MOWEAQUA — When Brycen Burgener checks into a basketball game he has to know exactly what's going on and how he fits in the system at the given moment.
There can't be any mental lapses. He's what Central A&M coach Rob Smith calls the "fixer." If the Raiders — who will play Cissna Park in the Class 1A state semifinals at 11 a.m. Friday at Carver Arena in Peoria — are in a certain set, Burgener has to blend in without missing a beat.
The goal is to keep everyone else on the floor status quo and let Burgener be the wind in the sails that keeps A&M basketball team (32-3) coasting along.
“Theoretically, if you sub him in for a big you think, ‘OK, we’re subbing him in and everybody else changes position,'" Smith said, "and to some degree that’s true. But if somebody doesn’t know the other position, he fixes it and goes there."
Burgener, though, is more than just a fixer on the team. He's a 6-foot-2 junior with an outside shooting touch — he had back-to-back 3-pointers in Tuesday's super-sectional win against Sesser-Valier. He can also drive to the basket with authority. During a stretch of the sectional championship game against Nokomis, he scored eight of 10 points by attacking the basket.
He's averaging 4.7 points this season after not playing much on last season's sectional championship team.
Smith ventures to guess that Burgener would start on most teams in the area and average double figures on those teams; "12 or 13 points per game," Smith said. Right now, Burgener's role is to come off the bench, provide a spark and start fixing.
“We’re winning," Burgener said from the team bus on his way to Peoria Thursday morning. "It’s team effort, man. I just want to win. I don’t care about any of that other stuff.
“I knew it was going to be me or (Connor Hutchins) coming off the bench this year. Either of us would be perfectly fine with our roles. This is what works out the best and we’re playing the best like this and I’m fine with that."
Though he's not in the starting lineup, he seems plenty of floor time and is a staple in the Raiders' rotation. In one game earlier this season, he played considerably fewer minutes than he was used to. The rotations just didn't dictate getting him in the game.
Smith felt so bad he texted Burgener after the game to apologize for not getting him more minutes — as if Burgener cared about how much he was on the floor.
“He said, 'Coach, whatever role I have I’m good with it,'" Smith recalled. "That’s who he really is. Guys like that who are willing to put the team first: That’s what it takes to win a championship. We had those guys last year, for sure, and seniors willing to take a backseat."
Burgener is worth more than 4.7 points. He's been a catalyst in the last two games as defenses have homed in on Connor Heaton and Jacob Paradee and their ability to drive the ball, or on Griffin Andricks in the post.
Often times, Burgener finds himself wide open at the 3-point line and he figures he may as well "send it."
“It’s just been the same mindset as every other game," Burgener said of his last two. "Connor and Jacob have been doing a great job. When teams focus so much on them when they’re scouting us more, they just kind of leave me open. I’ll make the open shots."
He's averaging 14 points in his last two games and is a big reason he and the rest of the close-knit junior class are in Peoria.
“He stepped up big," Andricks said after the super-sectional. "He’s been shooting really well and playing food defense and rebounding. He’s been stepping up and playing a big part on this team."
The double-digit scoring performances came after the sectional semifinals against Odin in which Burgener wasn't happy with his play. In one instance, he drove to the hoop and passed it out to a teammate. Smith and the coaching staff told Burgener to be more aggressive. They trusted him.
The aggression turned into more points, more wins and a trip to state. It's a chance to avenge a loss as seventh graders in the state championship game to Peoria St. Vincent De Paul.
“I’ve been growing up with these guys since I was little," Burgener said. "This has kind of always been our dream, ever since we were in fifth grade and went undefeated. This is what we’ve always played for.
“It’s kind of like euphoria. It’s great being together. We hang out every weekend anyway, but this is different. We’re on a mission now."