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Bull Dogs, Olympians prepare for cross-town matchup

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Both Columbus North coach Jason Speer and Columbus East coach Brent Chitty have preached that tonight’s cross-town rivalry is just one step in a basketball season where the really big stuff doesn’t happen until the sectional tournament begins.

They also know that their players might not be totally sold on that concept.

“Leading up to this game, it’s just like any other game,” said Speer, whose Bull Dogs are 4-1 after losing a two-point decision to No. 1-ranked Pike last Friday. “But once the crowd arrives ...”

Once the crowd arrives at Columbus North High School for tonight’s 7:30 p.m. tip-off, it will be a playoff atmosphere. Chitty expects Memorial Gym to be rocking and rolling.

Rivalry history

The past five games in the Columbus East-Columbus North boys basketball series

Dec. 20, 2011

North 63

East 60

March 4, 2011

East 68

North 53

Dec. 21, 2011

North 62

East 44

Dec. 22, 2009

North 70

East 49

Dec. 23, 2008

North 56

East 55 (OT)

“This game is exciting for the fans,” said Chitty, whose team is 4-0. “The crowd is so incredible. I wish it was like that for every game.

“I am just thankful that our kids have an opportunity to play in a game like this.”

Chitty explained that people have so many choices that high school gyms seldom are packed to the rafters for regular-season games.

But with both teams playing some great basketball, tonight’s game will be on everyone’s A-list for entertainment in Columbus.

“The significance of this game means a lot to the players,” Chitty said. “All these kids have grown up and played on the same teams. There is a lot of friendship with the players and the families.”

“This is something the kids really look forward to,” Spear said. “This is something they mark on their calendar.”

Although North goes into the game in the favorite’s role, especially after taking Pike to the buzzer, both teams have high aspirations. “I see a very experienced team with all the tools,” Speer said of East. “They have some very good players and they have been playing unselfish basketball. They finish well at the rim.”

What East can’t do is match North’s collective height. The Bull Dogs go 6-foot-8, 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-6 across the front line with Tori Jackson, Josh Speidel and Clint Cunningham.

“I always tell our players that every night you will have different challenges,” Chitty said. “We talked about North’s size. They have a big team so we have to block out and rebound. We know how well we have to take care of the basketball and how we need to defend.”

Chitty said he knows his team is considered the underdog. “Oh yeah,” he said. “We’re not even ranked. They had the No. 1-ranked team beaten on (Pike’s) home floor.”

Although a win in the rivalry would be huge, Speer wants to continue his team’s focus on improvement. “We’ve been playing some very unselfish basketball right now,” he said. “And our defensive intensity has picked up. Our kids have been playing within themselves.

“And we definitely understand that we can play with anybody.”

It won’t be easy playing against an Olympians squad that has some solid inside presence even if can’t match North’s height. Zach Martindale (6-4), Bryce Leinhoop (6-6) and Ridge Harris (6-3) aren’t going to be pushed around inside. “First and foremost this season, we have been very coachable,” Chitty said. “Early on, we struggled on defense, but we recognized we had a weakness and we turned it into a strength.

“I also have enjoyed our players’ unselfishness. In this day and age, everyone wants to average 25 points. We have shared the ball.”

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