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Olympians on hunt for Golden Bears

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Columbus East senior Nate Rich shoots a 3-pointer over Plainfield defender Josh Courtney in the first quarter Friday at East.
Columbus East senior Nate Rich shoots a 3-pointer over Plainfield defender Josh Courtney in the first quarter Friday at East. PHOTO BY ANDREW LAKER

It would appear to be a given. A showdown in the sectional high school boys basketball tournament between Columbus East and Columbus North on Friday night.

Basketball fans all over town are ready. Well, almost.

Before that game can happen, East has to take care of business tonight at 7:30 p.m. against Shelbyville in the first round of Columbus North Sectional play.

That might seem to be a formality since the Olympians crushed the Golden Bears 75-49 during the regular season.

Time for tip-off

Tonight’s sectional boys basketball playoffs

Class 4A at Columbus North High School

Shelbyville vs. Columbus East, 7:30 p.m. at Seymour High School

Seymour vs. New Albany, 7:30 p.m.

Class 3A at Greencastle High School

South Vermillion vs. Brown County, 6 p.m.

Class A at South Decatur High School

Jac-Cen-Del vs. Hauser, 6 p.m.

But not so fast.

Shelbyville (6-14) has won three of its past five games. One of its losses was in overtime (63-60) against Whiteland. The other was a 68-56 decision against a Batesville team that is 18-2.

Throw in the fact that the Olympians will be without the services of one of their best players, senior forward Ridge Harris, who suffered a calf injury in practice.

Harris said he definitely wouldn’t be able to play in tonight’s game, but he hoped to be back Friday.

“Right now, the only thing we are thinking about is (Shelbyville),” said East coach Brent Chitty,

who knows there will be no Friday night without a win against the Golden Bears. “After that, we will evaluate.”

Even without Harris, East (13-6) will be a favorite tonight, and for the only time in the sectional tournament. The Olympians scored 101 points without Harris in a win against Plainfield on Friday.

“I’m pleased with our kids,” Chitty said. “We had to come through a rash of injuries and sicknesses. We hung together and battled through.

“I think right now we are doing what we are capable of doing, and we’re having fun.”

With Harris on the bench, East will need players such as senior forwards Connor Jensen and Jesse Shea to fill the gap.

“Ridge is a very good defender, and he is a very strong rebounder,” Chitty said. “He is a big, big responsibility that we will have to fill. It hurts my stomach that he got hurt.”

Chitty noted that Shea was somewhat of an unknown commodity going into the season because he transferred to East from Tennessee. Jensen had been mostly a role player. But both have shown they can start or come off the bench and be effective.

Kyle Taylor once again will be running the show at point guard for East while sharpshooter Nate Rich has been on a hot streak. Center Bryce Lienhoop and forward Zach Martindale give the Olympians strength under the basket, and sophomore Connor Umphress has shown he will be an impact player in the future.

“Our kids know exactly what we do well, and on any give night, we can do it very, very well,” Chitty said. “We play team defense and when we totally are focused, we are able to make teams take shots they don’t want to take.

“I didn’t say it was easy, though, and we need to play with a lot of effort against Shelbyville. The mentality is that you need to get hot and stay hot. But you also have to stay relaxed and have fun.”

If East can put that combination together, it will set up Friday’s blockbuster against host North. Are the Olympians’ underdogs?

“Absolutely,” Chitty said. “You’ve got Columbus North, which has a bye, and they have had a great year. They are the No. 2 team in the state and they are at home.

“And on the other side of the bracket you have Bloomington North and Bloomington South, and then everybody forgets about East Central. We were down at the half against them (during the regular season).

“It is going to be exciting. If I was a fan, I would buy a ticket.”

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