Protecting their home court: Danville, M-S eye regional titles

Protecting their home court: Danville, M-S eye regional titles

MAHOMET — Photos will forever encapsulate what occurred at Mahomet-Seymour High School on March 6, 2015.

Bulldog boys' basketball players and staffers, along with their fans, can be seen hooting and hollering after the program knocked off Centennial to earn its first regional championship since 2010. Some photos even show people brought to tears by the overwhelming moment.

But through all of these images, the point is clear: Winning postseason hoops hardware on your own hardwood is a huge deal. And M-S tonight will have another chance to achieve the feat when Urbana pays a visit for a Class 3A regional title game.

"I think any time you can win a regional on your home court, there's a good buzz in the community about it," said Bulldogs coach Chad Benedict, one of the last remaining ties to that 2014-15 M-S squad. "Our students are excited to come and support the guys. It should be a fun night in Mahomet."

While the second-seeded Bulldogs (20-10) and fifth-seeded Tigers (9-18) duke it out starting at 7 p.m. tonight, a 4A regional final will simultaneously take place between No. 1 Danville (26-2) and No. 4 Moline (21-7) in the Vikings' gymnasium.

Unlike with M-S, Danville rooters must do some serious research if they wish to learn the last time their club captured a regional plaque on its own floor. In fact, Vikings coach Ted Houpt couldn't say with any certainty Thursday what year that might have happened in.

"I think Tuesday (in the semifinals) was more trying to get through it, and (tonight) is going to be more fun and playing like we normally do — with joy and passion," Houpt said. "It's a different feel. We could clearly lose this game, but that's what this is all about."

These two matchups, while both for placement in the sectional semifinal round, are certainly different in nature.

The Bulldogs and Tigers have met once before this season, with host M-S pulling out a narrow 61-59 victory. That was one of just four triumphs for the Bulldogs over the team's final nine regular-season tilts.

That Feb. 6 showdown, Benedict said, could result in both sides switching things up from a strategical standpoint to gain an early upper hand in this winner-take-all playoff game.

"I think that's an advantage that we have seen them, but it's an advantage for them as well," Benedict said. "I think when you get to the postseason like this, I think with familiarity of the opponent ... you're going to have to figure out a couple wrinkles to offset some of that."

Meanwhile, the Vikings and Maroons last squared off nearly a year ago today, in the 4A Ottawa Sectional semifinals. Danville came away with a 61-45 success that cemented it as a team to watch moving forward.

That has proven accurate, with the Vikings presently carrying a 16-game win streak. Moline has been steady as well, though, holding a near-identical record to the one it boasted last time these teams faced off.

"We got off to a great start last year, took control and never gave it back," Houpt said. "I'd be very happy if that happened again (but) I don't anticipate that. I expect a tough game. I expect it to go down to the wire."

Regardless of the opponents, there was no doubt M-S and Danville would wield the support advantage if they qualified for their own regional finales. Especially with the games taking place on a Friday night, the Bulldogs and Vikings should have an ample number of students and others aiming to make life difficult for the Tigers and Maroons, respectively.

Benedict and Houpt are hopeful to reap benefits from this setup, but they're also wary of their players becoming overconfident or getting sucked into the hype machine.

"I think they're pretty excited," Benedict said. "They know it's not going to be easy, but they're ready for the experience. ... I don't think they're overlooking anybody. This is not like we played somebody here and beat them easily the first time."

"We've played lots of big games. We've had a lot of experience with bit games," Houpt added. "It's still nothing like this. There's nothing like the state tournament, playing at home. But I think we know how to handle a big situation like this emotionally."