By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s a familiar position for the Stillwater High School boys basketball team. A highly ranked team comes in to unfamiliar territory with dreams of bolstering its resume.
Only this time, the Pioneers are the ones with the target on their backs.
Stillwater (6-3) opens its defense as the reigning East Central Oklahoma Classic champion as the top seed in the bracket, facing Durant at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Ada.
“We’re taking nothing for granted,” Stillwater boys coach Michael Davis said. “We have to go in there and play one game at a time, starting with the game against Durant. ... You have to show up and play because nobody is going to give us anything.”
The Pioneers come into the tournament on a bit of a hot streak, winning three of the last four games — including Friday’s win over No. 5 Edmond North. That combined with a more inexperienced squad makes the bull’s-eye even bigger for teams like Sapulpa and Ada — a couple of schools looking for that marquee win.
“Playing like we played (against Edmond North), we need that to carry over,” Davis said. “We’ve been working on some of those things that we need to fix like defensive rotation. We need to play with a lot of intensity throughout the whole game and just take it one game at a time.”
They may have a target on their backs, but the Pioneers don’t appear to be rattled. If anything, they welcome the challenge with swagger that you’d expect from any team coached by Davis.
“Right now our guys are pretty high,” Davis said. “Our confidence level is high and that helps. They feel really good about themselves so now we just have to keep building on what we’ve been doing and try to get that carry over for the first game against Durant.”
The Stillwater boys aren’t the only ones looking to add some strength to their foundation in Ada. The Lady Pioneers also hope that a couple of wins in their tournament will lead to some success down the road.
But the Lady Pioneers road to the championship might be a little bit more challenging.
Stillwater (6-3) comes in as the No. 5 seed and opens against a red-hot Norman North squad that has risen to No. 6 in the latest Class 6A poll after beating Edmond Memorial last week. The two will face off at 1 p.m. Thursday in Ada
“It’s a big one for us,” Stillwater girls coach Carl Treat said. “Right now they’re 9-2 and playing really well. They beat Edmond Memorial on Friday. They’re a quality team. We were seeded No. 4 and No. 5, but since then we’ve exceeded expectations. They’re playing really well right now, so it’s going to be a tough task for us.”
With so many high caliber teams in the tournament, Treat says that this year’s bracket has a playoff feel to it — something Treat says his team desperately needs.
“It’d be great to win a couple of games,” Treat said. “We’re in the big part of the season now and any time you pick up quality wins, you pick up respect across the state. We’re working to a get better seeding for our playoffs and get ready for the playoffs. This is the kind of quality teams that we’re going to see in the regional tournament and area tournament. We have to be ready for that and learn how to execute against the different defense and the different athletes that we’re going to see.”
Whether it’s repeating as champions or getting a couple of quality wins under their belt both coaches know just how important this tournament is, especially with the state playoffs creeping up quicker than ever.
“This is a big month for us,” Davis said. “We have to set the tone this month... We’re into January so these guys are ready to make their move. Any time you enter a tournament you want to win the ultimate goal and that’s a championship. We’re hoping that it keeps us going in the right direction.”