The Pirates will head to the Convocation Center for their district semifinal against Huntington Ross needing to be at top speed if they want to slow down the Huntsmen. Although Huntington's guard are quick too, Huntington has mainly relied on its size to get to its first district tournament in six years.
“They have incredible size,” said Wheelersburg coach Tom Barrick. “They biggest thing we're going to need to do is keep them off the boards.”
The Huntsmen will be one of the taller teams Wheelersburg has faced this season. With 6-foot-8 Neil DePugh at center and two 6-foot-4 towers in Cory Cotrill and two-time SVC player of the year Jeremiah Oates flanking him, gaining a rebounding advantage will be a challenge for the Pirates. That's where the team's speed comes in.
“We have to set the tempo early,” Barrick said. “Their guards are good ballhandlers, but if we can speed up the game and force their big men to run the floor, it might tire them out.”
Wheelersburg, looking for its first win in district play since 2002, will rely on its own big man, 6-foot-7 Camden Miller to keep at least DePugh at bay. Drew Spradlin will also provide a post presence but will also play some on the perimeter.
Barrick said the team's schedule this season has given the Pirates ample opportunity to play against solid big men.
“There have been big ball games where post play was important,” he said. “Not only in the SOC II, but Andy Kilgore of Tri-Valley gave us a good challenge against a big solid postman.”
Wheelersburg beat Tri-Valley 56-52.
Barrick also said the key will be how the Pirates' guards, Nick Carrington and Seth Cowgill, keep pressure on the Huntsmen guards, especially when the team presses defensively. The importance of putting pressure on the opponent becomes more and more crucial for tournament advancement.
“Their guards weren't really playing well at the beginning of the season, but have really done well as of late. That's what you need come tournament time.
“Historically, teams that do well in the tournament are ones that consistently do a good job of ball pressure. For the last month, we've been playing outstanding defense and rebounding the ball. Hopefully, we can continue to do that, but it can change on any given night.”
Wheelersburg returns to the Convo for the second straight year, hoping to better last year's performance, a 51-48 loss to Eastern Brown in the semifinals. A trip back to the Convo is a great accomplishment, but with a veteran squad, Barrick said the team isn't feeling much pressure.
“Our experience is important and the kids are keeping everything in perspective,” he said. “They aren't making this bigger than what it is. They've had a great week of practice and they're focused.”
Tip-off is at 3:45 p.m.
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 203.