PRIOR to Friday’s Sectional game against New Albany, head coach Joe Hartwell was motivated to win the Seymour Sectional.
“I want to win the sectional not for me but for these kids,” he said. “They have worked so hard, and they deserve to win it. I know I’m biased, but I think they are a special group.”
The Panthers drew a first-round bye in the tournament, but they already sensed who their opponent would be in the second round. Jennings County was 13-9 going into Friday’s game.
“We have focused our players on New Albany all week,” Hartwell said. “We also played Jeffersonville in February; so if we play them in the final, we’ll refresh our players quickly. Luckily, New Albany and Jeffersonville play a similar style, so we will not have to worry about changing a lot of what we do.”
The Panthers knew they just needed to fine-tune their defense to have a chance to win the sectional rematch. The Panthers lost the regular-season game, 43-35.
“The game was very physical,” Hartwell said. “I was happy with our defensive effort for most of the game. Holding New Albany to 43 points is a great feat. We just struggled to score due to the physical nature of the game. It was tough to get open looks for both teams.”
The Panthers were eager to get a rematch with the Bulldogs in the postseason.
“We’re excited to play (New Albany) again,” Hartwell said before the game. “We felt we let one get away (Feb. 19). We have focused this week on screening to get more open shots and also focused on running in transition to get easier looks before their defense can set up. They are fresh in our minds, and we should be about as prepared as we have been for any team this season.”
Center Brad Hunt is one of the team’s most prepared players. The aggressive playing style of the 6-foot-8 junior is a key to the team’s postseason success.
Hunt led the Panthers to a big road win against Scottsburg earlier this season, scoring 20 points and snaring 10 rebounds against the Warriors.
“Brad is just learning to use his length to his advantage,” Hartwell said. “He has been more aggressive on the offensive boards, and he has worked harder to get position inside. We need Brad to continue to be a big presence inside so that it will open up our perimeter game. He will be the biggest player in our sectional, and he needs to use this to his advantage.”
This season has been a team effort for the Panthers, and one of their strengths has been the senior trio of Bailey Sanders, Tommy Taylor and Bryson Mills.
“I will remember the seniors for being hard workers and great young men,” Hartwell said. “All three will play sports in college. That is special. Bailey has been the floor leader all year. Tommy has been a steady guy inside that sometimes takes over games for us. Bryson has been a consistent spark for our team all year on both ends of the floor.”
Players and fans also will remember this season as the year that Indiana Hall of Fame coach Mike Broughton came out of retirement to coach the Panthers. When Broughton had to step aside and become an assistant coach because of health concerns, he recommended Hartwell as the interim coach, and the transition this season was seamless.
“Coach Broughton has been a great assistant,” Hartwell said. “He has brought the program a considerable amount of knowledge and experience that has been key to a successful season.”
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