VINCENT - When the Warren High boys basketball team played at Chillicothe High on Jan. 7, Austin Cunningham missed of the first half with an injury.
Without the 6-foot-1 Warrior standout, the Blane Maddox-coached royal blue and white cagers got behind and were never able to recover, dropping a 66-52 decision to the Gary Kellough-led Cavaliers.
Cunningham was able to return to the action in the second half and lead Warren with 20 points. But in many respects, it was too little, too late.
To date, that has been Warren's only setback on the hardwood this season, and now it will get an opportunity for some good, old-fashioned payback when Chilli visits Vincent in a scheduled Southeastern Ohio Athletic League showdown at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
How big is this game?
Both Warren (15-1 overall, 8-1 SEOAL) and Chillicothe (14-3, 9-1) share the top spot in the loss column in the SEOAL, so something's got to give.
The Cavaliers' only league loss was to Portsmouth, 52-42, on Feb. 1.
With Cunningham and the Warriors basically at full strength, now, the royal blue and white home team has to like its chances.
Warren is coming off a big win against Washington County arch-rival Marietta High (12-6, 5-6) Tuesday night, beating the visiting Tigers, 58-54. Cunningham led the way, scoring 24 points. Non-starter Tyler Ward added 15 points.
Last month, the Warriors had to stage a fourth-quarter rally to defeat MHS, 59-56, at Sutton Gym.
Now, Warren can give its undivided attention to Chillicothe.
The Warriors are expected to start 6-3 Grant Venham, 5-10 Jeremy Hastie, 6-2 Dylan Leffingwell, 5-11 Justin Hilverding and Cunningham.
Look for 6-2 Jace Knost, 5-11 Austin Henthorn, 6-3 Josh Windland and Ward to be the first players off the pine.
CHS is coming off a 77-41 win over Logan Tuesday night. The Cavaliers were paced by Jalen Ragland, who scored 25 points.
Chilli's probable starters will be 6-6 Ragland, 6-8 Malik London, 5-9 Tyler Manion, 6-2 Zach Johnson, and 6-1 Isaac Beverly. Look for 6-1 Max Corcoran, 6-6 Miloje Djacic and 6-0 Marcus Dunn to be the first people off the bench.
In the first meeting, Johnson scored a career-high 21 points against the Warriors. Ragland, who is Texas El Paso-bound to play basketball after graduation, chipped in with 17 markers.
Warren only scored five first-quarter and eight third-quarter points against Chilli in January. So, the Warriors obviously need to tip off the game and begin the second half better.
Overall, the Cavaliers have been a relatively slow-starting team this season, so that could work to the Warriors' advantage if they can get out of the gate fast and stake themselves to a lead.
Another key will be the matchups. The Cavs have a height advantage inside with Malik London and Djacic, but Venham and Leffingwell both play big and should be able to hold their own in the paint.
Venham will also need to stay out of foul trouble and be a force on offense - make the Chilli big guys work.
Warren has the better three-point shooters in Cunningham, Hastie and Ward - and that could be pivotal, especially if it's close and late in the game.
The athletically-gifted Ragland figures to get his points, but one thing the Warrior defense definitely can't allow is Johnson scoring 21 points again.
The royal blue and white will also need to keep Beverly - who's a nice baseline shooter - in check.
Chillicothe's Manion is the point and does most of the distributing on offense. A very aggressive defender, he got into foul trouble against Marietta and sat out a lot of the game at Sutton Gym. He scored 11 points against Logan.
If the game comes down to free-throws, Warren could have the edge, especially if Cunningham, Hastie or Henthorn is toeing the charity stripe.
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor and can be reached at 376-5441 or at firstname.lastname@example.org