Silver Creek already has survived a Class 3-A sectional gauntlet of three ranked teams. The reward for that remarkable run is a test against the defending state champion.
The Dragons (15-8) will face No. 1 Greensburg (24-1) in the opening game of the Washington Regional on Saturday morning. The winner will meet either Evansville Memorial (16-6) or Jasper (14-9) in the final at 8 p.m.
How many giants can the Dragons slay? They eliminated No. 14 Madison, No. 6 Corydon and No. 7 Brownstown to win the first stage of the state tournament. The last two were significant upsets, considering the Dragons lost to both during the final two weeks of the regular season.
Silver Creek turned a seven-point setback against the Panthers on Feb. 21 into a 23-point sectional rout, then avenged a 25-point home loss to the Braves on Feb. 25 with a 37-36 victory in the final.
“It’s all the players,” coach Brandon Hoffman said. “We had a goal all season to make sure we were playing our best, and being the best teammates, in the sectional. They had short memories about the last two weeks of the season, thankfully, and played our best basketball, for sure.
“The thing I’m most proud of is everybody had a hand in it. Everybody had a great sectional.”
Silver Creek is embracing the underdog role once again. Greensburg, No. 1 until proven otherwise, is intimidating, and its talent is scary. The Pirates feature Division I recruits at several spots, including seniors Sean Sellers (Ball State) and Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern).
Sellers, a 6-foot-5 forward, leads the team in scoring (19.9) and rebounding (7.1), and he gets interior help from 6-8 junior post Ryan Welage (14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds). McIntosh, a 6-4 point guard, is the key piece. He averages 14.1 points and 9.0 assists, and his assist-turnover ratio is an astounding 10-1.
“Video game stats,” Hoffman said. “McIntosh will be the best player we’ve played this year. He’s phenomenal. We have our hands full with Greensburg. They were the best team last year and probably the best in the state this year. It’s going to be a tall order, for sure, but our guys like playing against the good teams.”
Silver Creek’s statistics do not leap off the page. The Dragons have three double-figure scorers in 6-6 sophomore center Christian Reed (11.9 points, 8.7 rebounds), junior forward Gabe Bauer (11.0 points) and junior guard Nick Tinsley (10.3 points, 3.0 assists).
The Dragons will counter the Greensburg star power with balance, hoping the sum of their parts is greater than the individual pieces.
“We’ll go with eight guys playing their best basketball and playing together as well as they can,” Hoffman said. “We’ll try to make it as ugly and physical as we can to compete against them.”
Greensburg expected to be in Washington this weekend. When Silver Creek officials started looking for hotel rooms, none were available. Nearly all the reservations were made far in advance by Greensburg fans. The Dragons will have to stay overnight in nearby Montgomery and bus to the historic Hatchet House.
The Pirates are the overwhelming favorites to win the regional and the state title.
“All the pressure is on Greensburg,” Hoffman said. “Our kids relished that role last weekend. We played loose and played like we had nothing to lose. Give your best and have fun.”
Greensburg leads the state in scoring margin at 32.3 points per game. Besides the only loss (89-87 to Madison in overtime after the host Pirates blew a 21-point lead in the third quarter), only five opponents have stayed within single digits.
“We’ll approach the game like a boxing match,” Hoffman said. “We’ll try to hang in there until the last round, the fourth quarter, and see if we can make something happen at the end. If we’re close in the fourth quarter, I like our chances.
“The strength of our season, the reason I feel we won the sectional, is defensive rebounding. Keeping those guys in check will be a tall order, but if we can get back and make them score over our set defense, keep them to one shot and take care of the ball, that gives us the best chance to beat them.”
The regional winner will face the Greencastle Regional champion in the one-game semistate on March 22 at either Richmond or Seymour. The IHSAA will announce the site Sunday.