Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

SPORTS >>Wildcats and Saints don't play favorites

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Someone’s undefeated season will come to an end this Friday night when Harding Academy travels to Springdale to take on Shiloh Christian in the semifinals of the 3A state playoffs. Both teams fought their way through the top part of the bracket, which has proved to be by far the most competitive one.

The Wildcats moved to the semifinal round with a convincing 45-29 win over Lafayette County last week at home; the Saints held off Bauxite after building a commanding lead early in the game to advance with a 35-21 victory. The Saints have been listed as the heavy favorites in the game, but neither coach looks at the game as favorite vs. underdog, but rather a battle between two squads with perfect records.

Shiloh Christian coach Josh Floyd believes his team will be faced with one of its toughest opponents to date. “First of all, we have a lot of respect for coach Shoemaker and the Harding Academy program,” Floyd said. “They have had a lot of success over the years, and we know they will be bringing a lot of tradition with them this Friday.” When asked if he views his team as the favorites to win, Floyd quickly dismissed the predictions made in his team’s favor.

“I don’t think so, I look at it as two 12-0 teams playing to advance,” Floyd said. “If you look at their record, there has been a couple of close games, but most of the scores have been blowouts, so they have been taking care of most of their opponents pretty easily.”

Although he says it is a different situation to be considered the underdog, Harding Academy coach Tommy Shoemaker says it doesn’t change his strategy for Friday. The head Wildcat says he only wants his team to play at the top of their ability, and let the chips fall where they may. “It’s a little different angle for us,” Shoemaker said. “I don’t get too hung up in all that stuff, though. We are just going to prepare the best we can. If we go out and play good enough to win, that’s good. If not, that’s just the way it is. As long as our kids go out and give a great effort, we will take the result either way.”

The Wildcats’ opponent last week had to travel over three hours to make their way to the HA campus to play. This week, it will be Harding Academy that will make the nearly four-hour trek to the SC campus. Shoemaker doesn’t think the long trip will have a negative effect on his team. In fact, he welcomes the journey as a change of scenery, not to mention the festive mood at the game itself.

“I’m not too worried about the trip,” Shoemaker said. “It will be good for us to travel. We’re pretty used to it, really. We have a lot of conference opponents that we have to travel quite a ways to play. It’s really just a little bit further than going to Barton or Yellville or someplace like that. It’s going to be a huge crowd and a lot of excitement, and I think that will be good for our kids.”

Floyd believes the mood at the game will generate excitement for his team as well. “The top part of the bracket has been tough,” Floyd said. “It’s been a tough bracket. Whoever wins will have earned their way, that’s for sure. It’s going to be a good atmosphere for a playoff game.” Floyd is not concerned about one particular aspect of the Wildcats offensively, but rather all aspects. One thing that does concern specifically is the speed they possess on the defensive side.

“They do a lot of things well,” Floyd said. “Their offensive system is different from what we’ve seen in a lot of teams. They don’t rely on just one thing; they run the ball and pass the ball well, so we will have to be ready for that. “Defensively, they have some really fast guys out there. They have only given up about 15 points a game. They are really athletic, there aren’t any slow guys out there on the defense at all.”

Shoemaker also points at the defense as one of the most vital keys in the game. “We just have to go out and do what we do,” Shoemaker said. “We have to execute. We need to play great defense, I think that is going to be the key between who wins and who loses.”