From underdog to top dog Porters Chapel to open postseason play against Mt. Salus

Published 11:25 am Thursday, February 9, 2012

During last year’s run to the MAIS Class A Final Four, Porters Chapel was the scrappy underdog with no pedigree.

The Eagles, long a mediocre program at best, didn’t win the district or South State tournaments. They were under .500 in the postseason heading to the state tournament, winning just enough games to land in the top four and advance to the next round. They caught fire finally at the state tournament, knocking off two No. 1 seeds with big second-half comebacks before losing to Trinity in the semifinals.

This time around, things are different.

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PCA begins its postseason run Friday night in the District 5-A Tournament with an 18-4 record, a guaranteed place in next week’s South Central State tournament, and a target on its back as the regular-season district champion.

“It’s a good feeling to have. We just have to live up to it,” said senior center Talbot Buys, one of three returning starters from last season.

The Eagles are hardly resting on their laurels heading into Friday’s second-round game against Mt. Salus at Rebul Academy. Having seen firsthand what can happen when the favorite underestimates a lower-seeded team, they’re trying to keep the mindset of the underdog.

“It’s the same mindset. You go in there with a different mindset, think you’re the big dog, you’re going to get knocked out in the first round,” senior guard Kawayne Gaston said. “If you go in unprepared, thinking you’re better, you’re going to get knocked out.”

It’d be understandable, though, if the Eagles believe they’re better than the other teams in District 5-A. For the most part, they have been by a wide margin.

Other than a one-point win at Russell Christian on Jan. 20, the Eagles’ closest district game was a 17-point blowout of Newton Academy. PCA went undefeated to earn the top seed in the district tournament, which comes with a first-round bye and an automatic berth in the South Central tournament.

Russell (20-8) got the No. 2 seed in the district tournament and advanced to tonight’s semifinals by beating Veritas on Tuesday. The top four teams advance to South Central.

Given the way it ran roughshod within the district, PCA’s toughest opponent this week might be time. It will have gone eight days between games by the time it tips off Friday.

The extra time off has allowed the Eagles to heal some nagging injuries and rest a thin rotation that’s only seven players deep. Coach E.J. Creel worried that it might have messed up their rhythm.

“Three days, four days, I’m good with. Eight days, I’m not,” Creel said. “We have injuries, so that can help. Hopefully we can stay motivated. Our practices have been good.”

Creel added two games to the schedule last week to avoid an even longer layoff. Even though both ended in losses, to Washington School and Simpson Academy, Buys said getting some live action has helped keep the team sharp.

“We’ve been practicing a good bit, doing a lot of conditioning. That’s helped. If we wouldn’t have had these two games, it would hurt,” Buys said. “They helped a lot.”