No. 3 Dale - 55
No. 2 Wildcats - 56
It was tabbed as “Hell Week” for Cashion. A brutal stretch of five games in eight days against the who’s who of high school basketball teams. With playoff pairings already announced entering “Hell Week,” the Wildcats could approach each game fearlessly. After finishing the gauntlet Monday night with a 56-55 win over No. 3 Dale, "Hell Week" may have been a heaven-sent in retrospect.
First, the Wildcats routed crosstown rival Crescent last Monday, 80-32. Then Cashion returned home to face rival Okarche, where they pulled away late, 56-51. The Wildcats followed that up by beating 3A No. 12 Hennessey 44-42 in overtime.
Looking to avenge their only loss of the season, Cashion traveled to 3A No. 5 Crossings Christian on Valentine’s Day, where they lost a heartbreaker 58-54 in overtime.
The Wildcats bounced back from the loss on Monday, sweeping the season series with No. 3 Dale, beating the Pirates 56-55 on senior night. Cashion finished “Hell Week” 4-1 and Cashion Coach John Hardaway says his team learned a lot during it.
“I told the guys last week that we couldn’t have asked for better preparation for playoffs,” Hardaway said. “In reality, there was nothing on the line. No seedings, no rankings, no conference, nothing like that. We just got to play some really good teams, so in terms of preparation for the playoffs, it was perfect for us. The two things we talked about entering this week was trust and togetherness. I feel like we improved both of those in just the last few games. I can sense it with the kids. You can’t beat anybody really good without those two things and what I’m most pleased with is our ability to handle adversity properly and that’s something I’ve wanted us to get better at entering the postseason.”
The playoffs might officially start this weekend, but it feels like Cashion has been playing in the postseason for the last week. In the five games Cashion played in the last eight days, four of them were decided by five points or less, with two of them going into overtime. Each game has had a playoff-level feel to it. Cashion has had to overcome deficits, hold on to leads, and grind out wins. That’s why Hardaway says this team is developing into a legitimate title contender.
“This team is developing the kind of moxie it takes to win playoff games,” Hardaway said. “We talked about it during the Hennessey game. No one has made it to the state tournament where they didn’t have to find ways to win. Where they didn’t have to claw back into games or come back from down 10 or overcome foul situations. That’s just part of it. For us to find ways to be able to do that before we even get to the playoffs is big. I think that experience will help us.”
With the win over No. 3 Dale, the Cashion Wildcats finished the regular season 21-2. They finished the regular season as Three Rivers Conference Tournament and regular-season champions. Their two losses came by a combined six points to Crossings. They did not lose a single game to a team in Class 2A. If that trend continues, the Wildcats will be state champions in three weeks.
“It feels good,” Hardaway said after being asked what it feels like to not lose to a team in his class this season. “If we keep that up where we stay undefeated against our class, then that would mean a gold ball for us and that would be fantastic.”
[All photos provided by Brad Stone. (https://bestone.shootproof.com/)]