The footsteps of an approaching high school basketball giant are audible. Most opponents, even those in higher classifications, would tremble and seek a fortified place to hide or cower.
Providence will not. The Pioneers, young, a little impetuous but certainly fearless, will stand their ground when they face defending state champion Heritage Christian in the Class 2-A girls semistate at Jeffersonville on Saturday evening.
The No.1 Eagles (26-2) and No.11 Pioneers (22-5) will meet in the second game of the doubleheader at Johnson Arena. The opener at 4 p.m. will feature the Class A semistate clash between No.1 Barr-Reeve (27-0) and No.3 Jac-Cen-Del (24-3). Both winners will advance to the state championship games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 7.
Heritage Christian’s reputation precedes it. The Eagles, who have won five state championships in the last decade, would be among the contenders to win a 4-A crown, having beaten 17 4-A foes (including five ranked ones) during their regular-season march. With a collection of six Division I recruits, they are huge favorites in 2-A.
“We have taken the approach this year not to defend a state championship, but rather win another state championship,” Heritage Christian coach Rick Risinger said. “We have been working to take our program to the next level.”
Providence’s stance? Bring them on. The Pioneers, fresh from the first regional championship in program history, have nowhere to run. They will turn and fight.
“Obviously we have a very huge, monumental task in front of us,” Providence coach Brad Burden said. “But stranger things have happened in this world. There have been bigger upsets than this. We’re going to be fearless and attack them.
“We have nothing to lose. We’ve played big-time opponents before. They have to come to our backyard. The girls are intelligent and they know exactly how good they are and what they’re capable of doing. But the girls also know what we’re made of. They’re going to play as hard as they possibly can.”
Providence is composed of underclass talent. Sophomore Claire Rauck leads the way at 19.4 points per game while freshman Hannah Wolford adds 14.7. Marissa Hornung, another freshman, averages 9.9 points and 7.8 rebounds.
The Pioneers are shaped around shooters. They average 20 3-point attempts per game. And they won’t back away from that now. Other coaches might consider a slow-down strategy against an overwhelming force, attempting to negate an athletic edge. Providence is not built that way.
“We want the girls to play loose and free, not have any pressure,” Burden said. “We’re going to play exactly how we normally play. We feel that’s the only way we know how to play.
“Not that we want to force shots, but because you don’t get a lot of open looks, if we’re open we’re going to shoot. We’re not going to sit out there and hold the ball, that’s not our style of play. We’ll attack them and see how the shots fall.”
Heritage Christian prefers the torrid tempo. The Eagles are seventh in the state in scoring (70.5) and fourth in winning margin (26.9). They swarm and force turnovers, led by junior guard Tyasha Harris (17.4), and 6-4 junior center Darby Forsman (an Indiana University recruit). Even the loss of starting guard Sydney Hall (11.8, out with a stress fracture) and reserve junior forward Taylor Hall (knee injury) late in the season has not slowed then down.
“The first thing we have to do is take care of the basketball, because they’re going to come out with a lot of pressure,” Burden said. “We have to withstand their waves. They try to go on runs, so we have to stay poised through that. We have to really get back on defense. One of our keys is usually full-court pressure, but we won’t be doing that.”
Providence’s goal is to establish its program on a level with Heritage Christian, on a par with its own volleyball and soccer programs that have won state titles in recent years. Winning the regional and advancing to the Final Four in 2-A is the first step. Upsetting the defending champion and sending shockwaves across Indiana would be another.
“We’re now in select company,” Burden said. “I consider Southern Indiana to be a hotbed for girls basketball with a lot of really good programs, schools with great basketball traditions. We now have a new tradition.”
The winner will face either No.2 Fort Wayne Canterbury (22-2) or No.4 Wabash (24-3) in the state championship.
Justin Sokeland can be followed on Twitter at @golfguru55.
CLASS 2-A SEMISTATE
Providence vs. Heritage Christian
When: Saturday, 6 p.m. at Jeffersonville
Records: Providence 22-5, ranked No.11; Heritage Christian 26-2, ranked No.1
Game notes: Heritage Christian is the defending Class 2-A state champion. The Eagles also won four straight state titles from 2006-09. Providence is making its first semistate appearance. Heritage Christian is ranked No.4 in the state on the Sagarin computer power ratings. The Indiana Girls’ Basketball website predicts a 67-39 victory for Heritage Christian. The Eagles lost to nationally ranked Whitney Young (Ill.) and Columbus North, a Class 4-A regional champion. Heritage Christian will compete in Class 3-A next season, moved up by the IHSAA’s ‘success factor’ rule.