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Indians seek first-round Harmony

March 10, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

Reaching the PIAA Class A boys basketball state tournament is nothing new for Southern Fulton, which is making its third trip in four years.

That first state tournament win, though ... that's been one tough nut to crack. The Indians are 0-6 in state tournament games.

Southern Fulton (22-5) will take another crack at it tonight. The Indians face Harmony at University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown at 8 p.m.

Southern Fulton claimed its third straight Sideling Hill League championship and its third District 5-A title in four years, and is riding an eight-game winning streak entering the state tournament.

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"These guys, they work really hard and kept improving since the summer," Indians coach Kent Hendershot said. "It's amazing how far we've come. This summer, we really struggled and were not very good at all. We started the season very shaky, didn't play very well, but we found ways to win and you could see our confidence building. We got more consistent ... and we took advantage of what we do well and stuck with that."

Here's what they do well, in three words: Press and shoot. The Indians' style is similar to the one Villanova has used to its benefit this season.

"We can shoot the ball very well," Hendershot said. "We're a four-guard oriented offense, and we're very good at making the extra pass, getting it to the open guy and making the open shot. There's no one player on our team you look at and say you have to stop, there's always two or three kids.

"(On defense) we've been able to shut down teams, and we can really get after people. My guards are quick and can get after people, and we've even gotten after bigger, stronger teams and not been hurt so bad."

At the offensive end, seniors P.J. Hixon and Colin Watson and junior Brad Divel do the bulk of the scoring. All three average in double figures and combined for 96 3-pointers this season, including seven in a 61-52 victory over Shanksville in the District 5-A final.

"My two seniors, Hixon and Watson, they've really stepped up here in the latter part of the season and playoff run," Hendershot said. "They put the team on their back, said, 'This is where we're going,' and we jumped on. ... We do a lot of motion stuff, spread it out and do almost a four-corners look trying to penetrate and kick. We run a ton of sets and these guys have been very good at creating within the structure. I've given them the green light and they're good at knowing when to do it and when not to do it."

Whatever production 6-foot-5 center Evan Ifert gives the Indians inside will be considered a bonus by Hendershot.

"He's had some games where he's really come up big for us," Hendershot said. "He's really crashing the offensive boards, getting second and third opportunities and keeping the ball alive for us by tipping it back out to us. He's not an 18 (points) and 10 (rebounds) kind of guy, but if he gets eight or 10 points for us, that's a real plus."

In order to break the school's 0-for-6 drought in state tournament games, Hendershot said his team just needs to do what they do best.

"We think the key to our success is just being able to play our game and do what we do well," he said. "If we execute offensively and defend, we like our chances against anybody. We can shoot against anybody, I have no doubt about that, it's just doing it."

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