areas so far.

“It’s really difficult to win, I don’t care who you’re playing, when you shoot the ball that poorly and you don’t rebound,” Maines said after the Lawrence game, one in which the Rams went 3-for-25 from 3-point range, 9-for-19 from the free throw line and were topped 18-8 in offensive rebounds. “A big part of this system is you’ve got to offensive rebound, and I don’t think that I stressed that enough to the kids in the preseason.”

While execution needs to improve, so does Cony’s health. Guard Simon McCormick and forward Amahde Carter were both recovering from injuries to start the season, though both returned for the Erskine game, scoring six points apiece.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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