While the Annawan girls' postseason run has been the focus of attention, the school's boys' basketball program is ready to start a journey of its own.|
After an up-and-down regular season that ended with a 10-19 record, first-year coach Brandon Christy's Braves head into today's 7:30 p.m. matchup with Ridgewood at the Class 1A ROWVA Regional as a No. 6 seed looking to make a name for themselves.
"We've got a good group of seniors, and they realize our next loss is their last game," said Christy, who starts four seniors led by guards Grant Baele and Tony Gripp (12 and 11 points per game, respectively) and forward Michael Smith (11 points, nine rebounds).
Annawan has lost to its Lincoln Trail Conference rivals twice — falling 64-51 at Woodhull during the regular season, then dropping a 51-44 decision at the LTC Tournament, a game in which the Spartans (16-12) led by as much as 30 points during the first half.
"We were able to cut it to four with about a minute to go," Christy said of the latter game. "We have the bigs to stay with them, but (Ridgewood) has two or three good outside shooters, so if we can stay with them, we should be all right."
Ridgewood coach Casey Adamson, meantime, is aware of the problems Annawan presents as his club looks to continue its turnaround season.
"They're big, and they have a lot of seniors along with two good guards in Gripp and Baele," he said. "The second time we played them, we let off the gas a bit, and they got back into it. We were trying to conserve minutes the last time, which was almost a big mistake."
Conserving minutes is key for the Spartans' fast-paced, up-tempo style led by guards Elisha McCreary and Ridge Greenman (15 and 12 points per game, respectively). Sophomore center Sam Althaus has enjoyed a breakout campaign, with the 6-foot-6 standout putting up 11 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
With Tuesday's winner facing the probability of a semifinal showdown with LTC regular-season champion Galva (22-4), the Spartans feel that this week's regional gathering in Oneida could be anybody's for the taking.
"I think every coach there feels that way," said Adamson. "If you go on the seven degrees of separation, we beat Annawan, who beat Stark County (seeded third at the Princeville Regional), who beat Wethersfield, who beat Galva. That gives us cause to feel we can compete with anybody, but we have to take care of business (today)."
As for Galva, the Wildcats rebounded from a three-point loss to Wethersfield (23-6) in the LTC Tournament finals to post a 67-64 win over the Flying Geese, putting them in first for good as they completed a 10-0 LTC run behind junior Dexter Ingels (20 points per game) and senior Reece Hoxworth (17 points, 6.5 rebounds). In the last two seasons, Galva has won 19 of 20 conference games but would like to earn its first regional championship since 2002 to complete its turnaround.
Galvaopens tonight at 7:30 against No. 7 United, which has dropped 23 straight games since topping Lowpoint-Washburn in its season opener.
"I hope our guys are as determined as they say they are," said Galva coach Chance Jones. "Last year, we got a first-round bye and lost in our opener, so we won't overlook anyone."
As for the top-seeded Geese, led by junior guard Trevor Lay's 21 points per game, a recent rough stretch after winning the LTC tourney title should have them focused.
"We feel like we're one of the better teams — we have to play like it," said Wethersfield coach Jeff Parsons. "These kids are gamers, and they'll be ready. They really feel like they're the best in this regional, and they're going to go out and prove it. You'll see a different Geese team."