By Dennis Glade
Washington Times Herald
With the first round in the books, the sectional semi-finals take center stage tonight with teams playing for a shot to play for a sectional championship.
In Washington, the Hatchets will try to win their first sectional championship since 2011 when Cody Zeller was roaming the paint. In Loogootee the Class A defending state champion Lions will attempt to win their first back-to-back sectional titles since 2004-2005.
In the first game at the Class 3A Sectional 31 at the Hatchet House, Jasper meets Mitchell. The Wildcats (12-9) defeated Heritage Hills 81-69 in the first round Tuesday evening. Jasper defeated Mitchell (6-14) 62-46 at home on Feb. 4. The Wildcats have won nine of their last 12 games since starting the season a pedestrian 3-6.
In the second game at Washington, Vincennes Lincoln (16-6) will take on the Hatchets (9-11) in a rematch of a hotly contested Big Eight regular season contest. Lincoln defeated Washington at the Hatchet House 35-33 Feb. 4.
Washington has won six of its last nine games, a nice improvement since starting the season 3-8.
"We've been much improved over the last month and a half of the season," said Washington coach Gene Miiller. "I think we've gotten better defensively, taking care of the basketball and in the execution of our offense." After the first 11 games, Miiller said that improving aspects of the game have been squarely on the shoulders of the players. He said the team has rallied around each other to make a run towards the postseason.
"I think the experience we got from the early part of the season has made us a better basketball team, and we've learned from those mistakes," Miiller said.
Reviewing the first match up with the Alices can serve to clear up some of the mistakes the Hatchets made in the two-point defeat.
"We have to do a better job defensively, especially against the pick and roll," Miiller said. "We have to do a better job of stopping their penetration, and keep them off the boards. Offensively we have to have a little better shot selection, and take care of the ball better." After avoiding a sizable upset in Tuesday's sectional opener at Jack Butcher Arena to Vincennes Rivet, Class A No. 9 Loogootee (17-5) will get a familiar foe in the semi-finals, North Daviess.
The Cougars (15-6) got the best of the Lions in Elnora Jan. 4 by a score of 46-40 when both teams were ranked in the top six of Class A.
Since that game, the Cougars have struggled to find consistency with senior guards Nick Crays and Alex Wittmer making their way through difficult injury rehabilitation. There is light at the end of that tunnel at the most important time of the year.
"We're as healthy as we've been all season," said North Daviess coach Brent Dalrymple. "We feel like we're in a good place with those two. Alex (Wittmer) has been getting stronger and healthier every single day. You can really see him coming along. Nick (Crays) is always banged up, he still has that broken (left) thumb. He's still going to be a little sore, but he's learned to play through the pain throughout the season. Both are as healthy as they've been all season." When it comes to playing North Daviess, Loogootee coach Mike Wagoner knows there won't be many surprises if any. Loogootee holds an advantage on the inside with the two-headed monster of Conner Wittmer and Cam Wagler. Wittmer and Wagler combined for 28 of the Lions¹ 48 points against Rivet.
The size advantage is something that Dalrymple has said will be a major factor on the defensive end for the Cougars.
Finding and utlizing the right matchups will be key to a semi-final victory.
"It's a matchup problem for us," Dalrymple said. "We have three options that we have been working on. (Wes) Lengacher and (Kelby) Byrer are the big guys for us. I think you'll probably see both of them cover both guys at different times and we'll go with what's working. You'll see several matchups on those guys.' Tuesday's close call has given evidence that any team can lose in a one-game setting, and Wagoner said he has emphasized that point this week leading up to today's game.
"Right now if you don't play well, you're not going to move on," Wagoner said. "You have to play hard, it's one and done." Today's second semifinal game will see Shoals matchup with Barr-Reeve. The game will be a rematch of a 71-32 Barr-Reeve victory at Kavanaugh Kourt Dec. 14. The Vikings are the hottest team in the sectional, winners of nine straight games after Tuesday's 77-37 win against Washington Catholic.
The Vikings were able to utilize much of the roster, while getting the starters some rest in the second half with such a dominating victory.
"For the first game of the tournament we were able to get a lot of different bodies on the floor for playing time," said Barr-Reeve coach Bryan Hughes.
"Your hope is that as the tournament progresses that will be beneficial for you." Shoals has lost six straight games coming into the game, and Hughes said his team will need to continue to do the things that have led them to winning 21 of 22 games this season.
"We have to remain consistent on the defensive end and rebound the basketball, those are the two things that this point of the year you have to do. We hope to cause some turnovers with our defense that will turn into points on the offensive end." Despite playing an opponent the Vikings have defeated, Hughes is confident that preparation during the careers of the Barr-Reeve players will ensure they won¹t overlook any opponent at this juncture of the season.
"These kids have been in our system for a while, that's all they've heard us talk about every year when we get to tournament time," Hughes said. "You just have to take care of business. You have to win to play again, and there's no second chances. You have to tune out what happened in the regular season, what the opponent¹s record is and what your record is. You have to be the best basketball team on that particular night."