By Jason Avery
Over the last two months, Parkers Chapel has successfully answered every challenge.
The Trojans, winners of 17 straight games, stand just two wins away from playing for a state title, but now will embark on their toughest task to date.
Tonight, Parkers Chapel (28-3), the 2A South regional champions, take on England (23-8), the West/Central's No. 3 seed, in the quarterfinals of the 2A State Tournament.
Game time is set for 5:30 p.m. from Judsonia.
The Lions earned their meeting with the Trojans by topping East Poinsett County 71-64 on Wednesday.
Like the Trojans, the Lions have also played very well down the stretch, having won 11 of their past 13 games with only a pair of three-point losses to Quitman serving as their lone setbacks during that span.
"They don't have much size. They're mostly guards," said Parkers Chapel coach Josh Langley.
"They want to get rebounds, turnovers and get out and run and score in transition. They've got some pretty good shooters, so we'll definitely have to close out on those guys. They're solid all the way around."
Langley said the Lions will mix up their defenses.
"Defensively, they will get out and pressure you and they'll back down into the 2-3 zone," said Langley, who added that the Lions played straight man-to-man against East Poinsett County. "They'll mix it up and keep you on your toes."
Langley added that the Trojans' defense will be tested thanks to the Lions' balance.
"They're all capable of hurting you," Langley said. "They play really well together and they get after it. I think the main thing that makes them dangerous is the fact that they do play team ball.
"They're not relying on one person to get it done. The hot hand is who they are going with."
One of perks of winning the regional tournament was that the Trojans got a bye until today, but they didn't know who their opponent would be until 24 hours before game time, giving the Trojans a rather unique situation to prepare for.
“We prepared for both,” Langley said. “On Monday, we worked on England’s stuff, and we worked on East Poinsett County’s stuff on Tuesday, so we saw a little bit of both. I think it’s more of an advantage, because they have played and then they have to turn around the very next day and play us.
"They get 24 hours to prepare for us where we’ve had all week to get ready for them.
"Once we found out who we were playing, we went into detail and had a little shoot-around, so we’ll have two short practices to walk through some more stuff game-plan wise.
"I think we’re at a little bit of an advantage. They’ll have the advantage that they’ve already played, but at the same time, their legs will be a little more tired.”
Given the quick turnaround, Langley said his team may try to force the tempo to wear down the Lions.
“We may, especially late in the game,” Langley said. “We’ll probably try to feel them out earlier to see how their legs are. If we see that’s something that we can expose a little, we’ll definitely push.
"Anytime we get the opportunity to get in transition and score, we’re going to do that, but we’re also capable of being very patient and working our offense until we get a shot that we like.
"I feel like we’re dangerous because we can play multiple ways. We can slow it down and execute or we can speed it up. Either way, we’re comfortable. We’ll use our versatility as a pro for us.”
Being a No. 1 seed for the district and regional tournaments, the Trojans had a target on their backs with opponents looking to pull off upsets, but after surviving Foreman in the opening round of the regional tournament, the Trojans relaxed, and the results showed.
“We were a little tight, and I think that had something to do with the reason we were so tight in the first game,” Langley said. “We knew that we were supposed to win, and we knew that if we didn’t win, our season was going to be over.
"We were a little bit more relaxed against Harmony Grove, but that was another big game because of the first-round bye in the state tournament.
"In the last game, I told them in the locker room that regardless of what happens, we’ve got a first-round bye, and we played the best game that we’ve had in the last several ballgames.
"We were just more relaxed, played our game and let the game decide who would win.
"We did a really good job of being relaxed and staying patient. I think that really helped us control the tempo of the game and helped us come out on top against Bearden.”
If the Trojans are to move on to the semifinals, Langley said their defense must be stingy.
“We’ve got to play lights out defensively,” Langley said. “They are capable of scoring, so we have to make sure to get back on defense and limit them to one shot per possession.
"They’re pretty athletic, so we’ve got to make sure we control the defensive boards and only let them get one shot up per trip down the floor. We really want to challenge teams to score on us.”