FARMINGDALE — With a nod to the black banner behind the basket, senior forward Pat Rush summed up the challenge of the entire winter season for the Hall-Dale boys basketball team in one sentence.

“It’s hard to replace two 1,000-point scorers,” he said.

It was something the Bulldogs didn’t have to worry about the last few seasons. Alec Byron emerged as a freshman and Ashtyn Abbott came on as a sophomore, and for two years and change the two gave Hall-Dale one of the best 1-2 punches in Class C, if not the state. The Bulldogs went 53-10 in three years, reaching two C South finals and a state championship game. There was never a question of who handled the ball in the key moments, who took the big shot, who came up with the pivotal rebound or drew the most demanding assignment.

Change is a constant in high school sports, however. And this year, it’s the Bulldogs’ turn.

“With the turnover comes opportunity, and we’ll figure out who wants to rise to the occasion and fill the space,” coach Chris Ranslow said. “There’s an opportunity to play defense for us, there’s an opportunity to play wing for us. … We had all kinds of opportunity.”

The new-look Bulldogs made their debut Saturday against one of the Mountain Valley Conference’s top teams in Spruce Mountain, with two returning starters in Rush and senior point guard Josh Nadeau and the other starting spots going to former backups in Caleb Peaslee, Boden Washington and Sam Sheaffer. The Bulldogs fought and stayed with the Phoenix early — a Nadeau steal and score put Hall-Dale up 25-23 in the first two minutes of the second half, and the Bulldogs were down only a point with five minutes left in the quarter — but Spruce Mountain proved too much down the stretch, going on an 11-2 run to take a 39-29 lead and never looking back from there.

In a way, it was a positive. Hall-Dale lost to Messalonskee by 30 points and Foxcroft Academy by 28 in the Capital City Tip-Off a week prior, so a game in which the Bulldogs were making plays and weathering runs, at least early on, was an encouraging sign.

“Relative to our performance last Friday, I saw some good things, I saw some better things,” Ranslow said. “We make a lot of fundamental mistakes, and that was difficult to overcome.”

And in that sense, Saturday emphasized the work in progress everyone in basketball circles knew was coming as soon as Byron and Abbott left the court for the last time in a Hall-Dale uniform. Younger players were going to have to step into bigger roles, and older players were going to see their jobs on the court expanded. Rush, already a hard-nosed post player who grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots Saturday, is going to be counted on for more points in the paint. Nadeau, whose improved court vision led to some dazzling assists against the Phoenix, is going to have to have the ball in his hands as the defensive pressure heats up.

Max Byron, Owen Austin and Sheaffer, neither of whom played big minutes last year, are going to need to find their niches. Ian Stebbins, who didn’t play varsity last year, played big minutes at guard Saturday. And if those players can’t make the fit, someone else will have to.

That’s the good part of a changeover. Every job might as well have a “now hiring” sign.

“We’ve got to find ourselves a new identity,” Stebbins said. “We don’t have those big guys to lead us anymore. Everyone’s got to step up as a whole team.”

“We really only have me, Josh and Caleb Peaslee as returners that actually got minutes last year, so these guys are still getting used to the intensity of a varsity game,” Rush said. “We’ll just keep learning. We have a great coach who knows what he’s doing, so we’ll keep grinding it out.”

The bad part is…well…it’s hard. And, as the past two weeks have shown, it can be frustrating, especially for a team used to everything running at a high level. There’s a reason Rush, who has played on playoff baseball, basketball and football teams at Hall-Dale, wasn’t cracking a smile after a 17-point loss.

“We’re getting to know each other, still trying to find the roles,” he said. “No matter what, we need to do better because we lost pretty bad. … I want to win. I hate losing. Anything I can do to win, that’s what I’m going to do.”

As for whether those answers can come in the next 17 games, Ranslow said the Bulldogs don’t have much choice.

“We’ve got a team of 14,” he said. “Nobody else is coming in, so we’d better figure it out.”

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