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Another chapter: South Central-Western rivalry resumes Friday

Mark Hazelwood • Jan 2, 2019 at 7:30 PM

COLLINS — It was a harmless, joking comment made almost five years ago.

But maybe there was some truth to it.

Western Reserve boys basketball coach Chris Sheldon looked at the talent pipeline at the lower levels going through South Central and in Collins. He told South Central coach Brett Seidel that an eight-year war between the Roughriders and Trojans was about to start.

Last season, the home team won each matchup by single digits as Western and South Central shared the Firelands Conference championship with 12-2 records.

The two programs are tied for the most league championships in FC history with 13 each. And with no shortage of underclassmen on both rosters, the two teams enter Friday’s game in Collins playing for sole possession of first place.

One or both teams will be heavy favorites to win the league title again next month, with several starters for both teams looking at another 2-to-3 seasons of high school basketball yet to play.

“The one thing I know is their kids and our kids respect each other — but they also love to compete,” Sheldon said. “It’s going to be as entertaining as our previous games were.”

Another common factor between the two programs is their respective home courts. When compared to the other basketball gyms in the FC, the South Central and Western Reserve gyms are certainly the oldest.

"We love atmosphere,” Seidel said. “I think Chris would say the same. We like having that big game atmosphere and being able to play and coach in that environment is enjoyable. It helps come tournament time to have big games within the FC.

“Chris and I often kid that we're the dinosaurs in the league with the old gyms,” he added. “But, those gyms do create a really loud atmosphere.”

The Trojans enter Friday’s game at 8-2 overall and 5-0 in the FC. Junior guard Simon Blair is the returning FC Player of the Year, and already has a strong case near the midway point this season.

Blair averages 22.7 points, 4.1 steals, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for the Trojans.

He also has no shortage of help. David Lamoreaux averages 13.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, while guard Isaiah Seidel contributes 9.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest.

Also for the Trojans, Alex Holland is averaging 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game.

“How do you guard all five guys? The challenge they present differently than some teams is they don’t have a true low post,” Sheldon said of South Central. “How we will be able to guard them with all five guards is going to be a challenge.

“Because even though Lamoreaux is big, he can do it all,” he added. “He can step out and step away, he’s athletic. Obviously Simon is a caliber of player in this league that is once every 10 years. He’s that dominant and explosive. But he’s got a great supporting cast and they really play well together.”

On the other side, the Roughriders (6-2, 5-0) present a balanced scoring attack running an offense that is three-point heavy. In eight games, Western has shot 194 times from the 3-point line already.

Guard Luke Rowlinson averages 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game for Western. Guard John Skrada adds 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, while JJ Weisenberger contributes 9.8 points, 2.3 assists and 2.1 steals per contest.

Also for the ‘Riders, Aiden Markley is averaging 9.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, while post Luke Wyers adds 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

“Western will take a lot of 3s, and if they're making them, they are very, very hard to guard,” Seidel said. “I think their top eight players are very skilled, and you have to be able to respect them inside-out. They have kids who can take the dribble with either hand and make open 3s.

“They are really balanced and can all do a little bit of everything,” he added. “They attack the rim and kick it out for open 3s. With Skrada, Rowlinson, Markley and Weisenberger ... they can all do those things I just described. It makes them difficult to guard. Some teams have a kid or two you can kind of help off of a little bit — and they really don't have that.”

Though they enter the matchup at 8-2, the Trojans have lost two of their last three games after a pair of challenging non-league games.

South Central won its first seven games to match its best start to a season in 45 years. The Trojans then lost to Apple Creek Waynedale (9-3) at the College of Wooster Steve Smith Classic on Dec. 15, 62-50.

The Golden Bears are Division III team that boasted six players taller than 6-feet-3 — and also won 14 games last season.

After beating Crestview last Friday, South Central then visited Div. II Norwalk (6-2) and pushed the Truckers to overtime in a 76-69 loss on Dec. 29.

“We want to get better, that's why we scheduled them,” Seidel said. “We don't obviously plan to lose those games by any means. We're not looking for moral victories. We schedule with plans to compete and win. But if you play better teams, it makes you have to play up and your standard has to be raised at both ends of the floor.

“We’re conscience that all those little things add up to big things in games like that (at Norwalk),” he added. “The physicality goes up, and it’s a tournament-type called game. Those two games also prepares us for games like Friday as well. We went a lot of years without beating Western, and we have the utmost respect for Chris and his program.”

Meanwhile, Sheldon knows for his team to win Friday — the ‘Riders will need to do a much better job at guarding the dribble.

“And that goes back to their guard play being so explosive,” he said. “We didn’t do a great job of that as the game wore on last week (68-66 win vs. St. Paul). It’s going to be a great challenge, but it’s going to be a challenge I know our kids are going to be excited about.

“We’ll see what we’re able to come up with to try and give them a run for their money,” he added.

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