Huskies use extra time to prep for tournament runs

LEADING THE WAY — Harrison Central’s Kobe Mitchell looks to continue his strong season for the Huskies when tournament play begins against Claymont on March 2. (Andrew Grimm)

CADIZ — Time off can be a good thing for a team, but too much time off can be bad.

The Harrison Central boys and girls basketball teams hope the extra time between the regular season and the postseason will be good for them.

On the girl’s side, Harrison Central is scheduled to open up Ohio Division III Eastern District Sectional play in a co-final at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sandy Valley. The Cardinals (18-5) are the No. 4 seed team in the tournament, while the Huskies are the No. 11 seed.

“The week off has definitely been good for us,” Harrison Central (7-15) head coach Nick Yourkovich said. “It has allowed us to heal. We have been banged up. This time off has been a plus for us. It has helped us get back healthy. Injuries have taken a toll on us.”

Sandy Valley advanced to the game by defeating No. 15 seed West Muskingum, 52-30, Wednesday night at home.

“Bracket-wise and seed-wise, we are set where our record was,” Yourkovich said. “This is the best we could have asked for.”

Harrison Central played its last regular season game last Friday night.

“Sandy Valley is a really good team,” Yourkovich said. “They have 18 wins for a reason. I think we do match up well with them.”

On the boys side, Harrison Central is slated to play its final regular season game of the season tonight at Garaway. After that, Harrison Central will open up Ohio Division II Eastern District Sectional play against Claymont in a sectional co-final at 7 p.m. March 2 at home inside of the John W. Stephenson Center. The Huskies are the No. 6 seed, while the Mustangs (6-16) are the No. 15 seed.

“They have gotten better since we played them,” Harrison Central (16-5) head coach Justin Clifford said. “They are more competitive. They have got some bigger kids. They do some things that at times we have had a hard time handling. We expect to receive their best effort.”

Harrison Central defeated the Claymont, 66-45, Jan. 29 at home.

“They do not run like we do,” Clifford said. “They look to slow it down. They have the coach’s son (Cade Watkins) at guard. He’s a good player. They have another kid (Michael Lesiecki) who is a good athlete. He is a good baseball player. He has thrown some no-hitters. He is a good, strong kid.”

Gary Watkins is Claymont’s head coach.

Claymont defeated Buckeye Trail, 45-36, Tuesday at home in its regular season finale.

“They primarily play man,” Clifford said. “I am sure we are going to see some different things. They are going to try and take us out of what we want to do. They have gotten better. I expect we will see that.”

The Harrison girls are looking to play their best game of the season against Sandy Valley.

“At times this season I have been real pleased with how we were playing, but we have just been inconsistent” Yourkovich said.

The Huskies will have an hour trip as they travel to take on the Cardinals.

“They are skilled,” Yourkovich said. “They play about seven or eight girls. They have five girls who are really skilled. They really get after you on defense. Karlee Altimore is their best player. She can score. She can handle the ball. She’s aggressive.

“Defensively, we are going to have our hands full. They have three or four girls who can put pressure on you. They can drive to the basket and create shots for themselves or for their teammates.”

The Cardinals play aggressive defense.

“They like to press,” Yourkovich said. “They trap you. We have had difficulty with traps this season. They like to mix up their traps. They will apply full-court pressure, and they will also apply half-court pressure. They are going to want to speed us up. They are going to want to create turnovers. We are going to have to be able to handle their press. We are going to have stay strong against their traps.”

The Harrison boys have gotten off to slow starts in their last couple of games, and that is something Clifford would like to change heading into the team’s game against Garaway and then into the game against Claymont.

“We have had to shake off a couple sluggish starts,” he said. “We play a real-tough team Friday night. We are going to need to get off to a good start. That game will tell us a lot about ourselves. We will find out what we need to work on going forward. That is why we play that game.”

The Huskies defeated the Pirates last season at home.

“It was a great atmosphere last year,” Clifford said. “It was one of the best game I have been a part of. We were fortunate to be able to score more points than them. They are going to be really ready to play.”

Playing at home does provide the Huskies with an advantage in their game against the Mustangs.

“At first, I was not a proponent of it, but we have had a couple of home games and now I like it” Clifford said about the higher-seeded teams getting home games.

The Harrison girls have played a difficult schedule, and Yourkovich hopes the lessons his team learned in some tough games will help them against the Cardinals.

“Our schedule has been tough,” Yourkovich said. “I was looking at our schedule a couple of weeks ago. We played Indian Creek twice, Bellaire twice and we played Fort Frye, and they are 15-1 or 15-2 at the time. We played Steubenville, and they are good team. We played Beaver Local, and they won the OVAC championship. We played St. Clairsville, and they were in the OVAC Final.

“What Sandy Valley does, we have a seen a little bit from everybody. They really aren’t going to throw anything at us that is going to surprise us. We just have to be able to handle it. They like to trap a lot and that has been a problem for us.”

The Huskies and the Cardinals each have a good bit of height on their rosters.

“Size-wise, it is a wash,” Yourkovich said. “We are one of the bigger teams in our area. They have girls who are 5-10 or 5-11. Their guards are good sized. Height-wise, we are pretty much even, and that really hasn’t happened to us. We are just going to have to execute.”

The Tornadoes and the Cardinals were tied at 14 at halftime before Sandy Valley pulled away in the second half.

“West Muskingum played with them,” Yourkovich said. “The first half was tight. West Muskingum was right there. Then in the second half, they had like three or four empty possessions where they did not get a shot. That led to run outs for Sandy Valley.

“We are going to have to take care of the ball. We have to limit live ball turnovers. West Muskingum was able to do that in the first half. We are going to have to get shots off.”

The winner of the game will take on the winner of Saturday’s game between Buckeye Trail and Martins Ferry in the district semifinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Warriors are the No. 7 seed, while the Purple Riders are the No. 9 seed. Buckeye Trail will play at home against Martins Ferry.

“We are looking forward to Saturday,” Yourkovich said. “We have had two games in two weeks. We had one on Friday, and now we will have one on Saturday. Hopefully, we come out and play with energy.”

Philo, the No. 10 seed, will play No. 13 seed Minerva at 7 p.m. Tuesday at home. The winner of that game will play No. 3 seed Big Red at 7 p.m. March 2 inside the Crimson Center.

The winners of the Big Red and Harrison Central games will meet in the district semifinals at 7 p.m. March 6.

“Division II is a beast,” Clifford said. “There are no easy games. I know some people are looking ahead at the bracket to Steubenville, but we are just looking at our first game. We are taking it one game at a time. We are getting ready for Garaway, and then we will get ready for Claymont. I am a baseball guy, and you have to win the first one before you can play the second one. We are not looking down the road.

“Garaway is a tough team. That is why we have them on our schedule.”

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