Even on opposite sides of the bracket, it’s tough to keep Clarksville and Providence apart.
The two Clarksville teams — each facing stiff tests in their opening games — advanced to the semifinals of the Class 2A Paoli Sectional on Tuesday night in similar fashions. The Pioneers opened the evening by coming to life in the second half, overcoming a one-point second quarter and a halftime deficit to cruise past tournament host Paoli 53-43. Defending sectional champion Clarksville was equally impressive in the night’s second game, nearly leading from wire-to-wire in a 68-55 victory over Crawford County.
Both teams will be favored in their semifinal matchups on Friday night, with Providence advancing to play Henryville (3-17). The Generals will meet Eastern (5-15) for the right to advance to the finals.
Clarksville has beaten Providence twice this season, winning a narrow 49-46 decision on Dec. 27, and posting a 41-32 victory on Jan. 10.
PROVIDENCE 53, PAOLI 43
After suffering through a second quarter in which it managed only a single point and went 1-of-7 from the foul line, the Pioneers (14-6) went into intermission down 21-17 to the host Rams, who appeared ready to roll away and end Providence’s season.
Whatever happened in the Pioneer locker room is anyone’s guess, but a different team Pioneer emerged to start the third quarter.
“I just said to forget whatever happened,” said Pioneer coach Lou Lefevre. “The players decided to play really hard, and they got the benefits of it.”
A sequence early in the third quarter proved to be a preview of the rest of the contest, as Providence grabbed three offensive rebounds and saw more than one player dive onto the floor to keep the possession, which ended with senior Grant Goad at the foul line.
The hustle was infectious.
From there, the Pioneers mounted a 14-0 run that spanned more than four minutes, scoring on a variety of putbacks and layups, nearly all of them triggered by their defense. Ben Shahroudi had six points and two steals during the decisive stretch and wreaked havoc on the Paoli backcourt. Goad finished the run with a 3-pointer to put Providence ahead 33-24, and the Pioneers would lead 36-27 heading into the final period.
“There have been a few games where we looked like we were going to be run off the boards, be beaten to every loose ball,” Lefevre said. “It’s a choice that players make — and these players made the choice to go all out.”
Goad was forced to change jerseys after his first one ended up with blood stains, but he didn’t miss a beat, assisting on a Daniel Schuler layup and hitting two free throws to swell the Pioneer lead to 42-31 with 4:50 left to play.
Providence finished things at the foul line, where it finally began to knock down enough shots to preserve a comfortable margin throughout the finishing stretch. The Pioneers hit six in a row at one point, although they ended up at 18-of-31 for the evening.
Paoli (11-9) got 16 points each from Tanner Wroblewski and Skyler Stroud, who combined to score 19 of the Rams’ first 21 points. Paoli managed to open a five-point edge in the early going, but Providence got good production on the interior from Nick Hayes, who hit a baby hook in the lane to put the Pioneers up 16-13 after the first eight minutes.
Goad had 16 points for the Pioneers, while Shahroudi finished with 13 points. Hayes added 12 points and seven rebounds in the victory.