By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – New Albany, in this year 2019 A.R. (After Romeo), expected no sympathy, preparing to pay for the last four years of success – including a state championship – against vengeful opponents.
A bad break changed that hard-line stance.
New Albany junior Julien Hunter, an inside force averaging 13.1 points and 7.5 rebounds, suffered a broken fibula last week during an overtime win over Providence. He will miss the remainder of the season, quite a blow as the Bulldogs prepare to defend their Class 4A sectional title for the fifth straight year.
While Bedford North Lawrence certainly feels for Hunter as he starts the rehabilitation process, the Stars have no softness in their hearts for New Albany as they look to end a nine-game losing streak to their Hoosier Hills Conference nemesis.
BNL (12-8) will seek to continue its hot streak, and keep its hopes for a share of the Hoosier Hills Conference championship alive, on Friday night when it welcomes the Bulldogs (14-6) to BNL Fieldhouse. Both teams are 4-2 in the league and could still earn a piece of the league prize with a win and the right combination of results next week.
Floyd Central and Jeffersonville are both currently 5-1 in the HHC. If the Highlanders fall at Columbus East on Wednesday, and if the Red Devils suffer a setback at Madison on Tuesday, the title woul be split three – perhaps even four, if East wins at Madison on Friday – ways. That’s happened only once in league history.
Sound confusing? That’s a lot of “ifs” in the equation. The Stars are focusing on only one thing – ending the skid against the Bulldogs.
“It’s huge for us,” BNL coach Matt Seifers said. “More than a conference game, its been a day or two (2,554 days since Feb. 17, 2012, to be exact) since we’ve beaten New Albany. I think the kids are hyped it’s New Albany, they’re hyped that it’s at home and they can continue the run.”
The Stars have won 8 of their last 9, and New Albany has been on a similar surge, winning 7 straight. The unfortunate Hunter injury puts that in jeopardy.
“We’re not using that as an excuse,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “You just have to look for the positives, that’s all you can do in life. Rally around what you have and make the best of it.
“Initially, it’s a shock. It’s hard to see a kid in pain, where his season is over It’s really tough. Then you move on with your team. Our guys understand it’s not something you can look at and say ‘No worries.’ In the same token, you move on because you have no other alternative. You must. So it’s next man up. If you thought you were playing hard before, you might want to check yourself and see if you have another gear.”
New Albany will miss Hunter’s offensive board work and scoring, but it still has senior scoring leader Derrick Stevenson (15.0), junior forward Trey Hourigan and a talented supporting cast that has already adjusted to life after the graduation of superstar Romeo Langford. The Bulldogs also conquered Bloomington South in the season opener without Hunter.
“I hate that they lost a kid like that, I hate to see a kid go through an injury,” Seifers said. “It will impact them, but they have guys ready to step into that role and go. They’re very deep. And they know how to play without him.”
BNL will counter with its three-headed scoring attack of Brayton Bailey, Jathan Ritter and McCall Ray, who all average in double figures.
“I think they’re very good,” Shannon said. “Brayton is playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play. I noticed he’s started to hit a jumper (while scoring 27 points in the latest win over Brownstown).
“Ritter and Ray are tough, too. You can’t leave those two birds. They can play. So that gives them three really quality guys that can get you 10 to 20 points, I mean right now. So pick your poison on how to stop them.
“They run really good stuff offensively. They play hard. Daggone it, they play hard. It’ll be interesting to see if we can keep them in front of us.”
BNL, with the sectional draw scheduled for Sunday, would like to maintain its momentum.
“Every coach in the world would be begging for a run like we’re on,” Seifers said. “We have a lot of stuff going our direction. I would love to keep the momentum. I like how we’re playing, I would love for that to carry into the sectional.”
NEW ALBANY at BNL
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: New Albany 14-6 (4-2 in the HHC); BNL 12-8 (4-2 in the HHC)
Sagarin ratings: New Albany 87.78; BNL 82.61
Last meeting: Last year at New Albany, the Bulldogs celebrated Senior Night (and Romeo Langford’s final home appearance) with an 80-52 triumph. Sean East had 30 for the Bulldogs while Langford totaled 25. Jathan Ritter had 13 points for the Stars.
Game notes: New Albany has won nine straight in the series. New Albany coach Jim Shannon needs five more wins to reach 400 during this 21-year tenure with the Bulldogs. He has 560 career wins in 35 years overall.
F – Derrick Stevenson 6-2 Sr.
F – Trey Hourigan 6-5 Jr.
G – Landon Sprigler 5-11 Sr.
G – Kaden Stanton 5-11 Fr.
G – Chris Johnson 5-10 Sr.
Bedford NL Stars
F – Jathan Ritter 6-4 Sr.
F – Drew Shoufler 6-3 Sr.
C – Cale Bunch 6-3 Jr.
G – McCall Ray 6-1 Sr.
G – Brayton Bailey 6-2 Jr.