Pressure won’t be an issue for Southwood in its challenge against Blackhawk Christian
On the surface, it would appear that the Southwood High School boy’s basketball team is being placed under duress this Saturday, as the Knights have to face Blackhawk Christian in the IHSAA Class A Semistate at Huntington North (4 p.m.).
Let’s just call this what it is, the Braves (26-2) are from a big city and just happen to field a frontline of 6-foot-9 (freshman Caleb Furst), 6-foot-8 (senior Drake Thompson), and 6-foot-6 (junior Frankie Davidson) athletes.
When a private school with an enrollment of 247 has that capability, it didn’t just occur by happenstance.
Conversely, the Knights (24-3) are a group forged by geography, coming from the open fields that stretch from Wabash to La Fontaine and over near Mount Etna.
But pressure is something that the Southwood kids have come to expect, accept and reject.
“There is a lot of pressure on this group to do well,” veteran Southwood coach John Burrus told News-Sentinel.com recently. “I have heard from people ‘Hey, I’d love to have that team.’ Well, you better win with them. If you’re going to have them, you better find a way to win.”
Which is something that Burrus and the Knights have done.
The Southwood senior class of Matt Nose, Ethen Roberts, Peyton Trexler, and Carson Blair has developed into the most successful class in the history of the school.
On the football field, Blair threw touchdowns to Nose and Trexler over the past four seasons, as the Knights won 34 games and a pair of IHSAA sectional championships.
And that success didn’t end at Thanksgiving each year.
Nose, Blair and Trexler have each become 1,000-point scorers and the Knights have won 78 games since their freshmen season, which includes two sectional titles, a regional championship last weekend and four Three Rivers Conference crowns.
“You could give other team’s one of our guys,” Burrus said, “and they would help them. But what makes this group special are the parts working together.
“That is why they are a special group, because together they are very difficult to beat.”
The Knight players have felt pressure several times in their careers and haven’t flinched.
Southwood ventured to Monroe Central (then 12-1) in the football regional last November and didn’t fall until the final seconds of the night.
In basketball, the Knights lost to Class 2A power Oak Hill 83-61 during the 2016-17 regular season and had to go back to Converse for the sectional.
Few outside of the Southwood locker room gave these kids a chance, but they ultimately won that night 60-52. Last season didn’t end until a four-point loss to eventual state champion Frankton in the regional.
“They don’t beat themselves,” Burrus said. “They find ways to win and then they also really fight all of those ways to lose.”
Just ask Lafayette Central Catholic.
The last time that Central Catholic had lost a sectional was in the early days of the presidency of George W. Bush.
The wrong set of Knights jumped all over the kids from Wabash in the sectional semifinal earlier this month, as they scored the game’s initial eight points.
Burrus acted out of character and didn’t allow his team to play through the adversity. He called a timeout to settle his squad down and it responded by outscoring Central Catholic 70-58 the rest of the way.
Oh and by the way, that game was played on Central Catholic’s home court.
“We’re a team,” Burrus explained, “when you look at our group, if you are trying to coach against us, you’ve got to do certain things to beat this group. If one guy is maybe not playing as well, somebody usually will pick up and play better.”
Against Central Catholic, the Knights face-guarded Blair from the moment he stepped out of the locker room.
The strategy failed because Trexler, Nose, and junior forward Dallas Holmes (who will also be a 1,000-point scorer before his career ends) all made critical plays to lift Southwood.
“There are a lot of counters going on out there,” Burrus said.
Burrus understands the magnitude of knocking off Blackhawk. But just like his players, he’s not going to be daunted by the challenge.
This is a guy who nearly died last summer after undergoing emergency five-bypass heart surgery. A few months later, Burrus lost his older brother (59-year-old Paul Burrus) to a sudden and tragic case of leukemia.
He has perspective on Saturday’s game.
“As we get older,” Burrus explained, “the more things that we go through, we start to learn more and more about life that we didn’t know, because we haven’t been through it. It’s easy to put things in perspective when you don’t go through it. But when you go through it, you start to look at things and it is more of a big picture thing.
“That is the thing that has been different for me.”
Not only has the past year enabled Burrus to handle pressure differently, but experience on the court has, as well.
Fort Wayne basketball fans may recall that eight years ago, two-time defending state champion Bishop Luers had its quest for a third championship derailed by Burrus’ Southwood team in the Class 2A regional.
That doesn’t guarantee anything Saturday, but fans shouldn’t be so dismissive that this game is already decided.
If a bunch of kids from Wabash can scrap and trap a team led by the Indiana Mr. Basketball (Luers’ Deshaun Thomas), then it’s not beyond comprehension that the same program could also beat Blackhawk.
“Your time is short here,” Burrus said. “You start to realize that as you get older, that your time is short, no matter how long you have, it’s still short. It goes so fast.
“Just like my time is with these kids, I have tried to do as much as I can this year. They have fun and I want them to enjoy it, but I also want to get as much done with them as I can, because I know the time is fleeting and they are about done.
“Basketball and being a senior is different than how long you are going to live your life, but there are some comparisons that you can draw from it. There is finality to it.”
Southwood is hoping that “finality” comes next Saturday and not this one.
For more on prep sports throughout Indiana, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.