GIRLS HOOPS: In ‘underdog role,’ Dragons get another crack at Hickory

The Lady Dragons have been here before.

Not just in the District 10 Class AAA playoffs (Warren has qualified in the each of the past six seasons), but staring at a quarterfinal round matchup with Hickory in the Hornets’ own backyard.

A year ago, the Dragons took the favored Hornets to overtime before dropping a 54-43 decision at Kennedy Catholic High School. On Saturday, the teams will clash again with a trip to the D-10 semifinals on the line.

Again, the game will be played mere miles from Hickory’s home in Hermitage with Kennedy Catholic serving as the venue for the second straight season. In comparison, the Dragons have over a two-hour trip to make before Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. tipoff.

Surprisingly, that’s just fine with Warren coach Lisa Ruhlman.

“This will be my seniors’ third time playing a playoff game at Kennedy Catholic,” said Ruhlman. “For my juniors and sophomores, this is the second trip there. Even the freshman made the trip last year keeping stats for us. We’re familiar with the spot and are even comfortable with the game being there. If we had to travel to play, it’s the perfect spot for us to be in.”

The Lady Dragons (15-7) – Region 5’s third seed – aren’t exactly rolling into the postseason. After upsetting Mercyhurst Prep on February 2, the Dragons underperformed in wins over Corry and Kane before dropping three straight games to Villa Maria, Harbor Creek and Bradford.

“My team has always embraced the underdog role,” said Ruhlman. “We thrived on being the hunter. After we beat Mercyhurst Prep, things kind of turned and we became the hunted. Honestly, we weren’t ready for that. We thrive on being the underdog and while it stinks to be on a three-game skid going into the playoff, I feel we are in a place where we are most comfortable. That is back being the hunter.”

Just like last year, Warren’s offense runs through talented senior point guard Jaimie Eaton. Eaton surpassed the 1,000-point mark in December and is third on Warren’s all-time leading female scorer list with 1,313 points. That number trails only Julie McChesney (1,436 points) and Nikki Bialas (1,430).

In her senior season, Eaton averaged nearly 20 points per game – 19.5 ppg to be exact – and finished with a career-high 429 markers. She’s a threat from inside and out with unique driving ability and the stroke to knock down three-pointers consistently. In last year’s playoff game with Hickory, Eaton led the Dragons with 18 points. Only one other current player on Warren’s roster scored in last year’s game – Alexa Bupp – and she is questionable for Saturday’s contest after missing the last three games with an injury.

The Hornets enter the postseason with an overall record of 19-3, having finished second in Region 6. Two of the team’s three losses in 2012-13 came to Region 6 champion Franklin (21-1). Franklin is the early favorite to hoist the D-10 championship.

Hickory has one of the best one-two combinations in all of District 10 in 5’7 junior guard Nicki Arbanas and 5’11 junior forward Holly Grober. While the players are only juniors, each has already eclipsed the 1,000-point scoring mark.

In 2012-13, Arbanas led the team with 401 points in 22 appearances while Grober was close behind with 347 points in 22 contests. After Arbanas and Grober, there is a steep drop off in production with 5’9 sophomore guard Brandi Beader averaging just over five points a game.

“Hickory has a very similar group to last years team,” said Ruhlman. “Obviously, the biggest thing is dealing with the inside out game of both Arbanas and Grober. You’re not going to shut them out. They are too good of ball players. It’s a matter of stepping up and limiting them the best you can.”

Other quarterfinal contests on Saturday include Villa vs. Grove City at Gannon University and Franklin vs. Conneaut and Mercyhurst Prep vs. Slippery Rock at Oil City High School. The winners of Saturday’s games are guaranteed to play at least two more games, beginning with the D-10 semifinals next Wednesday.

Class AAA

Quarterfinals

February 23, 2013

At Gannon University

Villa Maria (20-2) vs. Grove City (13-9), 4 p.m.

At Kennedy Catholic High School

Hickory (19-3) vs. Warren (15-6), 4:30 p.m.

At Oil City High School

Franklin (21-1) vs. Conneaut (19-3), 2:30 p.m.

Mercyhurst Prep (15-7) vs. Slippery Rock (15-7), 5:30 p.m.

Semifinals

Date TBA

Villa Maria-Grove City winner vs. Hickory-Warren winner

Franklin-Conneaut winner vs. Mercyhurst Prep-Slippery Rock winner

Championship

Date TBA

Semifinal winner vs. Semifinal winner

Consolation

Date TBA

Semifinal loser vs. Semifinal loser