By Marc Tobias
When St. Henry clashes with Loudonville on Thursday at 11 a.m. in the Division III state semifinals, it will mark the second time in the last three games that the ’Skins will face a MAC foe.
Loudonville (23-2) hails from the Mohican Area Conference, the same conference as Clear Fork who St. Henry (20-5) knocked off 51-41 in the Division III regional semifinal at Bowling Green State University.
St. Henry coach Joe Niekamp said Loudonville is somewhat similar to Clear Fork, except the Red Birds have some better perimeter shooters.
Besides the obvious better shooters, St. Henry fans who remember the Clear Fork game will also most likely dread what appears to be a very deliberate Loudonville squad.
“We play a certain style if we want to be successful,” said Loudonville coach Mark Schlabach. “We have to be pretty physical. We’re not going to run up and down and pass people and jump over people, so we have to be very disciplined. Definitely play the game to our tempo to be successful.”
The quick translation means this game could turn out to be a long drawn out half-court slugfest.
“If you’re familiar with the North Carolina State or Princeton offense it’s very similar to that,” Niekamp said. “They like to spread you out, and then they’ll use their big man to be a passer and they’ll do back-door cuts, or sometimes they’ll slip their big guy inside and they’ll have a four out, one inside look.
“We need to play our style of defense, we need to contain the basketball and not go chase people out on the perimeter,” Niekamp added. “We want to be in position and be in a stance waiting for them and play them with the knowledge that they like to back cut.”
Leading the way inside for Loudonville will be center Shane Humphrey (6-5, Sr.) who’s averaging 12.8 points and just shy of nine rebounds per game.
On the perimeter Zach Young (6-4, Sr.) averages 10.5 points and is the Red Birds’ most athletic player. Young along with Trevor Scott (5-11, Jr.) are the Red Birds’ top three-point threats.
“We’re not overly quick, our guards are just solid players,” Schlabach said. “They don’t do anything overly fancy, they just kind of get the job done and do a nice job getting the ball to the right people in the right situations.”
The Red Birds round out their starting five with two more guards in C.J. Spreng (5-10, Sr.) running the point and David Huffman (5-11, Sr.).
Spreng’s averaging 8.2 points, 5.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game. If St. Henry would choose to help on any of the post players, it would be a good bet that the player guarding Huffman would do the double-teaming. Huffman is averaging just four points per contest and he didn’t attempt a field goal in Loudonville’s regional semifinal win against Bedford Chanel.
The Bedford game provided a number of interesting statistics, though, the biggest of which was Bedford forcing the Red Birds into 31 turnovers.
“They gave them some difficulty with their diamond-look press, but that’s what they do not what we do,” Niekamp said. “I do pick up a little bit from each one of these coaches that if there’s maybe one area that they’re not real stellar in it’s maybe there’s a little chink in their ball-handling.”
Despite only averaging roughly 10 turnovers during the regular season, Loudonville can expect a heavy dose of the Redskins 2-2-1 press which has caused problems for a number of teams in the tournament.
“We’ve seen a lot of pressure this year, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything like that with their size up front,” Schlabach said. “With a 6-9 (Kurt Huelsman) in the second row of their 2-2-1, we’re going to have to take care of the basketball. Our guards are experienced players and at this stage if you don’t take care of it you’re not going to be successful. Probably one of the biggest keys in the game will be handling that pressure.”
With essentially four guards on the floor for Loudonville, Humphrey will be able to guard either Huelsman or Steve Sutter (6-6), but whichever guard gets the odd assignment, he should have his hands full.
“With their size we may have to play some zone,” Schlabach said. “Until we actually get out there and play that first quarter to see how we match up, because we’re not that familiar with them, we won’t really know. Hopefully we’re going to be able to matchup at least a little bit.”