Two Southern Indiana teams’ postseason paths are set to cross at the Class 1A Loogootee Regional on Saturday.
In a rematch from the regular season, West Washington and New Washington will meet in the semifinal opener at 10:30 a.m., with the winner advancing to the regional championship at 7:30 p.m. The Mustangs (18-9) topped the visiting Senators (20-6) 72-62 on Jan. 28.
New Washington’s Sectional 62 championship was its fifth overall and the first in 16 years, dating back to the program’s only regional title-winning team. Coach Jonathan May played for the Mustangs in 2000 when they claimed their third crown.
West Washington, meanwhile, earned its second straight Sectional 61 title en route to a return trip to the regional semifinals. The Senators, winners of four sectionals all-time, won the program’s lone regional title a season ago.
The Mustangs went 12-for-18 from beyond the arc in their regular-season win over West Washington. Senators coach Sean Smith, a former standout himself during his playing years at Eastern Pekin, said that defensive effort won’t cut it come Saturday.
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“The first time around, we found ourselves in an 11-point deficit at the end of the first quarter,” Smith said. “New Washington moved the ball well and shot the ball extremely well. We didn’t defend well at all, our energy level was very poor, and we didn’t execute offensively. … New Washington has a solid team. They have good guard play, multiple shooters, size inside and their core unit is playing really well together right now.”
West Washington is 10-2 since its setback at New Washington The senior-laden Senators survived a couple “dog fights,” Smith said, to begin postseason play before cruising to a sectional title over host Borden this past weekend.
With a rotation consisting of six seniors – Michael Sizemore, Hunter Sanford, Peyton Walker, Noah Green, Jackson Byrne and Bryce Farmer – West Washington is susceptible to depth issues, but the Senators posted 20 wins for the second straight season nonetheless.
“This team has had to persevere at times this year,” Smith said, “but to their credit, we are still alive and playing. We have often taken other teams’ best shots and faced pressure and adversity, but we’re good at finding ways to win.”
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For New Washington, May said, it all starts with 6-foot-8 center Stevie Mack alongside fellow seniors Caleb Ellison, Hunter Lind, Zach Moore and Brandon Horton. The Mustangs fell to 8-7 after a loss at Henryville on Jan. 13, but New Washington has won 10 of 12 since, including the win over the Senators.
The Mustangs are capable shooters, but May said the team’s increased emphasis on defense and its willingness to work the ball inside have spearheaded New Washington’s string of success. The Mustangs’ average margin of victory has reached 12.8 points during its 10-2 stretch.
“The last 13 or 14 games that we’ve played, we’ve defended,” May said. “And we’ve had some guys really make some sacrifices on the offensive side of the floor. We’ve got some guys that can shoot it, but we’ve had to make some sacrifices, individually, to get the ball inside more, take less perimeter shots. And the defensive end of the floor has really helped us.”
With a win Saturday morning, West Washington or New Washington, both receiving votes in the final Class 1A AP poll, will advance to the regional championship versus No. 5 Wood Memorial (21-5) or Loogootee (21-7).
The last time the Mustangs advanced to a regional semifinal, a year after May’s graduation in 2000, New Washington eventually captured its prized regional title. The Mustangs hope to replicate that success in their latest trip.
“I know a sectional win is big for us,” Mack said, “but we’re not done. We’re not done. We want to put more than just a sectional championship up there. We want to be the team to really show that we’ve got it, that we’re a family. … The principles that we have here are the principles that will set us up for the rest of our lives. It’s not just about being a Mustang, it’s about being a family.”
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