BY MATTHEW CRESS
According to Silver Creek coach Brandon Hoffman, he wasn’t the first to know what the future held.
The prophet in this case was Corydon Central coach Jamie Kolkmeier, who had come to scout the Dragons on Jan. 31, when Silver Creek hosted Madison.
After peering into the huddle of a Dragon team that trailed by 10 points in the third quarter, the Panther boss told Hoffman that he had something to say to one of his assistants.
“He said ‘I think that we’re in trouble,’” Hoffman said. “He saw us down 10, but we’re in the huddle with our arms around each other. We’re totally engaged and focused. I think that’s a great picture of us coming together.”
After shocking the state with its run through the Class 3A North Harrison Sectional, Silver Creek (15-8) will face its toughest obstacle yet on Saturday when it meets Class 3A No. 1 Greensburg, the defending state champion, in the Washington Regional semifinals at 10 a.m. Evansville Memorial (16-6) will meet Jasper (14-9) in the second semi, with the winners to play for a berth in the semistate on Saturday evening.
It is an unlikely landing spot for a Silver Creek team that entered the postseason on a three-game losing streak, including an ugly 61-51 home loss to 3-17 Seymour and a 25-point defeat against Mid-Southern Conference rival Brownstown.
To make matters worse, Hoffman and the Dragons found themselves on the on the receiving end of one of the state’s most brutal draws, discovering it would likely need to beat three ranked teams in a week to continue their season.
It turned out that Kolkmeier was right.
The Dragons opened the sectional by dispatching No. 13 Madison 55-51, setting up a matchup with Kolkmeier’s sixth-ranked Panthers. It was a test that Silver Creek easily passed, winning 74-51 to move on to Brownstown Central in the championship game. The Dragons again shocked the state with a 37-36 victory, holding the Braves to half their average offensive output.
The combined record of the Dragons’ three postseason foes? A staggering 53-11.
“I think the difference was a real sense of urgency,” said Hoffman, who has Silver Creek in the regional round for the first time since 2000. “We always wondered what would happen if we focused on being the best teammates we could be. We knew that if we did that, nothing that came before would matter.”
Facing off with the No. 1-ranked Class 3A team in the state doesn’t seem like much of a reward for surviving such a grueling gauntlet. But the Dragons seem to have taken a different approach to facing another daunting opponent.
“We honestly want to be in the upper echelon of Class 3A teams, and this is a nice stage to show what Silver Creek basketball means,” Hoffman said.
The stage doesn’t come much bigger than Washington’s Hatchet House — which has an official seating capacity of 7,090 — and the opponents don’t come much bigger than Greensburg.
The Pirates enter the regional at 24-1, their only loss coming in overtime to the same Madison team that the Dragons knocked off twice.
Still, the Greensburg resume is all kinds of intimidating the deeper you look. The Pirates are 73-3 over the past three seasons and beat Fort Wayne Concordia for the 2013 Class 3A state title.
All five Greensburg starters are future NCAA Division I athletes, led by Northwestern signee Bryant McIntosh, who averages 14.1 points per game and a staggering nine assists. The Pirates’ leading scorer is Sean Sellers, a senior who will continue his career at Ball State University and pours in 19.9 points per contest.
Senior Macy Holdsworth is a Division I-level baseball player in the offseason, but averages eight points per game on the basketball court. Six-foot-eight junior Ryan Welage scores nearly 15 points a game and pulls down an average of seven rebounds. The starting lineup is completed by Colin Rigney, a senior forward averaging almost 10 points a game.
It’s an intimidating lineup, but also showcases what is perhaps Greensburg’s most glaring weakness — a lack of depth.
Senior Tom Lawrence is the only Greensburg substitute that plays more than 10 minutes a game. The Dragons believe they can exploit the Pirates with some of the same physical play that allowed them to hold opponents like Corydon and Brownstown to a combined 87 points during the sectional.
“We’re going to pound it inside and drive it inside,” said Hoffman, citing that his team shot nearly 40 free throws in its last two sectional games. “We’re going to try to get into them.”
Much of the responsibility on the inside will fall to sophomore Christian Reed, who became the hero in the win over Brownstown, knocking down two free throws in the final seconds to allow Silver Creek to topple the Braves. Nick Tinsley is the Dragons’ ace from the foul line, where he went 16-of-16 against Corydon and Brownstown.
If Tinsley can create lanes to the basket and Reed can get some each buckets inside, that should open the way for solid mid-range shooters like Gabe Bauer, who hit all four of his 3-point attempts against Corydon, and Zach Davidson, who scored 16 points in the rout of the Panthers.
The key to the Dragon defense may well be Jake Steele, who held stars like Corydon’s Bronson Kessinger (13 points) and Brownstown’s Chaz Schneider (11 points), well below their season averages.
But that’s for the future. A loose Silver Creek team spent a little time after practice on Thursday talking about the strange twists of fate that got them here, a place where few would have expected them to be.
“We didn’t know this is where we were going to end up,” Tinsley said. “At some point, it just clicked.”
Bauer said the Dragons will play loose and see what happens. After all, a regional appearance looked like a longshot to everyone except maybe the Dragons themselves. And a coach from Corydon.
“We knew that we could be really good,” Bauer said. “We’ve played these games knowing that everyone expected us to lose. We use that as our motivation.”
No matter what, the Dragons feel they’ve already won by getting this far.
“We expect this to do a lot for our program,” Hoffman said. “When you look at this year and what we feel we have in our feeder system, we feel like this isn’t a fluke. We shouldn’t be a one-hit wonder.”