For Western Pike, they may be the elements for a trip to the Final Four. The Indians will get that chance today, taking on No. 5 Harvest Prep in a Division IV Regional Final at the Columbus Fairgrounds.
Should Western win, the Indians would be making their way to Value City Arena for the Division IV State Tournament. The team will certainly have a lot of people cheering them on.
“They are very excited,” said Howard. “The student body, the community and the entire county - that's one thing about basketball in southeastern Ohio. When the tournament started, we were playing for Western High School. As teams began to fall out throughout the tournament and the county, we were playing for Western High School and Pike County. Now, we are one game away from the state tournament, there are very few in southeastern Ohio left, now we feel like we are not only playing for Western, for Pike County, but also for the entire southeastern part of the state. Everyone wants to see someone from down here be able to make it to state.”
The Warriors have yet to taste defeat this year, but that nearly came to an end on Tuesday. Harvest Prep struggled shooting from the perimeter against South Webster in the regional semifinal, and Western coach Phil Howard said a similar effort will be needed by the Indians.
“From a defensive standpoint, there is no question about that,” he said. “They are far too athletic for us to have to play them man-to-man for 32 minutes. We have played, probably, 98 percent man-to-man throughout the tournament. I am not going to say that we can't play them man at different points during the game.”
The Warriors bring solid size to the game, led by 6-foot-6 Marquis Mathis, and Nehemiah Trotter also gives Harvest Prep some strength in the low post. Despite this, the Jeeps had a solid rebounding performance against the Warriors.
To combat Harvest Prep's size, the Indians will look to Vince Shanks, Bobbie Smithson and Zach Kier to crash the boards.
“Rebounding is going to be critical in the game,” said Howard. “We can't afford to give up second and third shot attempts. We are going to have to have big games out of Vince, Bobbie and Zach on the boards.
“They are the kind of team that I don't think we can point out one particular player that we want to focus on.”
As they have most of the season, Western Pike will look to the senior duo of Jeremy McLeod and Michael White to supply a bulk of the scoring. Against Buckeye Central, McLeod scored a game-high 20 points, adding 11 rebounds and three steals, while White had 15 points, all on 3s, to go along with four steals.
The Indians are known for their up-tempo style of basketball, and Howard said that team will look to use that same tempo against the Warriors - with some slight changes.
“We need to continue to get good leadership from those two (McLeod and White),” said Howard. “We are not going to change a lot of things. We still want to run up and down the floor, but I think that we have to be a little more selective, and we have to decide that if we don't have anything on the fast break, pull it back out and try to get into some offensive sets.”
Howard also emphasized the importance of good shooting and taking care of the basketball as key to a Western win.
“We pretty much have the green light to shoot the ball whenever we want, and now, we have to make sure that we take good shots every time down the floor, and try to be as efficient as we can on offense,” he said.
“It is going to take a monumental effort on the part of all of our kids to be able to come out with a win, but I think we are certainly capable of it if our kids all play to their full potential.”
Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.
JOSH HICKLE can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 241.