The tournament opens Tuesday, March 2 with Lewis Cass to face Winamac in game one. North Newton and Delphi will follow.
“Sectional 37 is a really nice, competitive sectional,” said Bombers coach Chad Pulver. “We have four teams with double-digit wins. After Friday we will have faced most of the teams, so we’ll have a feel for them. We know that Lewis Cass and Rochester both have very strong teams and both are the favorites going into it. We know we have a lot we need to figure out and work on, but we also feel we match up with all of the teams we could play.”
The Bombers — 10-9 through Feb. 22 — will have plenty of time to prepare for their first opponent after receiving one of two byes at sectional. They will face the Lewis Cass/Winamac winner, while Rochester, the defending champion, will face either North Newton or the host Oracles.
After a busy February that saw the Bombers play 10 games in 22 days, receiving a bye gives them a chance to catch their breath before donning the hard hats.
“For us to have two or three weeks where we’re stacking up those games,” Pulver said, “it is nice to have a little bit of a breather before we go in. It would be nice to knock the rust off and be able to play on Tuesday night, but at the same time, having those extra days to prepare, trying to get our shots in order, trying to get our legs under us and trying to know exactly what the teams are going to do, that can make it a really fun Friday night for us.”
The Bombers feature three players who were on the floor when last year’s squad lost in double overtime to Rochester at the Winamac Sectional, including senior Josh Fleming, who has been the team’s top scorer two years in a row.
Fleming averages 19.8 ppg., with junior teammate Tate Drone — another veteran of the sectional tournament — adding 13.2 per contest.
Junior Brody Chamness also played a valuable role on last year’s team. The Bombers would eventually fall by a 60-52 final to the Zebras, who also bring back a veteran team.
“We do have a number of guys who lived that experience and have that experience; who have that memory of being in the game and feeling like it was right there for us to take off the vine,” Pulver said. “To have that slip through our fingers and not pull it out in a double-overtime loss, that is bitter. That night, we talked about how special it is to be in a championship game and have that game go into double overtime. However, we still want to win. The guys that experienced it are very much wanting to build on that and have the outcome be much more in our favor so we can cut down the nets.”
The Bombers have experienced a pair of streaks this season, losing seven games in a row early in the season before winning 8 of their last 10.
Despite struggling through a long skid early in the season, the Bombers were able to learn the value of possession. It also allowed the team’s younger players to adapt to the pace of the game.
Still, Pulver said his team hasn’t been able to close games consistently. The Bombers have lost a handful of games in which they held fourth-quarter leads.
“We have the lead, we have control, but we get away from the things that were working,” he said. “We’ve talked about it and we set a plan to tell how to recognize it in the moment. But we can’t get away from what’s working due to convenience. We have to stay with it and finish it out.”
While the defense has stayed somewhat consistent, it’s on the offensive end where the Bombers struggled to execute, particularly in close games.
“For us, it comes down to offensive discipline,” Pulver said. “On that side of the ball, we need to recognize when we have the advantage and stay with it. When we have to adapt, we need to adapt and find what will work for us.”
Pulver also points to another area that has to improve when the tournament begins.
“It will come down to rebounding,” he said. “When we fade in a game or we’ve had a tough evening, it usually comes down to how we rebound. It comes down to us finding extra possessions for ourselves while keeping the other team’s possessions to a limited amount.”
Expect the Bombers to have fresh legs when the ball is tipped next Friday. Pulver said he would like to see his team attack early and often while maintaining consistency throughout.
“We have to go in and beat them,” Pulver said of his team’s first opponent. “We’re not going to wait around for another team to shoot themselves in the foot. It’s not enough to hang around. You have to go in and win the game. That’s the mentality we have as a unit.”