Humble and hungry.
Shawnee head coach Mark Triplett has preached this message throughout this season and the Indians have responded by making it to state.
With four starters back from last year’s team that made it to the regionals with an undefeated record, the Indians understood coming into this year how good they were going to be but knowing it and doing it are two different things but the Indians never got overconfident, stayed humble and hungry, and won a Western Buckeye League title and are 25-1. The team’s only loss this year was to Findlay.
The Indians will play Division II state semifinal against Akron St. Vincent-St. Marys (23-2) at the University of Dayton at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“I think our guys do a good job of keeping each other grounded and understand there are always ways we can get better and improve, and we preach we get 1 percent better each day, and I think our guys bought into that over the years and just holding each other accountable and making sure the guy beside you is doing the right thing on the floor.”
The tears of disappointment last year were turned to cries of joy last Saturday when Shawnee won its regional final and now they are ready to complete the mission that began two seasons ago. In these past two years, Shawnee has gone 50-1.
“I think there was a release of a lot of emotion, Triplett said. “It was basically two years of working towards that same goal and you get real close last year and it ended obviously in the way that no one imagined and to get back to it this year.
“It was a lot of pressure for the kids to play well and they performed and competed at a high level and we had a lot of fun doing it so it was a real fun day for us on Saturday.”
Triplett said it is a combination of reasons for why this team has made it to state.
“Primarily, I think is that they love each other,” Triplett said. “Guys think of each other as brothers and when you have your family involved you are going to fight a little harder for them. I think that they all knew that how this was not important to themselves as individuals but to the entire team.
“Along with that and the we it ended last year with their brothers (seniors last year) with Will (Roberson) with Bark (John Barker) and with (Matt) Bean not with us anymore so now you are fighting for them as well. I think they had a lot of feelings and combinations of different things that went into that, and they weren’t going to be denied to get to this point.”
But now it is back to refocusing and that is capturing the state title.
Triplett said the message to his team is that there is more out there and challenges his team to continue to improve and that not to be content to just make it to state but strive to hoist the hardware Sunday.
“It is obviously a celebration and we are very proud of what these kids have accomplished but this isn’t the time to reflect,” Triplett said. “We are not ready to be done. We have more work out there for us and I think our kids are excited about that opportunity.”
Akron St. Vincent-St. Marys
The Indians face a big test against Akron St. Vincent-St. Marys. The name is easily recognizable not just as Lebron James’ alma mater but as one of the best teams in the state during the last decade.
The Fighting Irish’s only two losses came to state-ranked Cincinnati Moeller and national power Dematha out of Maryland.
The Fighting Irish have won eight state titles including back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018.
“We talk about it early in the season that we have a great legacy,” Irish head coach Dru Joyce said in a teleconference Monday. “What I tell the kids is that it’s their turn. It’s their turn to write their chapter. They can’t live on the laurels of the guys who have been before them. They have an opportunity now to continue the legacy and keep things moving in a positive direction. We keep the standard high.”
Akron is averaging 72.8 points a game and is giving up an average of 51.6 points a contest. In its four playoff appearances, the Irish are winning by an average of 36 points.
Ohio State commit Malaki Branham is the Irish’s top player and he is flanked by juniors Ramar Pryor and Sencire Harris. Pryor has committed to Cleveland State. Branham, the Division II All-Northeast Inland district co-player of the year, averages 22 points a game. Harris comes in with a 14 point average and Pryor is pumping in 13 points a contest.
We have a very talented group, we have some depth and we have some young guys who have stepped up to support the seniors who are our leaders,” Joyce said. “It’s like the old cliche that defense wins championships. That’s kind of how we go about this. We’ve made it very clear to these guys and they’ve bought in that the better we are defensively we’re going to create the offense. We have guys who are willing to sit down and guard people. We’re just going sit down and play man to man. They do it well, they do it at a very high level. We’ve been able to guard all kinds of teams.”
Triplett said his team is excited for the challenge to face Akron and have not hidden from the expectations of playing such a well renowned program.
“We are not going to shy away that this is a really talented basketball team that we are going up against and we are looking forward to that opportunity.”
Triplett said one of the keys is to attack the basket and rebound the ball.
“They are a team that pride themselves on being the tougher team and the more physical team and they get into your body at half court defensively and their ability to frustrate teams, force turnovers and get transition buckets is a huge part of their game,” Triplett said. “Our guys are going to have to respond to that physicality challenge on both ends of the floor.”