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Peru, Maconaquah to clash on the hardwood Friday night

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

The gym at Maconaquah will be a hotbed for basketball action Friday night as Peru makes the short trek south as part of a triple-header of action on the hardwood.

Both the boys’ and girls’ JV games will be played at 5 p.m. with the girls’ varsity game to start at around 6:15 p.m. and the boys’ varsity game at around 7:45 p.m.

In-between games, Maconaquah will be honoring their faculty and staff as well as recognizing its Champions Together award from the IHSAA and also will honor its cheerleaders at halftime of the boys’ game.

Here, the Peru Tribune takes a look at both games with the four county coaches adding their thoughts to Friday’s games.

Varsity Girls (6:15 p.m.)

Last Meeting: Peru 45, Maconaquah 20 (Jan. 5, 2017)

The meeting between the Braves and Tigers in the girls’ ranks is the only inter-county matchup that has not played out this season.

Peru head coach David Weeks said Maconaquah was starting to see its young players contribute on a consistent basis.

“It’s one of those games where you can’t look at the other’s record,” Weeks said. “It comes down to who comes out early, sets the tone early and maintains that intensity.

“Maconaquah is a young team that has nothing to lose and will come out hard as well. Both Wilson sisters play hard and have gained confidence in the season has gone along and (Monica) Moore has become a good inside player for them.”

Maconaquah head coach PJ Hatcher said Peru had developed new threats to score in the last few weeks.

“Peru plays intense,” Hatcher said. “They have a good half-court offense and every team we watched them, they were more defensively sound.

“They have girls that can step up, two strong post players and girls that are willing to drive the ball to the basket. They know how to get to the free throw line, which is something we’ve struggled with.”

The Braves have played twice since the start of 2018, a pair of very different losses to Madison-Grant (71-57) and Wabash (63-21).

While the team found a rhythm against the Argylls, Hatcher said the Apaches came out with a fire that the team was able to match.

“Wabash came with the intent and internal fire that they were not going to be stopped,” Hatcher said. “We had to step up to their level but they had their foot on the gas pedal and took off.”

The Tigers played Delphi last weekend, falling short in a 52-46 loss, one Weeks said saw the team look very composed save for a few key possessions.

“We’ve talked to the girls about valuing every possession,” Weeks said. “Against Delphi, it came down to one or two possessions where a couple of girls got open for threes.

“Harmoni (Stone) has really stepped up for us offensively lately. She’s setting the tone for us offensively and the girls as a whole have more confidence in their shooting.”

Each time either Peru or Maconaquah has won this season, the winning team has scored over 45 points with only three games this season in which a team hit that mark did not secure a win.

As such, a good start is imperative for both teams and both coaches said as much, pointing to whoever sets the tempo as the team that will likely be on its way to a win.

“First quarters have been a struggle for us,” Hatcher pointed out. “Maybe we’re too pumped up at the start but we need to manage the opening period better.

“We need to worry about winning the first possession and if not that one, the next one and so on. We have to move from possession to possession and not allow a snowball effect to happen.”

“We’ve got to be ready for anything that Maconaquah throws at us,” Weeks added. “Offensively, we need to have a good start and build off that confidence.

“We also have to play smart and stay out of foul trouble.  It’s no secret that we can’t go to our bench too early or often, so we have to play under control, not commit sill fouls and keep our cool.”

Varsity Boys (7:45 p.m.)

Las Meeting: Peru 35, Maconaquah 32 (Dec. 29, 2017)

Meetings between the Tigers and Braves have been thrillers the past few seasons but the Miami County Classic final was a different sort of game than in recent memory.

Both teams came into the game averaging around 55 points-per-game but it was the defenses that held serve in the final with Peru holding off a late Maconaquah push to secure a fifth-straight county title.

Tiger head coach Eric Thompson said when the pressure was at its highest two weeks ago, the team was locked in to the task at hand.

“Our guys did a nice job of keeping their poise when Maconaquah made their run,” Thompson said. “We were able to pull it out in the end.

“No one was pointing fingers but locked arms and built each other up. There’s extra pressure in county games, as close as you can get to a sectional game, and it was a big moment for the guys.”

Braves head coach Tim Maiben said the team saw many things it could improve on since that game.

“We saw some things that we can improve and that goes for both sides of the floor,” Maiben said. “We gave up some buckets that they didn't have to work hard for and on the offensive side we need all five players contributing and looking to score.”

Both teams have played once since 2018 began with Peru falling 75-59 to 2A No. 8 Oak Hill last week and Maconaquah defeating Manchester 39-36 Tuesday night.

Despite the loss, Thompson said the team was constantly willing to get better each time out and again praised the team for its desire to work and play together.

“We’re happy with our focus, our will to get better and camaraderie,” Thompson said. “When we did things the Tiger way, we competed well with Oak Hill and when we didn’t it definitely showed.

“The guys have worked on the things that needed to be fixed because we needed to do so ahead of playing Maconaquah and Kokomo the next day.”

Maiben, meanwhile, noted the team’s cool shooting from the game against Peru continued against the Squires, though the defense held up its end of the bargain well.

“Offensively, we were not shooting as well against Manchester,” Maiben said. “There are a lot of variables that one could use to explain that, but we want to focus on shooting with confidence and making game-like situations in practice.

“On the other side of it, we played some solid defense against a team that has been averaging 57 points.”

Among the most notable stats from the first meeting was the scoring outlay for the Braves, who only saw two points not attributed to either Chandler Pitts or Ethan Larason.

Maiben said the pressure may have gotten to the players in the county tournament and said the group had to be more mentally ready Friday night.

“A big part of that is coming into the game with confidence,” Maiben said. “We had guys who were more timid than usual because of what was at stake.

“We have worked on mental toughness and handling adversity in different situations. We absolutely need all five players on the court looking to be part of the offense.”

Thompson felt the Tigers did well to adapt to the slow tempo played last time and turned it into a net positive.

“We played the best team defense that we could and limited Maconaquah to one shot man times,” Thompson said. “Both teams were very patient and we used that to our advantage.

“This game will be different but we want to be focused on putting the best product we can out on the floor in an important game.”

With both teams at or near the top of the TRC leaderboard at this point of the season, both coaches understood the importance of the game.

Thompson said the team was playing in a very strong way, adding more of the same would lead the team to a win.

“We have to strive to get better every game,” Thompson said. “We want to continue playing like we have been, knock down shots and play team ball.

“Defensively, we need to continue to communicate along with the little things to keep playing well.”

Maiben added being at home would help and again stressed needing everyone on the court to be contributors in order to stay unbeaten in conference play.

“We must make it difficult for Peru to score every time down the court,” Maiben said. “We did a good job of that at times, but we know we can do better.


“On offense, our shooting percentage tends to higher at home, so that will naturally help. With all five players moving and being a threat to score, we are a more difficult team to stop from scoring.”