After winning its first sectional title in nine years, Shakamak is headed to the Martinsville Regional.
And the Lakers aren’t going simply to be making a regional appearance.
Obviously Shakamak coach Nate O’Neall wants the players to have fun and enjoy the experience of regional week. But make no mistake - the Lakers are going to Martinsville to play.
“It’s a fun experience,” the first-year Laker coach said. "We’re happy to be here. It’s been a fun week.
“But it’s not like, ‘Hey we’re just happy to be here.’ We’re going to go play. We’re going to give it our all. We want to win and we want to do what it takes to win.”
But the Lakers will face a formidable challenge. Saturday’s opponent is Indianapolis Tindley.
The Tindley Tigers were ranked third in Class 1A in the final regular season AP poll. Sagarin has the Tigers No. 1 in the class. Tindley is the prohibitive regional favorite. And many pundits favor the Tigers to win the state.
Tindley is athletic, explosive and armed with a pair of bona-fide Division I prospects in junior guards Eric Hunter and Hunter White.
O’Neall is both optimistic and realistic in his approach to Saturday’s regional matchup.
“We’re going to try our best to limit their possessions,” the coach said.
But don’t expect O’Neall and the Lakers to resort to a slow-it-down, “Butcher-ball” approach to accomplish that objective.
“We can’t be slow and deliberate like a North Daviess or a Linton or Bloomfield.
“Really and truly the game is going to be won on, 'Can we stop them?”'
Assistant coaches Levi Hostetter and Jared Shelton have given O’Neall some ideas about what the Lakers might try to do defensively but “We don’t have anything set in place yet.”
And O’Neall knows it won’t be easy.
Hunter, a 6-3 guard is a Top-100 recruit in the Class of 2018 with offers from Butler, Purdue, Nebraska, Xavier, Michigan and Iowa. White is garnering Division I interest as well.
“Eric Hunter is as good as they get,” O’Neall said. “He shoots it well from the outside and he gets to the rim.”
One oddity the Laker coach pointed out is a three of Tindley’s guards - Hunter, White and K.J. Coleman - are all left-handed. And they’re the Tigers’ go-to guys.
Tindley isn’t overly tall going 6-3 across the front.
“But they’re fast and explosive,” O’Neall noted. “That’s the one thing that shocked me was how explosive they can be.”
Shakamak has some experience with a quick lefty guard in Cloverdale’s Jalen Moore - and of course a Division I recruit, Cooper Neese.
“The good thing comparing them with Cloverdale - these guys don’t shoot it that deep or that well,” O’Neall pointed out.
“That’s one thing I’ve talked about with the boys is these guys are good. But they’re better at getting to the rim. We don’t have to go out and try to defend them at the volleyball line. They won’t pull up and shoot from there.”
And if the Lakers are able to contain the Tigers’ explosive offense, they’ll face the additional challenge of getting the ball up the floor against Tindley’s pressure.
The Tigers employ a diamond-and-one full court press, with some man-to-man trapping mixed in.
“Their press is their best friend. If we can’t handle the ball against their press it’s going to be a long day,” O’Neall admitted.
For now, the Shakamak coaching staff is still trying to gather all the information they can from teams Tindley has played.
“I’ve been in contact with Southwestern (Shelbyville) because they played them real tough last year in that first game,” O’Neall said. “They gave Tindley all they could handle.”
Tindley edged Southwestern 53-49 in last year’s regional opener.
“That’s probably the best scouting information we’ve gotten. They’re similar to us.”
Greene County fans will recall Bloomfield ousted Tindley in last year’s regional final, 51-37.
“I’ve been in contact with my cousin Ryan and coach Britton about getting some film.”
But as O’Neall was quick to point out, “We don’t have that front line Bloomfield had with 6-7 (Brandon Van Sant) and 6-5 Eli Combs).
O’Neall has also gotten film on Tindley from Connersville and Heritage Christian but those teams are big and athletic. Connersville is 26-1 and Heritage Christian won its 2A sectional.
“We can’t really mimic what they do,” O’Neall said. “So I’m trying to contact these smaller schools Tindley has played.”
The problem is Tindley only played four 1A opponents in the regular season - Indiana Math and Science, Indianapolis International, University and Indiana Deaf in the regular season - and handled all four easily. Two of those (M&S and University) were also sectional opponents.
O’Neall and the Lakers understand the challenges they’ll face this Saturday at Martinsville.
“We’re going to go up there and play a really tough team. We understand Tindley’s the state favorite.
“But we’re not going to back down from them.”