The field for the Class 2-A basketball regional at Southridge proves the old saying: There truly is a first time for everything.
No. 8 Clarksville, fresh from its first sectional championship since 1986, has never won a regional title. Neither has No. 13 Perry Central (making its first trip since 1997) or Switzerland County (2006). No. 10 Linton, which ended a 31-year sectional drought, has the most experience at the second level. The Miners won a regional in 1946.
One of those four will move on. The “new kids” will be introduced to the IHSAA classroom on Saturday when Perry Central (21-3) and Switzerland County (18-4) collide in the opening game at 11 a.m. Clarksville (18-5) will meet Linton (21-3) in the second game. The winners return to vie for the regional crown at 8 p.m.
The Generals have the most losses in the field but could be considered the favorites. Their Sagarin computer rating is higher, their schedule deemed tougher, than the rest. They have the better balance with four double-figure scorers. And they are oozing confidence after finally conquering nemesis Providence, last year’s regional champion, in the first game of the sectional.
“If you can beat Providence, you can beat about anybody,” Clarksville coach Jason Connell said. “It doesn’t happen very often. Winning the sectional kind of got us over the hump.”
That downhill momentum, and the experience gleaned from beating Providence in the third attempt this season, will be crucial against the Miners. Linton is front-court-loaded, with 6-7 senior Austin Karazsia (better known as an All-State quarterback) and 6-6 senior Dess Fougerousse both averaging 20.5 points per game.
“We’re used to that,” Connell said. “They’re the guys they look to, there’s no doubt about that. We’ll have to be ready to defend them and see what happens. Our strength is our guards, so it’ll be interesting, a good match-up. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Clarksville’s counter will be balance. Junior guard Calvin McEwen is the scoring leader at 13.7 per game, older brother Aidan averages 13.1 points and 6.0 rebounds, Austin Johnson adds 11.0 points, and Andrew Jones contributes 10.8.
“That’s hard to find and hard to defend,” Connell said. “They’ve bought into that and there’s been no selfishness. When somebody needs to score, they do. That’s one of the blessings with this team.”
“We know Clarksville is really good,” Linton coach Joey Hart said. “You don’t get to this point without being good. All four of those guys on the perimeter are good. They move the ball well; they’re very impressive. We have to find a way to guard them.”
Linton, which has pointed toward this season with a senior-dominated roster, also conquered a rival to advance. The Miners split regular-season games with No. 5 Sullivan, then pierced the Golden Arrows 47-41 in the sectional final to end the their title drought.
“We weren’t going to win 31 years worth of games; we just needed to win one game,” Hart said. “When you have players, that cures not having tradition. We seem to be more mature. We’ve handled a lot of different things, which you have to if you’re going to win. Now we’re just going to play basketball.”
How will the first-timers handle the pressure? The first team to relax in the chaotic atmosphere will have a distinct advantage.
“We have to get off to a good start,” Connell said. “That’s key for us. And we have to defend and rebound. When we do that, we’re good.
“It’s grueling. To win a sectional, let alone a regional, is hard. It’s very difficult. It takes a lot out of you. You don’t have time to sit back, relax and enjoy the moment. The kids need to enjoy this and not get caught up in everything.”
The regional champion will face the winner from the regional at Connersville in the one-game semistate at either Richmond or Seymour on March 16. Site assignments will be announcedf Sunday.