Pilgrims have new life in state tourney
PLYMOUTH — It's been a rocky season for Plymouth, and the Sectional 19 hosts could use a fresh start.
The Pilgrims (5-14) entered the season without one of their two leading returning scorers in senior Brock Smith after he was sidelined with a shoulder separation late in the football season, and have since had to endure extended stretches without 6-foot-8 Sean Smith and fellow senior forward Mitch Holloway due to suspension and injury, respectively. With the lineup only recently returned to full strength, Plymouth will get a chance to start over in the post-season against New Prairie (8-11) at home Wednesday.
"We haven't had the outcomes that we've wanted," said Plymouth head coach Kevin Stuckmeyer. "It's going to be key for our guys to understand that when sectional comes around it's a new season, and you can throw records out the window. There's no question that we've been battle-tested this year from injuries to suspension to having guys come back and having to figure out a rotation: We've had 10 different guys start this season, which is not traditionally normal, not something we're necessarily accustomed to. It just shows a lot of guys have gotten experience and we've been in several overtime games, several clutch games that came down to one possession here or there, so there's no question that we've had the tests in that regard and the understanding of what it's like to be in those situations, and when you get to the tournament a lot of games come down to one possession here or there."
"With everything that's gone the way it has it's nice to maybe have a little bit of a fresh start and to not have as much pressure put on you," Stuckmeyer added. "You can just go out and play and prepare and know that you have something to look forward to and a goal that's out there to reach. I think any competitor really enjoys those situations, and I expect all of our guys to be hungry and look forward to that challenge."
While Plymouth takes on New Prairie, Glenn plays Mishawaka Marian and Rochester matches up with South Bend St. Joseph's in the other first round games at Class 3A Sectional 19, while Culver Military Academy drew the bye in the seven-team field and awaits the winner of Tuesday's Glenn-Marian contest.
The Cougars are hunting for their first sectional title since 2003 and look to upend the defending sectional champion Pilgrims, something they haven't had much luck in doing with three straight first round losses to Plymouth the last three years at the tilt. They'll need to speed up the tempo and use their length and athleticism if they hope to break that streak this year.
"It's kind of becoming the norm these days; I think this is four years in a row now we've drawn New Prairie... Just like they've kind of been in the last couple years — just really long, really athletic. A difficult match-up as always," said Stuckmeyer.
"We're definitely going to have to control the tempo against New Prairie. Our shot selection is going to have to improve, and we're going to have to enjoy the ball in our hands a lot more than we have the last few games. They really like to get up and down and score a lot of points, and as we've shown, that's really not necessarily our strength. Our strength is to control the ball and control the game and dictate the tempo so it'll be important for us to do that, and we'll also have to rebound."