COLUMN: Winning region is toughest task

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Some variables can be controlled, others can't

By John Herndon


It might be the most difficult task in team sports.

We're talking about winning a regional high school championship in a one-and-done tournament.

Both Anderson County High School basketball teams were set to begin their respective quests for the big regional trophy and a Sweet 16 berth Tuesday night at Collins High School in Shelbyville.

The Lady Bearcats were heavily-favored to dispatch of Spencer County and move on to Friday's district final and next week's Eighth Region tournament.

The Bearcat boys were also favored, but only slightly, and were expecting a dogfight with one of only three teams to have beaten them in the regular season. If the Bearcats won, they also cleared the first hurdle in the monumental task.

There are some that believe getting to the Final Four in the NCAA tournament is the toughest job in sports, but as difficult as that is, I believe it is a little brother to the high school version.

Several years ago, I had the privilege to meet and interview Indiana legend Bobby Plump. If you don't know that name, think Jimmy Chitwood.

Plump led his tiny Milan High School to the Indiana state championship in 1954. The Indians defeated Muncie Central in the finals when Plump hit a jump shot in the closing seconds. The story inspired the movie “Hoosiers” although Plump said the movie was largely fiction.

He believed, as I do, that winning a high school regional tournament is the toughest task in sports. In fact, I have heard many state tournament participants say getting to the Sweet 16 is tougher than winning it, once you are there.

As Bobby Plump told me, a team has to defeat its rivals, meaning the teams that are closest and want to beat you the most. Milan had to defeat Versailles High, a team it had beaten three times by a total of 14 points, in the sectional tourney, Indiana's equivalent of Kentucky's districts.

That is what makes it so tough. When the NCAA tips off next month, the first-round opponent is likely someone you might have seen on TV or heard about, but that's it. You won't hit a conference foe until the third round, at the earliest.

“Teams know you like they know the back of their hand. They know everything you do,” Anderson coach Glen Drury told me after winning the 2009 Eighth Region title. His team had beaten Shelby County for the third time, needing a buzzer-beating shot from C.J. Penny to do it.

Mathematically, it is possible that the Anderson girls would have to beat Collins or Shelby County for a third and fourth time to get to the state tournament.

After Jan. 1, it almost becomes a game to see which regional coaches show up at games to get a look at you. One Anderson coach – I won't say who or which team – confided to me recently that he had seen a possible post-season foe “six or seven times” this year.

Another reason it is so tough is that we are talking about kids. They are human beings. There will be days when the goal appears as wide as the Atlantic Ocean and others where it looks like the eye of a needle.

I don't know why that happens, but do know you have to find a way to win when it does.

Then there is the luck factor. It might be in the form of a great draw. It might be in the way the ball bounces or getting a crucial call go your way when it could go either.

It is something no one can control.

All a team can do is go out, leave everything on the floor and let everything else shake out.

And, of course, hope that it will be enough to navigate the tournament waters.


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