Schuck's Clipboard

Trail Blazers' countdown to redemption nearly complete

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 1, 2019 10:50 pm

The countdown is on.

Actually, it's been ongoing all season.

The John Wood Community College men's basketball team places such high importance on the Region 24 Tournament, which sends the winner to the NJCAA Division II national tournament, that a running toteboard in the locker room counts down the days to the event.

That number is now in single digits.

"They know what's coming," JWCC coach Brad Hoyt said with the Region 24 Tournament set to begin next week and the championship game scheduled for March 10 at Illinois Central College in Peoria. "We don't shy away from that."

The Trail Blazers embrace it.

"It's been a focal point for the whole team," sophomore guard Cory Miller Jr. said. "We've tried to put that on the freshmen so they know. They don't have the experience of losing in the region title game like we do, but they know."

They know it makes Saturday's regular-season finale against Danville at the Student Activity Center highly important.

Should the Trail Blazers (15-13, 5-2 Mid-West Athletic Conference) finish with a victory, they can do no worse than the No. 2 seed for the Region 24 Tournament and will receive a first-round bye. They could overtake Parkland for the conference title and No. 1 seed, but that's not of major concern.

A scenario exists where the Trail Blazers could fall to the No. 3 seed and not receive a first-round bye, which is why they've haven't lost focus on Saturday's game with the region tournament so close.

Beating Danville is priority No. 1.

"It puts us in a much better position, the position we want to be in," sophomore guard Eric Easter said.

That's so they can make amends for last season.

The Trail Blazers led Danville by five points at halftime in the region championship at Mary Miller Gym in Danville, but the offense fell flat in the second half and the Jaguars rallied for a six-point victory and a national tournament berth.

"It was a disappointment," Easter said. "The way we saw it was we weren't the underdog, even though we had to go to Danville and play Danville. That gave them a little bit of an edge, but in our minds, we were a clear-cut favorite. We should have been in the national tournament and we got sent home early.

"Our goal coming back this year from day one was to rectify that."

Regular-season success gives the Trail Blazers hope. JWCC is the only team in the region to beat No. 6 Parkland and owns road victories over several of the top teams.

"There is a different mentality knowing you have beaten everybody you could possibly play," Hoyt said. "That's a positive thing. You know you can clear any hurdle.

"Even if that wasn't the case, this group is pretty confident we can string two or three games together in a week to make a run in the end."

That stems from believing they can play better.

"Even in the games we won, we didn't play our best," Easter said. "There were individual parts that stood out, but we know other things can be better. Knowing we have a lot more we can do, it gives us a lot of confidence."

The Trail Blazers need that confidence to peak when that toteboard in the locker room reaches zero.

It's the countdown to redemption.