VINCENT - As the No. 1 seed, Warren High is considered the favorite to advance when it plays Athens High in an Ohio Division II regional semifinal boys' basketball game at the Ohio University Convocation Center at 8 p.m. tonight.
Make that a slight favorite.
The Warriors, No. 9-ranked in the state with a 24-1 overall record and a 19-game winning streak, are after all playing in the Bulldogs' backyard - sort of.
Photo courtesy of Robin Pannell
Warren’s Michael Hall drives to the basketball against a Unioto defender during district semifinal action at the OU-Convo. The Warriors are scheduled to play Athens in a regional semi tonight.
Jeff Skinner-coached AHS (21-4) plays its home games at McAfee Gymnasium in The Plains, just a few miles north of the Convo. So, in some respects, the Dogs will have, if not a "home court" advantage, at least a home area one.
"I'm not worried about a home court advantage," said Warren head coach Blane Maddox, the Southeast District Coach of the Year. "We're both playing at the Convo, and all that means is that they (Athens) have a shorter bus trip than we do.
"This season, we've been consistent both at home and on the road."
The home court advantage wasn't much of a factor when Athens hosted and lost to Warren, 60-57, in a regular-season, non-conference game in The Plains on Jan. 8. But, the thing is, this was a 50/50 contest, which featured 10 lead changes and 10 ties, that could've gone either way.
During first-half action, the Warriors actually trailed the Bulldogs by 11 at one point and then by six at the intermission. Staging a rally after the break, they won it in dramatic fashion - with about seconds left on 6-foot-5 sophomore Michael Hall's driving layup to the basket.
On the go-ahead and what proved to be the game-winner, which snapped a 57-57 tie, the royal blue and white cagers might have benefitted from a no-call by the ref as there definitely was contact between Hall and AHS defender Joe Burrow, who was attempting to take a charge.
But no whistle was blown.
Needless to say, the Athens people were pretty upset.
The Bulldogs still had a few seconds to tie the game, though, but freshman Zacchiah Saltzman's shot was off the mark, and Warren got the rebound. Getting fouled was Evan French, who converted a freebie with just one-tenth of a second remaining on the clock to account for the 3-point Warrior victory.
Fast-forward to March and a Sweet 16 rematch between the two schools, this time at the Roundhouse on Richland.
Warren made school history when it defeated Vinton County 61-46 in last week's district final, its first ever district crown, at the Convo. Leading the way was Hall, who scored a game-high 21 points.
"When Vinton County had its run on us in the first half, we didn't panic," Maddox said. "The guys stuck with it, and it's been like that all season long. They don't panic."
French added a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds for the winners. He also dished out five assists.
Warren is also expected to start Reece Patton, Dylan Leffingwell, and Evan Yabs.
Last week, French, Hall, Patton, Leffingwell and Yabs each was an All-District honoree. French was also the Southeast District Player of the Year.
Look for Adam Lang and Danny Pannell to also see significant playing time for the royal blue and white.
Warren has not tasted defeat since dropping a 69-47 decision to Upper Arlington in the Ohio River Classic at Marietta College's Ban Johnson Arena on Dec. 29, 2012.
Athens is a relatively young team with two freshmen and three sophomores getting most of the PT. In the green and gold's 64-54 triumph over top-seeded Miami Trace in last week's district final, its first district crown since 1965, 6-3 freshman Ibi Watson had a game-high 26 points, seven caroms and six assists.
Burrow, a 6-3 sophomore, chipped in with 16 markers, nine boards and three dimes. Six-five senior Jared Elmore and 5-11 Saltzman netted eight points apiece while 6-4 sophomore Ryan Luehrman blocked five shots and had three steals.
"Athens is young, good, and only going to get better and better," Maddox said. "If you leave them open, they'll knock it down."
The same could also be said about Warren.
"You've got to be able to score points in the regional to win," Maddox continued. "We're excited, and we're looking forward to playing Athens, because both teams match up well. It's going to be a great game."