Moment of truth: Marietta, Warren begin sectional action tonight at Logan
Marietta and Warren both open up Division II postseason play tonight as the second-seeded Warriors take on No. 7 Meigs at 6:15 while the sixth-seeded Tigers face No. 3 Athens at 8. Both games will take place at Logan High School.
The winners of both games would play in a sectional final matchup on Friday at 7 p.m., again at Logan.
For Warren, the postseason brings high expectations after storming through the district and regional tournaments and making the Final Four a year ago. The Warriors certainly have the talent to make another big run this season, but it all starts with tonight’s battle against the Marauders.
Warren (18-3) and Meigs (8-9) squared off in the regular season opener back on Dec. 3, with the Warriors blazing to a 70-35 blowout win at Warrior Coliseum.
Reece Patton (6-foot-3) led all scorers in that game with 23 points, going 10-for-14 from the floor. Teammate Evan French (6-4) tallied 15, while Blake Kidder (6-1) and Andrew Drayer (6-3) each added eight. One thing Meigs did do well defensively was hold 6-6 point guard Michael Hall to seven points on 2-of-11 shooting. Since that night, Hall is averaging over 15 points per game.
Meigs did not have a single player reach double digits against Warren, as Kalieb Sheets (6-1) scored a team-best eight points. The Warriors’ defense held the Marauders to only 14 field goals in 57 tries (25 percent).
An area Meigs did do well in was rebounding, as it matched Warren with 36 total boards as a team. For the Marauders to pull off the upset tonight, they will need a similar effort on the glass with more of those caroms resulting in points.
The biggest key, though, will be French. If the senior shooting guard continues his recent tear, look out. French has scored at least 27 points in four of Warren’s last five games, topping out at 37 against Fort Frye and averaging 28.4 per contest. However, even if Meigs can slow down French, what makes Warren great is its numerous scoring options. Fellow starters Patton, Hall and Drayer are all capable of scoring in double figures on any night.
Warren’s fifth starter will be guard Aaron Mazurkiewicz (5-10) with Andrew Henthorn (5-10) joining Kidder as head coach Blane Maddox’s top options off the bench.
Unlike the Warren-Meigs matchup, tonight’s nightcap between Marietta and Athens will not be a rematch.
Head coach Mark Duckworth and the Tigers (9-12) certainly have a tall order in front of them in Jeff Skinner’s Bulldogs (16-3).
Athens returns nearly all of its firepower from last year’s team which made it to the Sweet 16, eventually falling to Warren in overtime in the regional semi at the Convo.
The Bulldogs are led by a pair of 6-4 players in Joe Burrow and Ibi Watson. Both players are capable of lighting up the scoreboard, as evidenced by Athens’ recent 77-76 win over Propel Academy, in which Watson and Burrow amassed 28 and 27 points, respectively, or 71 percent of the team’s offense.
How Marietta chooses to attack this duo defensively will be key.
For the Tigers, the offense has revolved around post players Braden Riley (6-5) and Jonathan Wood (6-6). Riley, a senior, scores in double figures seemingly every game and will be counted on for that kind of production against the Bulldogs.
For Marietta to keep up with Athens’ high-powered offense, though, it will need big performances out of its perimeter players.
Corey Hill (6-2) is capable of providing offense off the bench. If he can get the stroke working from outside to go along with Riley and Wood’s inside presence, Marietta could surprise the Bulldogs. Other players to keep an eye on for Marietta are Connor Beavers (5-8), Dillon Sturm (5-10) and Zach LaBarre (6-2).
Marietta has played its best ball of the season perhaps over its last three games, all losses. Two of those losses, however, were to undefeated Zanesville, ranked third in Division I by The Associated Press. The Tigers took the Blue Devils down to the wire in each game, most recently losing 49-39 at Zanesville Friday, proving they can hang with anybody.
Athens would be unwise to underestimate Marietta tonight. Expect a hard-fought game.