Athens Boys Prepare For Regional Tournament

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After securing their first district championship for boys’ basketball since 1965, the Athens Bulldogs shift their focus to the next challenge in their 2013 playoff run: a rematch with Warren in the regional semifinals.

“They’re very excited about playing Warren, and I’m sure Warren is very excited about playing us,” Athens coach Jeff Skinner said of the regional semifinal matchup.

Warren got the better of the Bulldogs when they met in the regular season on Jan. 8 at Athens High School. The Warriors broke a late tie on a go-ahead bucket by Michael Hall with 11 seconds left. Athens raced up the court for a final shot attempt, but freshman guard Zacciah Saltzman’s potential game-tying runner clanked off the right side of the rim.

Warren would add free throw with half a second left and escape with a 60-57 victory. Athens forward Ryan Luehrman missed that game with a back injury.

“We feel like we should have won that game,” Athens guard Joe Burrow said. “We played pretty good, but we couldn’t finish it out, and we want to finish it out this week.”

Burrow, a sophomore, was named to the AP All-Southeast District First Team this season after averaging 16 points per game to lead the Bulldogs to an 18-4 regular season record and a share of the TVC-Ohio Championship.

Athens also received major contributions from Ibi Watson this season. In his freshman season, Watson not only started for the Bulldogs, but he earned a spot on the Hardwood Heroes All-Hero Team. He averaged 15.3 points per game and landed a spot on the AP All-District Second Team.

“We’re just really confident in our play, and we know each other and we know our strengths,” Watson said. “We just feel like we can play with anybody.”

Warren will be the Bulldogs’ toughest test to date. The Warriors are 24-1 this season after earning their own district championship with a 61-46 win over Vinton County March 7. Hall scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half as Warren ran away with a game that was knotted up at 26 at halftime.

Evan French, the AP Southeast District Player of the Year, added 16 points in the win against the Vikings.

The players aren’t the only ones on these two teams who were recognized by the Associated Press for excellence this season. Both Skinner and Warren Coach Blaine Maddox were named Division II Coaches of the Year in the Southeast District. But Skinner believes the X’s and O’s won’t get too crazy when his team matches up with Maddox’s.

“We know we are not going to re-invent the wheel,” Skinner said. “The Warren scouting report is a whole lot thinner than the Miami Trace scouting report because we are very familiar with Warren … They have a very simple approach, and they are very good at it.

“I’d like to think our approach is pretty simple as well, and we’re pretty good at it as well.”

The Bulldogs will try to keep their season alive Thursday night in the Convocation Center. Tip-off is tentatively scheduled for 8 p.m., after the conclusion of the first regional semifinal between St. Clairsville and New Philadelphia.