At first blush, you may not think the Russia and Jackson Center boys basketball game on Friday night is very significant in terms of wins and losses, the Shelby County Athletic League race or even the postseason. The two programs have totaled 11 losses and neither has a chance to win outright the SCAL title.
But, keep in mind, both programs are very well-coached, play extremely hard and have had numerous games this season during which their offenses were in high gear. Each is a dangerous foe for any opponent. The Tigers nipped the Raiders, 48-47, back on Dec. 17.
A little food for thought: defending state champion Botkins, which has won 30 of its last 31 games and is 9-0 in the league, has assured itself of at least a share of the SCAL crown. Thus, the dominance of the Trojans may take some luster off Friday’s confrontation at the Habitat of the Cat.
Nonsense… Forget all of that!
Dig a little deeper. There is for sure a lot at stake for Russia, 6-3 in the league, and Jackson Center, 6-4. Fort Loramie is also 6-4 with the only SCAL contests remaining on Feb. 4 at Houston and on Feb. 11 at home with Fairlawn.
Second place in the SCAL is wide, wide open. Fort Loramie seems to have a very good shot at closing out at 8-4. Russia has a loss at Anna; Jackson Center has beaten Anna. Both the Raiders and Tigers have dates remaining with the below-500 Rockets. Plus, Russia finishes the final regular season weekend on the road at Botkins. Fort Loramie, by the way, has topped Anna twice.
It is far-fetched to think about. But you just never know. If Botkins is upset three times by Fairlawn, Houston and Russia, the Raiders could forge a tie at 9-3 by sweeping its final trio of contests.
A much more likely scenario has the Raiders, Tigers and Redskins scrapping for finishes two through four in the SCAL. A tie could result.
Furthermore, a strong stretch run to the regular season can perhaps mean the “benefit of the doubt” from coaches of teams at the Piqua Division IV sectional when they cast votes for seeding as early as this Sunday. A big win or two late in the campaign benefits Russia, Jackson Center or Fort Loramie at the sectional draw.
Big deal, you say. Well, this year, it is. How quickly do you want to be stacked up against powerhouse Botkins in tourney play? As early as the sectional final, or district semi-final, as it is often termed now? Or do you want to roll the dice that you can survive until the regional semi-final and take your shot then after beating another strong SCAL foe and maybe Tri-Village along the way?
All three clubs behind Botkins in the SCAL have Midwest Athletic Conference opponents at home on Saturday. Jackson Center plays Minster. Russia hosts Versailles, ranked number one in the state in D-III. Fort Loramie entertains Marion Local, which is the only team to knock off Botkins this season.
Overall, through Thursday of this week, Russia is 11-5; Jackson Center is 10-6; and Fort Loramie, 9-8. Of the three, the Redskins have probably played the toughest schedule, which includes D-II Tiffin Columbian. The Redskins conclude the regular season against a loaded St. Marys club.
So, again, we consider, in what order do the SCAL schools behind Botkins earn the seeds? Part of that answer can be formed Friday night at Jackson Center.
You can bet that both the Tigers and Raiders will bring their “A” games. And the difference may darn near be like it was the first time the two clubs met…a single point.
Friday night’s prediction…. An “OT” game. Overtime!
ScoresBroadcast.com has the call at 7 p.m. WMVR, 105.5 TAM FM, simulcasts.