In gymnasiums all around the basketball state, the quest for a state championship begins tonight. For all three Gibson County teams, eyes are set on postseason success starting with the IHSAA Sectional.
Tonight, 3A No. 12 Princeton Community and Class A No. 13 Wood Memorial open up sectional play at Southridge (Huntingburg) and Springs Valley respectively, while Gibson Southern awaits the Heritage Hills/Evansville Memorial winner in Friday's semi-final game at Boonville.
The Tigers capped the regular season with a 52-38 win over Evansville Day on Saturday, posting a 19-4 record. Tonight, they will face No. 18 Vincennes Lincoln (15-8), a team they beat 52-51 earlier this season. It will also be a rematch from the sectional last year, when the Alices beat Princeton 59-49.
Heading into the season Princeton had three season goals in mind. Win a sectional, win the Big Eight, and win 20 games. The Tigers came up short by one game in the Big Eight, behind Jasper, and can win their 20th game tonight and take one step closer to a sectional championship.
"It's what can we do this year to the sectional?" Tigers coach Ryan Haywood said. "We just want to win the sectional. Whoever they put in front of us, we just want to win."
Haywood admits both the Tigers and Alices are different teams when they met early in the season, and says they have turned their focused to recent games.
Haywood also thinks the Tigers are playing much sharper than they were earlier in the season, and executing at a higher level.
A win would pit the Tigers against Washington (9-13) in Friday's semi-final. Sullivan (17-6) is the favorite to come out of the other side of the bracket with Pike Central (11-11), and Southridge (10-13).
Princeton and Vincennes tip-off tonight at 7 p.m. at Huntingburg.
Wood Memorial will start its' road to a fourth straight sectional title tonight at Springs Valley against Northeast Dubois at 6:30 p.m.
The Jeeps (13-9) beat the Trojans (15-8) 66-54 earlier in the season, but Wood Memorial believes they have sharpened things up since the loss.
"We have to learn from things previously, and build off it," Trojans coach Kevin Menke said. "Dribble penetration and we will have to control the basketball better. Help defense and communication will be key."
With a win, the Trojans would face Cannelton (6-18) in the semi-finals on Friday. Springs Valley (17-6) and Evansville Day (10-11) play in the other semi-final.
"Our focus has been great," Menke said. "Right where it needs to be."
While Wood Memorial and Princeton have enjoyed success throughout the season, Gibson Southern has had many ups and downs.
After a 6-2 start, the Titans fell to 6-5, before rebounding to 11-6, but are currently on a five-game skid, ending the regular season with an 11-11 record.
Gibson Southern will face either 3A No. 14 Heritage Hills (20-3) or No. 7 Evansville Memorial (18-4). The Titans defeated the Patriots 58-56, and fell to the Tigers 61-49 back in early January.
During the recent losing streak, the Titans have had trouble scoring, and coach Kyle Runyan knows that is the key to success.
"The motto for the whole week is manufacturing points and putting the ball in the hoop," he said.
Despite playing both teams in the regular season, Runyan says the Titans are remaining focused on themselves.
"We are more concerned about us," he said. "We've lost five in a row. We are shooting ourselves in the foot more than anything."
On the other side of the bracket, No. 3 Evansville Bosse (19-4) faces Boonville (5-17) with the winner to face Mount Vernon (1-23) in the other semi-final Friday.
Gibson Southern will tip-off Friday night at 6 p.m.