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Coal City, Morris favorites to win regional

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Craig Lincoln file photo for Shaw Media)
Morris guard Jake Walker (20) hits for two against the Ottawa Pirates during the first half Tuesday in Morris, Feb. 25.
Caption
(Craig Lincoln file photo for Shaw Media)
Morris guard Sam Allen (11) hits from the outside against defense by Kaneland guard Connor Fedderly (10) during the first half Friday in Morris, Feb. 21.

The four games at the 2013 Class 3A Herscher Boys Basketball Regional were decided by a total of 15 points. Three were decided by three points or fewer.

Next week, the same five teams that played at Herscher last season will compete at the 2014 Prairie Central Regional. The coaches of this year’s top two seeds, Joe Blumberg at Morris and Brad Boresi at Coal City, believe there could be a similar level of parity this time around.

“Last year, I remember a few of us coaches were talking, and someone said, ‘If you’re just a general basketball fan and you came to all five of those regional games, you definitely got your money’s worth,” said Boresi, whose Coalers won last year’s Herscher Regional as the No. 4 seed.

“Our play-in game with Herscher went to two overtimes, and our game against Pontiac wasn’t decided until very late. Morris was down [20-3] to Prairie Central and came back. I think that shows that any team can potentially win any game.”

Based on 2013-14 records alone, Coal City and Morris are the two clear favorites to win the regional after they met for the championship at Herscher in 2013. Heading into their regular-season finales today, Morris is 16-8 overall and Coal City is 17-8. Nobody else at Prairie Central is currently over .500, and Pontiac and Prairie Central are far below the mark.

“Anyone that knows the Corn Belt Conference and how good U-High is and the athleticism of Mahomet-Seymour and Rantoul, [Pontiac and Prairie Central] are dangerous,” Blumberg said. “Herscher’s got some size. They also have an awfully good, talented and intelligent point guard [Mitchell Schwarzkopf] that can dictate the flow and tempo of a game. We anticipate all of the games to be close again.”

Coal City is led by several of the same players behind which it won last year’s regional. Its 2013 Morris Daily Herald All-Area selections, center Nick Peters, whose per-game averages of 16.5 points and 11.3 rebounds are team highs, and guard Brennen Shetina (13.3 PPG), are seniors instead of juniors.

“I think that having seven guys on my roster with regional experience is huge,” Boresi said. “Those guys know what it’s like to play in one and to be successful, and hopefully we can use that as a positive.”

Junior Austin Patterson has picked up much of the slack for Morris left by the graduation of its lone 2013 MDH All-Area first-teamer, Ben Ortiz. Patterson is averaging 16.4 PPG, with fellow juniors Jake Walker and Evan Bjelland chipping in 9.5 and 8.5, respectively.

“If our guys are looking past that first-round game, [and] at Pontiac or Coal City, they’re doing themselves an unbelievable disservice,” Blumberg said. “And maybe the silver lining in the three-game losing streak is they know that they’re not invincible, and you don’t take the floor with intensity, energy and you don’t execute, anybody can beat you.”

Morris and Coal City have met three times already this season, with the Coalers claiming the first at their own Turkey Tournament and Morris since winning two straight, including a 50-30 romp in the last game between the teams in January.

The Redskins also saw, and defeated Pontiac this season. Coal City has not yet faced any of the regional teams other than Morris, though its regular season ends tonight with a game at Herscher.

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