TOPEKA — If you’ve got to prepare for someone anyway, why not get ready for the best?
That’s Bremen’s mentality headed into the Lions’ Class 2A Westview Sectional-opening game with the host Warriors Tuesday night at 6 p.m.
Bremen drew the two-time defending tourney champs in the first-round match-up at Sectional 35 in Topeka, but rather than bemoaning what is most likely the tournament’s toughest draw, Lions head coach Ryan Eakins was positive about the pick.
“Obviously we drew an extremely good team on their home floor and some people might look at it as a very tough match-up, but I love the match-up,” said Bremen head coach Ryan Eakins. “I love going up there and playing against a very good team right off the bat. Your first team in sectional is the one that you prepare for the most, so why not prepare for a really good team?”
LaVille plays Fremont in the late quarterfinal Tuesday, with Central Noble slated to play the Bremen-Westview winner in the early semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday night, and Prairie Heights waits in the wings for the Fremont-LaVille winner in the nightcap. Championship is scheduled for 7:30 Saturday.
Although the two teams don’t play one another during the regular season, Bremen and Westview now know each other pretty well — the Warriors have knocked off the Lions in the sectional title game each of the past two seasons.
Eakins downplayed any talk of a reprisal against the hosts but said two of his team’s senior captains —Ethan Pike and Jacob Box — may have an added incentive to play their best games Tuesday night after suffering through both season-ending losses in 2011 and 2012.
“Only a couple of our guys played in those games (in 2011 and 2012). Jacob and Ethan, I think it means something to them, but when you’re playing in a sectional game in your last go-around means more than that,” said Eakins. “I don’t think that there’s any revenge, but they have come up short against them the last couple times, and this is their last go-around, their last attempt, and they don’t want their last time in a uniform to be anything less than a really good feeling.”
While the Warriors may have some familiarity with the Lions, Bremen is bringing something of an X factor into Tuesday’s opener.
After waiting out the first 20 varsity games of the year, junior Penn transfer Joey Atkins will finally be eligible to play with the Lions varsity team Tuesday.
The junior guard dropped 41 of the Bremen JV team’s 49 points in a thrilling come-from-behind win over Marian last week, and he should add a new threat to the Lions’ offensive lineup behind Pike, who’s averaging better than 24 points a game, and Box, who’s putting up 14 a night.
“He’ll play on the ball and off the ball a little bit; we’ll use him in some different ways,” said Eakins of Atkins. “I just like the fact that he’ll spread the floor out. When you have shooters on the edge with Kai (Slough) and Joey, it’s going to help open up some driving lanes for Jacob and Ethan. When the driving lanes are open, they’re very, very good at getting to the rim and finishing, and if they want to help off those two guys, I think we’re very dangerous now. We’ll have to play a little bit differently on the defensive end, be a little bit smaller in that regard, but Joey’s a tough kid and he’s very strong physically, and he’s a very good rebounder.”
“They’re a big team — they’ll start four guys at 6-3, 6-4 so it’ll be a difficult match-up for us on the inside; we’re going to have to rebound extremely well to even have a chance. But I also think we’ll present some match-up problems for them. In my opinion it’ll be a game where you should see some exciting plays on the offensive end, probably higher-scoring than you usually get in a tournament game. But the key is going to be who can get stops.”
While Bremen takes on the Warriors, another Northern State Conference team joins the field at Westview Tuesday night as LaVille enters the tournament opposite Fremont.
The Lancers are on a four-game win streak beginning with an impressive double-overtime win over Mishawaka Marian Feb. 12, but they aren’t ready to rest on any laurels either.
“I really expect my guys to be focused, to approach the week with a burning desire, and play with everything they have, both mentally and physically,” said LaVille head coach Michael Edison. “We’re going to take it possession by possession, quarter by quarter, half by half, game by game. We aren’t looking past anybody.”
Key to the Lancers’ tournament success will be the thing that has helped give them 15 wins already this season — halfcourt defense. It could be a clash of styles Tuesday night as LaVille looks to bog down Fremont in a slowed down, halfcourt-style game, while the Eagles likely try and push the pace.
“We play Fremont in the first round,” said Edison. “They’re a very streaky team with a D-1 player in (Tyler) Jenkins. They’ll push the ball, go fast, and they’ll put it up from anywhere. Slowing them down and getting what we want on offense will be important.”
While the Lions and the Lancers likely got the toughest draws in the sectional field, both teams have a shot at making it to Friday night. And Saturday’s championship could very well end up a showdown between conference rivals.
“Westview is definitely the favorite; that’s the team to beat. Luckily or not luckily we wouldn’t have to play them until the championship game, if we’re fortunate enough to make it that far,” Edison said. “We’ve played Bremen this year, and Bremen could give Westview a run for its money.”
“Our sectional is phenomenal. There’s not a team in the field that I would want to play,” Eakins said. “We’re going to have to come play and if we’re fortunate enough to win Tuesday night then we only have more difficult games ahead of us. We saw LaVille early in the conference, and we were fortunate enough to play them on our home floor. They’re as good as any team around. I look for them to be successful throughout the week, and it’d be very neat if there was a Bremen-LaVille match-up on Saturday night.”
Class 2A Sectional 35
At Westview (Topeka)
Tuesday, Feb. 26
Bremen (10-10) vs. Westview (18-3) 6 p.m.
Fremont (12-8) vs. LaVille (15-6) 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 1
Central Noble (5-15) vs. Bremen-Westview winner 6 p.m.
Prairie Heights (11-11) vs. Fremont-LaVille winner 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 2
Championship 7:30 p.m.