Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

SPORTS >>Wildcats have to wait for playoffs

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The Harding Academy Wildcats are entering familiar territory as an undefeated No. 1 seed in the state playoffs. Harding Academy went into the quarterfinals last year after an unbeaten regular season, but lost to Junction City after a late-game rally by the Dragons.

Wildcats coach Tommy Shoemaker hopes that history won’t repeat itself in the quarterfinals this year, that is, if his team gets there. “Every year is different, every team is different,” Shoemaker said. “As long as we go out and play well, I think we will be in good shape. I think we probably should have won our final game last year, so hopefully we can go back this year and get further along.”

After wrapping up the No. 1 seed as the 2-3A Conference champions, Harding Academy has been given a by-week as the lower seeds fight it out in the opening week of the post season. With no real injuries to speak of in need of healing time, Shoemaker sees the off-week as both an advantage and disadvantage.

“I’ll tell you in three weeks whether or not it’s a good thing or bad thing,” Shoemaker said. “We were really on a good roll, and I hate to give that up, but we are going to use this time to put a few new wrinkles into our strategy on both sides of the ball and come out with some things that no one has seen us do yet this year. It would definitely be an advantage if we knew for sure who we will be playing, but without knowing who’s coming up next, there is no way to prepare for any one specific team.”

The Wildcats will await the winner of this week’s game between Hector and Corning, a pair of No. 3 seeds from their respective conferences. With the unique bracket for the 3A playoffs, the Wildcats find themselves as the only No. 1 seed on their side of the bracket. Shoemaker says that seed rankings mean very little at this point, however. It’s what each team does from here on out that will count.

“There aren’t any other No. 1 seeds, but there are still a lot of quality teams,” Shoemaker said. “If you just go by name recognition, you have Barton. Coach Sane?? Has come in and replaced coach McClelland and as done a great job. Those guys are having a great year this year. Some of the other teams we’re not familiar with, and don’t know much about them, but if they are in the playoffs, they have to have something going for them.”

Confidence and momentum are two important factors for any team trying to make a run at the state title. Shoemaker says the players are confident, but hopes that the momentum they have carried all year will continue, even with a Friday off. “I think that playing well and winning our conference with a 10-0 record has given us some confidence,” Shoemaker said. “It’s a different situation for us to have a week off, but we’re going to use that as an extra week to prepare.”

The Wildcats will enjoy the weekend off this Friday before hosting the winner of the Corning/Hector game next Friday night at First Security Stadium in Searcy.