Mid-Southern proving to be tough as mid-major

Mid-Southern proving to be tough as mid-major

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Mid-Southern proving to be tough as mid-major

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If league strength is measured by the power of the top-tier teams, by the placement of its high-profile members in the state polls, which one currently ranks as Indiana’s best? One of the arguable answers is the Mid-Southern.

Surprised? With three ranked Class 3-A titans, with a fourth lurking in the shadows of recognition, the league is top-heavy with talent. Only the formidable Metropolitan Conference in Indianapolis, with four ranked 4-A powers, can boast more.

No.2 Brownstown (9-1), No.3 Silver Creek (12-1) and No.9 Corydon (7-3) form a gauntlet. Surviving that run, according to veteran Scottsburg coach Brady Wells, just requires “a few more pepto tablets, sleepless nights and gray hairs.”

The battle for the league crown, which was split three ways last season, will intensify on Friday night when Silver Creek visits Brownstown for a showdown game. Brownstown, with six straight seasons of 20-plus wins and two trips to the state final under Dave Benter, has long been regarded as the league’s gold standard. Silver Creek isn’t mining for silver.

“Everybody has been trying to catch up to them,” Silver Creek coach Brandon Hoffman said. “They set the pace for everybody else.”

When did the Mid-Southern, a collection of 10 medium-size schools in Southern Indiana, become more than high school basketball’s version of a mid-major? Brownstown’s success of the last decade opened the door.

“Brownstown is always good,” Corydon’s Jamie Kolkmeier said. “Those kids are ultra-competitive. It’s fun to watch, but it’s not very fun to play against. We keep thinking that’s the hurdle we have to clear. Brownstown was model for shooting big and making state tournament runs. Now you have multiple teams with that goal in mind. And only one of us is getting out.”

Only one can survive for postseason success. Seven of the league neighbors, including the power trio, are joined by 3-A No.14 Madison (8-1) in the loaded Sectional 30, which Silver Creek waded through last season.

The Dragons, with that taste still on the palate, toughened their schedule even more. They play every Hoosier Hills Conference team except Floyd Central. Brownstown will face five from that 4-A league, and Corydon has four (plus a road trip to Bloomington South) HHC foes on its slate.

That was done with a purpose.

“Every coach’s goal is to have a team that’s battle-tested come tournament time,” Hoffman said. “It definitely gives us all we can handle.

“Last year’s success has played a big role in our success this year. It gave us a taste of what it’s like to be successful in the postseason. Our guys are really hungry to get back to where we were, and go a little further. I don’t think it’s a one-hit wonder at all. There’s so many good coaches in our league, and now everybody pushes each other to be great.”

Benter views each conference contest as an “elimination game. Night in and night out, you have to be ready to play.” That’s part of what makes the clash with Silver Creek so crucial. Both are undefeated in league play. So is Corydon (2-0). And Scottsburg (9-3, 4-2 after losses to Brownstown and Corydon) could still slip into the picture.

“We’re going to spend all winter beating each other up, then we all play again in the sectional,” Wells said.

Winning the league title doesn’t guarantee a successful state tournament. Silver Creek was fourth behind the tri-champions last year, then caught fire in the sectional and upset the three favorites for the title.

“It’s going to be even better this year,” Benter said. “It’s gotten to the point where any team, on any night in the sectional, can beat any other team. It’s going to be a dogfight.”

Justin Sokeland can be followed on Twitter at @golfguru55

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