Tourney time: Down home Hoosier Hysteria

SPICELAND — As millions across the country prepared themselves for a Sunday evening of fatty foods and football, there were a few thousand in Indiana who had more pressing business to attend to that afternoon — the 40th annual IHSAA Girls Basketball State Tournament Pairing Show.

The crucial, yet random draw determines the schedule of each of the 64 sectionals across the state.

I was privileged to spend a couple of hours Sunday afternoon at the home of a Hancock County coach, where I would watch the selection show with him and his team.

Eastern Hancock’s fourth-year coach Jeremy Powers was gracious enough to open his Spiceland home to me and let me take in the atmosphere of a team awaiting its fate.

He allowed me to talk to his family, his players, his assistant coaches. He offered food and drink and even a comfy seat to watch the show. However, there was one thing he refused to provide — his hopes for how Selection Sunday would shake out.

Despite my best efforts, the Royals coach adeptly swatted away any attempt I made to pry into his psyche.

“I’ve talked in the past, and it didn’t work out, so I’m not talking” he said with a laugh. “The last three years, we three coaches have always predicted or had an idea about who we wanted or where we wanted to go. This year we’re not even talking about it. Even my sister asked me the other day. I told her, ‘I’m not talking about it.’ Not this year.”

To understand the reasons behind Powers’ silence and his decision to watch the selection show from a preordained place in his living room — a location different than where he watched the past three seasons — is to know how his’ teams have fared in recent tournaments.

The Royals’ roads to the sectional championship have been treacherous, to say the least.

Three years ago, Eastern Hancock drew a tourney-openingmatchup with sectional favorite Hagerstown and lost by 31 points.

Two years ago, the Royals advanced to the semifinals but only after having to claw their way past a hot Northeastern squad. They would then come up two points short against Centerville in Round 2.

Last year, the Royals climbed their way back to the championship after they disposed of two teams (Cambridge City and Hagerstown) with a combined regular-season record of 25-15. Their sectional title opponent Knightstown, meanwhile, all but waltzed to the title game with tilts against two teams with seven combined victories. The Panthers proceeded to edge the Royals by four.

“Karma eventually has to even out,” said Powers, while standing to the left of his living room furniture, which overflowed with blue-and-white clad players. “It eventually has to treat us well at some point. I’m hoping it’s this year.”

I shouldn’t be surprised at his allegiance to superstition, Powers said to me. When it comes to basketball, “I’m ridiculous.”

He went on to explain his unwavering pregame routine. His discussion with assistant coach Rex Putt always occurs at the same table. He always takes a shower and changes into a new set of clothes; he drinks the same thing (Cherry Coke); and he eats the same thing (two cups of apple sauce and two granola bars) before every game.

Safe to say, after these revelations, I didn’t take it personally that he wasn’t letting me in on his hopes for the draw. These we were the fates we were talking about. You don’t mess with those.

His team, on the other hand, was far less resilient to my inquiries — and apparently far less superstitious — than their coach. In fact, they had no qualms about making their sectional desires known.

The Royals girls, far more relaxed as they chatted away nonchalantly throughout the house, had only one desired outcome in mind — a grudge match with Knightstown. The Panthers were the team that kept them from sectional glory last year and the team that nipped them earlier this season 65-63.

“We want to play them just because of the rivalry between the schools and because of the way the game earlier in the season went down,” said junior forward Megan Mench, sitting at the Powers’ family’s kitchen table with five of her teammates, while Powers’ wife, Kim, dished out refreshments.

The Royals used a valiant fourth-quarter effort to pull back from behind 14 entering the quarter. But it was too little too late, as they could not overcome 36 fouls and 25 turnovers.

“We’ve grown since that game,” sophomore guard Leah Ferguson said.

They want a chance to prove it.

Fortunately for them, their coach’s cosmic tributes paid off.

The Royals collected around the TV, and as the Class 2A Sectional 41 schedule flashed on the screen, the girls erupted with cheer, while their coach repeated, “We’ll take it. We’ll take it.”

Eastern Hancock had drawn a blessing: A bye, a free pass to the second round of the tournament and an extra couple of days to get healthy and to prepare new tactics.

After that, the girls likely will get want they all wanted so badly — a rematch with Knightstown.

The Panthers (13-8) will have to get through Union County (11-10) first, but that appears the likely scenario, considering their 18-point victory a couple of weeks ago.

“We’re going to get a chance for revenge,” sophomore leading scorer Emiley Carlton said, as she sat on the couch discussing the sectional with her teammates. “That’s what we wanted.”

After Powers laid out this week’s schedule for his team, he broke away from his post near the front door and walked across the living room armed with the answer to the only question I had for him.

Did the fates treat you well?

“I think the karma evened out a little bit,” he said with a smile. “Not completely, but it’s getting there. … We wanted Knightstown. And now we have a chance to get them.”

Sectional Schedule

4A Sectional 9 at Mt. Vernon

Tuesday, Feb. 10

Pendleton Heights vs. Connersville, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 11

Greenfield-Central vs. Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.

New Castle vs. Richmond, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 13

Anderson vs. PH-CO winner, 6 p.m.

GC-MV winner vs. NC-RI winner, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 14

Championship, 7:30 p.m.

Winner advances to Decatur Central Regional, Feb. 21

4A Sectional 13 at Greenwood

Tuesday, Feb. 10

Center Grove vs. Whiteland, 5:30 p.m.

Greenwood vs. Franklin, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 13

Franklin Central vs. CG-WH winner, 5:30 p.m.

New Palestine vs. GW-FR winner, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 14

Championship, 7 p.m.

Winner advances to Bedford North Lawrence Regional, Feb. 21

2A Sectional 41 at Cambridge City Lincoln

Tuesday, Feb. 10

Knightstown vs. Union County, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 11

Cambridge City Lincoln vs. Centerville, 6 p.m.

Northeastern vs. Hagerstown, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 13

Eastern Hancock vs. KN-UC winner, 6 p.m.

CCL-CE winner vs. NE-HA winner, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 14

Championship, 7:30 p.m.

Winner advances to Speedway Regional, Feb. 21

Jim Ayello is a sports writer for the Daily Reporter. Send comments to jayello@greenfieldreporter.com