By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA — In a lot of ways, this has been an old-school Indian Hills basketball season.
Lots of points. Lots of excitement. Lots of wins.
So perhaps it’s fitting that the Region XI championship comes down to one final regional meeting this year with IHCC’s oldest rival. Like so many seasons, the top-ranked Warriors road to Hutchinson, Kan., will have to include overcoming the roadblock that is found right down old Highway 34.
Southeastern. Indian Hills. One game. One night. One Region XI champion.
That’s about as old-school as it gets for the great Warrior and Blackhawk basketball programs.
“This place (the Hellyer Center) ought to look like a crazy circus, which is what you want to be playing in and what you want to be coaching in,” IHCC head coach Barret Peery said. “You’ve got two great teams battling it out at the end for a championship.”
“It’s going to be absolutely a wonderful night,” fellow IHCC sophomore Roosevelt Scott added. “Southeastern is a great team and we know they’re going to come out to play us hard. We just have to play them even harder.”
Aside from a few additional non-regional losses suffered by the Blackhawks, not much has separated the Warriors from Southeastern heading into tonight’s title contest. The two teams played each other for 80 tough minutes in the two regular-season games.
In game one, the Blackhawks (ranked 17th heading into tonight) overcame an early 15-point deficit and battled through several ties and lead changes in the second half to pull away in the final five minutes for a 104-94 victory at Loren Walker Arean. The loss was the first and only time this year IHCC has been outscored in regulation by an opponent.
That win allowed Southeastern to enjoy the first half of regular season regional play alone in first place. That changed three weeks ago when another tightly played contest between the two regional rivals came down to a second-half surge by the Warriors that allowed Indian Hills to even the series and regional standings with an 84-81 triumph in Ottumwa.
Through it all, the Warriors have considered themselves a better team for taking on the test that Southeastern provided in the regular season series.
“They’ve really pushed us hard,” Peery said. “We’ve played so many good teams and they’ve been as good as anyone at pushing us and making us work.”
The Feb. 8 win over Southeastern also proved to be the most important win the Warriors earned this year. The Blackhawks entered the Hellyer Center three weeks ago needing a win to essentially secure the outright regular season regional title and home court advantage throughout the postseason.
Having experienced what a hostile environment Loren Walker Arena can be to a visiting team, IHCC got its first true "must-win" victory of the year to bring home court back into the Warriors favor. Last Saturday, Indian Hills got its second "must-win" with a 104-93 victory over Marshalltown with the postseason home court still up for grabs.
Sophomore Roderick Bobbitt, who was part of IHCC’s last postseason journey two years ago to the national tournament, knows how important playing at the Hellyer Center can be for the Warriors.
“We had some big plays (Wednesday in the regional semifinals against Marshalltown). Anytime we make those plays, it gets the crowd into it and it messes with other team because it’s so loud,” Bobbitt said. “It makes it tough for them just to get the ball in. Whenever we can get the crowd involved, we love to do it.”
The Warriors figure to need every advantage they can get against a Southeastern squad that didn’t buckle when faced with the prospect of taking down IHCC at the Hellyer Center earlier this year. The Blackhawks came out setting the pace of play head coach Terry Carroll wanted against the up-tempo Warriors, leading to Southeastern opening a nine-point lead in the first half and nearly erasing a late nine-point deficit before time finally ran out.
“We like competition. We’re a good team and they’re a good team,” IHCC sophomore Lester Medford said. “It was just another mountain we had to overcome. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Both teams were impressive on Wednesday night in advancing to the regional championship showdown. Southeastern pulled away in the second half from an Iowa Western team that had been off for two weeks for an 88-71 win, opening up a double-digit lead by halftime while never allowing the formerly rated Reivers to make a serious threat.
IHCC, meanwhile, made amazing strides in the span of four days between matchups with Marshalltown. After having to rally from 11 points down to end the regular season with a 104-93 win over the Tigers last weekend, the Warriors rolled to a 133-80 win in a game that was highlighted by a season-best 18 made 3-pointers.
“I thought our coaches did a good job pinpointing what we needed to fix and what we needed to correct,” Peery said. “Ultimately, the guys did a great job taking that out to the floor and executing the game plan.”
Scott, who managed to pour in a game-high 30 points before fouling out on Wednesday in the regional semifinals, saw one simple difference in what made the Warriors click offensively.
“We got our rhythm back and you saw what a difference it made,” Scott said. “The biggest difference between those two games was simply that our shots weren’t falling. Once they start falling, there’s no stopping us.”
While tonight’s game is the first time in the five-team regional postseason setting that Southeastern and Indian Hills have met in a one-game championship setting, it is not the first time these two have battled under such circumstances.
In 2009, second-ranked IHCC lost the third and decisive game of the regional championship series to unranked Southeastern in an 81-80 overtime thriller decided on a Brian McMikle basket with seven seconds left. Dwight Buycks scored 32 points for the Warriors, which had rallied from 32-12 first half deficit to force OT.
There’s no way to predict a repeat performance tonight in the one-game, winner-take-all showdown. One thing that is easy to predict is that both teams are prepared to go the distance to decide a champion against each other.
“We’re really looking forward to this,” sophomore Roderick Bobbitt said. “It’s all tied 1-1 between us. We let that first game get away from us, but we’re going to continue to make up for that.”
“This is it. The championship game. We’re going to leave it all out there.”
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