Washington and Evansville Mater Dei will be making repeat appearances but the regional trip will be the first one in sometime for Owen Valley and Madison in the Class 3A Washington Regional at the Hatchet House on Saturday.

The defending state champion and 15th-ranked Hatchets (18-5) will face Madison (17-6) in the first semifinal at 10 a.m., while No. 9 Mater Dei (16-6) squares off against Owen Valley (20-4) in game two at noon. Winners will advance to the 8 p.m. championship game.

Washington v. Madison

The Cubs of veteran coach Jim Matthews (451-337 in his 34th year of coaching) took the long route in winning the North Harrison Sectional, defeating Salem, Scottsburg, and Corydon Central to claim their first sectional title since 1999. Unlike many teams that face the Hatchets and their twin towers, 6-9 sophomore Tyler Zeller and 6-9 junior forward Bryan Bouchie, the Cubs sport some size of their own in 6-6 senior Norman Wells, an Indiana State University recruit who posts 16 ppg and nine rpg. Another senior, 6-6 Will Jackson, adds similar numbers with 15 ppg and eight rpg.

That duo leads Matthews to say “Our strength is inside” though the Cubs do have a solid outside shooter in 5-10 forward Christian Polling, whose five 3-pointers led Madison in its win over Corydon. Polling, a senior, is also the defending IHSAA golf individual state champion. Rounding out the lineup for the Cubs are point guard Matt Bagienski, a 5-7 junior, and guard Logan Jones, a 6-1 sophomore who led the Cubs in scoring as a freshman last season.

Matthews feels the battle in the paint will prove key for both teams.

“I know they have good size, so it will be a good matchup with their post players, Bouchie and Zeller,” said Matthews. “That should be a real challenge for our two post players, that should be an interesting battle up there.”

Like Matthews, first-year Hatchet coach Gene Miiller is a veteran mentor (486-232 in 30 seasons) who has now coached sectional champions at four different schools — Kankakee Valley, Vincennes, Lafayette Jeff, and Washington. Miiller knows the Cubs, who bring a six game winning streak into the regional, are battle tested after playing eight Class 4A schools this season.

“They play in a conference (Hoosier Hills) in which they are the only 3A school in a 4A league,” said Miiller. “They play in a very tough league, they have good size overall and in the starting lineup.”

The Hatchets have won seven straight and 11 of their last 12 entering the regional. Miiller feels his squad has come far after losing four starters from last season’s title team.

“I think we’ve made some real progress. We’ve gotten better as we’ve went through the season, they’re playing together well, they’re playing well defensively. We are a much better defensive basketball team than we were earlier in the year, we’re better at taking care of the basketball,” said Miiller. “We had 15 turnovers against Vincennes, but I think we are taking care of the basketball much better than we were earlier in the season. I think we’re understanding our roles better, we know where ourstrengths are and we’re going to those. And I think our kids understand now how hard they have to play to beat teams at this level.”

For Washington, Zeller and Bouchie have eerily similar numbers — each scores 14.7 ppg, with Bouchie averaging 8.2 rpg compared to Zeller’s even eight boards an outing. Rounding out the starting lineup will be 6-1 senior guard Kevin Decker, 5-9 junior guard Andrew Obaseki, and 6-2 sophomore Kyle Price.

Mater Dei v. Owen Valley

The Hatchet House will be familiar territory for both the Wildcats and Patriots — Mater Dei has won eight straight sectional titles, most of them in Class 3A, and Mater Dei’s 2003 squad won the Washington Regional en route to a state championship. Though the Patriots are entering regional play for the first time in 21 years after winning their own sectional last week, Owen Valley, like Mater Dei, is a regular season opponent for Washington. The Patriots lost a decision 63-53 at the Hatchet House on Feb. 9.

Fourth-year Owen Valley coach Trent Heckman said the sectional title has capped a special year for the Patriots.

“It’s been a good season for us. We’ve had the opportunity to do so many things this year. We went to the Wabash Valley tourney this year, we finished as the runner-up over there,” said Heckman. “We competed well in our conference, we didn’t win, but we were able to kind of avenge that with the sectional championship. And the sectional was at our place, so that made it special.”

Owen Valley features a big man as well in center Nick Madison, a 6-5 senior. But the Patriots’ strength lies in the backcourt, where 6-0 junior point guard Jared Manners brings totals of 17 ppg and five apg to the fold. At the other guard is Harry Marshall, a 6-1 senior who Heckman says is “Very athletic.” Marshall averages 16.5 ppg and nine boards per game.

Heckman’s three guard lineup features 5-9 junior Trace Temples, while 6-2 senior forward Ben Nanny rounds out the first five for Owen Valley.

Mater Dei comes off a 66-64 victory over top-ranked Evansville Bosse in the Boonville Sectional final. Though coach John Goebel admits “I don’t think anyone really expected (the win over Bosse)” the win was not much of an upset; Bosse defeated the Wildcats by just two points in overtime less than a month before tourney play began.

Mater Dei is led by 6-2 senior guard Kelly Muensterman, who is one of the states leading scorers at about 27 ppg. Muensterman, a three-year starter is also a national merit scholar semifinalist, is a “pleasure” to coach according to Goebel.

The Wildcats start three seniors off a roster that has seven seniors. Joining Muensterman in the lineup are 6-0 senior point guard Andy Tekoppel, 6-2 senior forward Paul Kempf, 6-1 junior forward Greg Cardin, and 6-4 junior forward Shad Macke.

Goebel allows that his program has been “Pretty fortunate” in recent years, but he adds that each championship team has written its own story. In particular, the current squad is used to success.

“I think that’s beneficial for sure. We have seven seniors on this team, and they’ve all been a part of a sectional championship in the past, and two years ago the state championship when they were sophomores,” said Goebel. “That winning kind of rubs off on them, so they knew what to expect a little bit.”

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