While it's still a mystery why the IHSAA moved Rivet's boys from the grouping that's been its sectional home since class basketball began over 20 years ago, there won't be too much complaining from the Patriots this week.
The trip to the Class A Springs Valley Sectional is a lengthier one, but unlike the Loogootee Sectional, Rivet doesn't have to worry about three top-10 teams sharing the bracket.
The Patriots (5-15) also received a bye, and they get started today against Northeast Dubois (14-10) at 8 p.m.
The first semifinal today pits Wood Memorial (5-17) against Evansville Day (13-9) at 6:30 p.m. On Tuesday the Jeeps advanced past Cannelton, 62-41, while Day edged the host Blackhawks, 61-56.
Dubois is the favorite, but knocking off the Jeeps isn't nearly as daunting a task as getting through No. 1 Barr-Reeve, No. 6 Loogootee, and No. 9 North Daviess. The Cougars were eliminated by the Vikings on Tuesday, but all three handled Rivet by 38 points or more in the regular season.
“It's an open sectional, and we're familiar with the teams,” Rivet coach Mark Bezy said. “Dubois is the favorite, and not just because of their record. They're a deep, disciplined team, and they play well together.
“If we can put together two good basketball games against opponents that we're familiar with, I like our chances. You can't ask for much more than that.”
Putting two games together has been a challenge for Rivet all season, as it won consecutive games just once. Coincidentally, the Patriots played the other three remaining teams in succession six weeks ago. On Jan. 24, Rivet built a first-quarter lead before falling at Dubois, 57-39. Five days later, the Patriots nearly crawled back from a big early deficit in a 50-44 loss at home to Day, and a week after that Rivet outlasted the Trojans, 55-53, in overtime.
The bugaboo for the Patriots all season has been their turnovers, but it's an area where the team has shown improvement. The only returning players for Rivet entering the season were 6-3 senior Tre'von Taylor and 6-4 senior Austin Finch, so it's not surprising that the team's inexperienced guards struggled.
“Graduating the class we did last year, we were starting over with an almost completely new squad, but with the maturation they've shown from June until now, I couldn't be more pleased with the development,” Bezy said. “We're competing better, and win, lose or draw, that's what you want. You want them to develop as players and student athletes, and we've had a lot of success with that to this point.
“(Turnovers) have kind of been our Achilles' heel. Obviously if we can keep them around 10, maybe 15, I like our chances. If we keep it under 10, I really like our chances, but we don't have the depth to withstand 20-plus turnovers. It's something we've stressed for four months, and we've tried to simplify some things to cut those down. If we don't, it doesn't matter who we're playing, we're going to be in trouble.”
In addition to cutting down on turnovers, Rivet likely needs someone else to help Taylor with the scoring load. The senior is second in the area at 17.9 points per game, and he's failed to reach double figures just once. But the only others to hit double figures are Finch (7.9) and 6-3 freshman Tommy Herman (3.8).
Those three start alongside 5-11 senior Cedric Schleiss (2.4) and 5-9 junior Charlie Niehaus (3.6). Top reserves for Rivet are 6-2 junior Peyton Catt, 5-10 junior Sam Hinkle and 6-3 junior Drake Dunn.
“Tre'von is just under 10 rebounds per game too, so he's sniffing a double-double. I couldn't be more proud of the leadership and dedication he's shown, and I'm so glad to see him reaping the benefits from his hard work,” Bezy said. “Obviously we lean on him, and I'm sure Dubois is really going to pay attention to him.
“We've discussed how, whether it's Tommy, Charlie, Finch or even Cedric, this game provides them with a good opportunity to be that unsung hero, and they need to go in there with confidence to take those open shots and step up. I don't know who it's going to be, but hopefully it's a couple of them.”
Bezy didn't hesitate in naming what the defensive key is against the Jeeps, but it's a challenge that's easier said than done.
“We have to stop Reece Bauer. He's excellent on both ends of the floor, and we have to know where he is the whole time,” Bezy said. “The last time we played them, he singlehandedly destroyed our zone. But we've learned from those mistakes, and I think we've got a good game plan.
“If we contain him and take care of the ball, I think it's going to be an excellent game.”
Bauer is a 5-10 senior who eclipsed 1,000 points earlier this season. Other scoring threats for the Jeeps are 5-10 junior Nick Lueken and 6-0 junior Ty Riecker.
The Eagles are paced by 5-10 freshman Tyler Myers, who lit up Rivet for 29 points when they met in late-January, and he closed out the regular-season with a 33-point effort against Princeton. Wood Memorial's best are 6-3 junior Griffin Parke and 5-11 senior Logan Keeker.
Day knocked off the visiting Trojans, 70-52, on Jan. 11. The Jeeps downed the Eagles, 66-51, on Jan. 4, but were upset by Wood Memorial, 53-52, to start last month.
Class A Springs Valley Sectional
Evansville Day 61, Springs Valley 56
Northeast Dubois 62, Cannelton 41
6:30 — Wood Memorial (5-16) vs. Evansville Day (13-9)
8 — Rivet (5-15) vs. Northeast Dubois (14-10)
8 — Championship