Clarkville’s focus has shifted from celebration to mission as it prepares to chase the first boys basketball regional championship in school history.
The No. 2 Generals (21-2) will face Austin (13-10) in the second game of the Class 2-A regional at Southridge on Saturday afternoon. Defending regional champion Linton (19-6) will play Perry Central (18-5) in the opener at 11 a.m., with the final set for 8 p.m.
Last year, the Generals made their first regional appearance since 1986 and didn’t last long, falling to Linton in the semifinal. That was no disgrace, as the Miners went on to finish as the state runner-up. Clarksville, with its appetite whetted, is counting on that experience to fuel a deeper run.
“We’re better prepared to handle the situation,” Clarksville coach Jason Connell said. “Last year we were excited to be there and maybe a little too much just happy to be there. Maybe they’re hungrier this time. I think we’ll be more focused.”
Clarksville’s preparation for the semifinal will be easy – just pull out the game tape from Jan. 18. The Generals already own a 51-42 victory at Austin during the regular season, although Austin coach Joe Sibbitt insists his club, which has won six straight, is better now.
The rematch will force adjustments. Austin’s intent the first time was to slow Clarksville’s high-scoring guard duo of Calvin McEwen (22.0 points per game) and Andrew Jones (21.0). The Eagles, using a variety of what Sibbitt termed “junk defenses,” succeeded, allowing those two to score 15 points combined. But D.J. Coleman escaped attention and scored 18 points for the Generals.
“It’s an advantage, having played them once,” Sibbitt said. “You look at some of the things that worked, some of the things that didn’t, and try to adjust. We tried to make someone else on their team score, and Coleman really stepped up.
“I think we’re obviously the underdog. I think we’re a better team than when we played them. They’ve been good all year. So it will be a challenge.”
McEwen (42 points against Corydon) and Jones (45 against Scottsburg with a school-record 10 3-pointers) are explosive. They have been targeted by every defensive variation. Austin’s formula held McEwen to four points, but he was content to be the distributor.
“The thing about Calvin is he doesn’t have to score to help us win,” Connell said. “He does a lot of different things. We’ve seen a lot of different things. We have five guys who can score. We’ll be ready.”
Austin’s surge to its first winning record in four years and its first sectional title since 2005 has been powered by leading scorers Devin Richey (15.0), Markus Fleenor (15.0), and point guard Chris Mayfield (voted the MVP of Austin’s sectional win at Southwestern).
“When you start putting wins together, it’s just confidence,” said Sibbitt, who guided Paoli to three straight single-class regional titles as a player from 1992 to ’94. “We weren’t as good as I wanted to be at the beginning of the year, but this group has done a good job of keeping the nose to the grindstone and continuing to get better.”
Clarksville is the favorite, according to records, polls and Sagarin power ratings, to win both games. Connell wants to deflect that possible pressure.
“We don’t put any pressure on them. They just play,” he said. “That’s how it was in the sectional championship. It’s a … basketball game. Go have fun and play as hard as you can. Enjoy the moment.”
The Generals want to make history in that moment.
“It’s a big step,” Connell said. “It’s very difficult to win a regional. We know that. I think the mind-set is different.”
The regional champion will face the winner from the regional at Connersville in the one-game semistate at either Richmond or Seymour on March 22. The IHSAA will announce the site on Sunday.