MOUNT VERNON — The 2010 postseason arrives tonight for several area teams, and after a season filled with success, all of them are ready to test the waters in search of the ultimate prize — a state championship.
It all starts with a single game, however.
“We’re just worried about the first game,” said Mount Vernon coach Kurt Kaufman, whose team was the No. 7 seed in Division I. “We’ll play that one and see where it takes us. The only thing that matters is the next game. You’ve got to win that one before you can get to the second one.”
“Our expectations are really simple — it’s all about (tonight),” said Fredericktown coach Kirk Manns. “You can’t look past that. We’ve got a tough opponent, so the expectations don’t go any further. We just want to be the best we can be, and hopefully, get a chance to continue in the tournament.”
Kaufman’s Yellow Jackets will see a familiar foe when they hit the floor tonight at Lakewood High School. Mount Vernon will face Newark, which it defeated earlier this season, 56-48. The Wildcats jumped on Mount Vernon, but Kaufman wasn’t surprised.
“I don’t put a whole lot of stock in that. If you are in the Central District, you are going to play someone good; you’ve just got to be ready to play,” said Kaufman. “I think what is comes down to, more than your opponent, is what you are going to do and how you are going to execute. ... I think from a confidence standpoint, our guys understand that this is a game we are capable of winning. They also understand that nothing is guaranteed; you’ve got to make your own breaks, and I expect our kids to do that.”
Newark (9-11), under coach Jeff Quackenbush, has experienced limited success this season. That doesn’t stop them from being a capable team, however, and Kaufman knows they will see the Wildcats’ best effort when the game tips off at 8 p.m.
“They’ve got some nice shooters, so we obviously have to get out and guard them from any open looks that they might get,” said Kaufman. “We have to be patient offensively, and get it inside. ... Defensively, we play well and we play together pretty well. It is hard to key one any one person on our team because so many guys can do a lot of things. ... Our expectations are the same with any game. We expect our kids to play hard, play smart and play together when we take the floor. All of the other stuff will take care of itself when you do that.”
In Division II, Highland will begin play tonight, taking on Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference foe River Valley. The two teams have already played twice this season with River Valley winning the first game, 54-42, and Highland taking the second, 63-41. Tonight’s contest, which begins at 6:15 p.m. will be played at nearby Centerburg High School, will be the rubber game in the season series and be winner-take-all.
Utica will also hit the floor at Centerburg on Wednesday night. The Redskins (10-10) will face Licking Heights in the opening round, which beings at 6:15 p.m.
Two of Knox County’s better team will be in action on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. The Fredericktown Freddies, after a long tournament run in the football postseason, have gotten their basketball legs underneath themselves and posted a 14-5 mark this season. The Centerburg Trojans, on the other hand, jumped ahead right from the start and never looked back, posting a 16-4 mark.
The No. 9 seed Freddies will play Marion Pleasant in an opening round game tonight at Newark High School. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.
“I was a little disappointed with our seed,” said Manns. “At the time of our tournament draw, we were 12-4 and that was the third-best record in the Central District. Elgin also had a 12-4 record just behind Cardington and Centerburg. I think our kids were a little more deserving that that, but that’s the way it goes. ... It put us in a really tough place — the 8, 9 or 10 spot — because the top seeds in front of you spread out in the sectional brackets. It is really not an advantage at all to be in that position. You either need to be higher or lower if you want to get a good look at where everybody is.”
The Spartans (9-10) will pose many challenges for the Freddies despite their record.
“Pleasant was the No. 14 seed, but they’ve played the majority of their season without Brad Harrah, their big 6-foot-7 guy. They are much better with him, and they’ve got him back,” said Manns. “They are going to be better. If he is healthy all year long, their record is much better and they are a higher seed at the tournament draw.
“They are really talented. Harrah is athletic and can do a lot of things. They are really athletic on the wings too. (Corey) Nielsen and (Marc) LeRoy are very good players that can score in a lot of different ways. Then in the backcourt, (Conner) Schweinfurth, reminds me a lot of C.J. (Ruhl). Those are guys that are athletic kids, tough kids, and they are winners. We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us.”
For Centerburg, the No. 2 seed in Division III, the tournament road begin on Wednesday when the Trojans travel to Gahanna-Lincoln High School. Centerburg will face Amanda-Clearcreek in the opening round game, which begins at 6:15 p.m.
“We got seeded two and that’s where everybody came in at us. I could have taken a bye, but we didn’t want to wait that long to play,” said Centerburg coach Jim Simpson.
“They’re (Amanda-Clearcreek) going to be physical. They’re a football-type school. They’ve only won four or five games, but that doesn’t make a difference. You can throw that stuff out come tournament time. It was that way last year. We faced a team that hadn’t won very many and they ended up beating us. We’ve got to be ready to go.”
Also in Division III, the East Knox Bulldogs got a very favorable draw from the No. 16 seed. First up will be No. 20 seed Berne Union (6-13) tonight. The two teams will square off at Olentangy Orange High School at 8 p.m. should the Bulldogs (??-??) win that game, they would play Grandview Heights on Saturday, another winnable game for East Knox.
In Division IV, the Danville Blue Devils and Mount Vernon Academy Eagles will have a few more days to prepare for their opening round opponents. Danville, the No. 11 seed, will face 10th-seeded Madison Christian in the opening round on Saturday. They will play at 8 p.m. at Westerville North High School.
“We’ve got Madison Christian in the tournament,” said Danville coach Doug Selvey. “Then, if we can get that one, we’ve got the big boys. We’ll see if David can’t slay Goliath. ... If we beat Madison Christian, which we’ve beat already this season, if we get that, it’s a sectional championship. I think that’s putting Danville basketball back on the map. It’s a little step for the program in the right direction.”
The Eagles, meanwhile, will also open tournament play on Saturday, playing the winner of tonight’s game between No. 2 seed Harvest Prep and No. 17 seed Millersport. The game will be played at 8 p.m. in Granville.