A pair of area teams are hoping the old adage that defense wins championships proves true at regionals this weekend.
Class A No. 2 Oregon-Davis showcased its relentless fullfourt pressure last weekend, throwing several different defensive looks at Triton in both the full- and the halfcourt to earn a repeat Sectional 51 championship over the No. 9 Trojans, 76-38, while 3A No. 10 Plymouth rode its signature man-to-man pressure in the halfcourt in another dominant 38-21 Sectional 19 title win against Mishawaka Marian at New Prairie.
Plymouth (17-6) will play Griffith (15-8) in the late semifinal at the Rensselaer Central Regional at 1 p.m. ET Saturday following the tourney opener between No. 4 Benton Central (20-3) and the host Bombers (16-7) with the championship scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET. The Bobcats take on Morgan Township (14-10) in the early semi at the Caston Regional with tip-off slated for 10:30 a.m. ET, meanwhile, with the winner advancing to face the winner of No. 1-ranked Fort Wayne Canterbury (21-3) and West Central (14-9) at 8 p.m. ET.
Both Plymouth and OD have built sectional championship seasons on the defensive end, and neither team is looking to change up that recipe for success Saturday.
“I think we have an advantage because we’ve built a lot of what we do off our defense, and we know our defense is always going to be there,” said Plymouth head coach Dave Duncan. “For me, that’s an advantage. I think when you get to the regional, semistate levels, teams typically don’t see our switching man-to-man defense, and we feel like that’s a plus for us.”
“For the most part any way at our practices, we work on things that we need to work on more than we worry about who we’ll be playing. We’ve always done that,” said OD boss Terry Minix. “We’re going to work with them on tendencies and things that the other teams do, but for the most part we just worry about hitting free throws, boxing out, running the floor, playing good defense.”
While both Plymouth and Oregon-Davis are defensive-minded squads, the two teams get the job done a little differently.
OD presses at a relentless pace and is liable to switch up defensive looks from various zones to man coverage, and Plymouth relies on a fundamentally solid switching man defense to keep the ball out on the perimeter.
Both teams will jump trap on the wings to fluster their opponents into turnovers, and both have breakaway speed in the fullcourt to convert those steals into easy layups.
Plymouth is preparing for a battle against a physical Griffith squad, and the Lady Pilgrims’ best asset in the contest may be their tough Northern Lakes Conference schedule.
“Griffith plays out of the region, and they are a very physical team. They run a lot of four-out, one-in offense. They have good spacing on the floor, and they play really good defense. I expect it’s going to be a real physical game,” said Duncan.
“We just talked about it in practice, that the NLC prepared us for regionals. Our conference is a very physical conference, and that will prepare you for the tourney.”
For OD, depth and balance are two of the team’s greatest strengths.
Unlike in years past when the little school from Hamlet rarely went more than six deep, this year’s squad should be able to put eight on the floor without much drop-off.
And the team’s starting five is tough to stop on the offensive end, with any of four players capable of dropping 20 in a given night in Ashley Campbell, Haley Collings, Jessie Avarone and Alicia McIntosh.
“I think they are playing well as a team. The nice thing is they’re very, very unselfish,” said Minix. “The main thing is… it’s about winning. It’s nice to see in the South Bend Tourney, Jessie made the all-star team there, and then we returned to the Bi-County and Haley was the MVP of that tourney. And then Ashley’s been our leader the whole year long. They’re all getting their recognition, but they don’t care. It’s nice to see it spread around, and I think it’s made us a better team because of it.”
Regionals offer a unique stage in the state tournament as teams must play twice in one day to earn a championship.
Since it’s one and done and the focus has to be on the first game, there’s little time to prepare for what’s to come in the potential championship match-up. Keeping players on task for that first game can sometimes be a challenge, and in Plymouth’s and OD’s case, it’s tempting to look ahead to the field favorites in the night game as Benton Central looks to get back on top after falling in the first round of sectional last year following the team’s run to state in 2011, and Canterbury is seeking a repeat state title after knocking off the Bobcats in the regional championship last season.
It’s cliche but true — championships are won one game at a time, and neither Minix nor Duncan is getting ahead of himself headed into this weekend.
“Well I think obviously the favorite’s Canterbury, but our main concern is to get to the championship game and make it through Morgan Township,” said Minix. “That’s who we’re preparing for right now, and we’ll worry about the next hurdle once we get to it. The kids understand that you can’t play the second one without getting through the first one.”
“We’re concerned about the first game right now,” Duncan echoed. “We’ve prepared a lot for Griffith because they’re a very good team and they’re well-coached. We don’t really know who’s going to come out of the second game. We have a good idea, but we’re preparing for Griffith right now.”