The region recipe for Rutherford was fairly simple starting with last Thursday’s quarterfinal win against Wakulla.
Boiled down, it was reduced to win and stay at home.
Simple on paper, anyway.
Rickards brings its tradition-rich program to Springfield 7 p.m. Tuesday for a Region 1-5A semifinal. The other half of the bracket finds Bishop Kenney vs. Baker County. The winners meet 7 p.m. Saturday for a ticket to Lakeland and the Final Four.
Should the Rams, 24-2, overcome Rickards, 15-9, the region championship would be played on their court.
Also Tuesday, in Region 1-4A Marianna gets a rematch with Pensacola Catholic, the Bulldogs falling at home to the Crusaders in their district final. That semifinal will be played at Catholic.
And three Class 1A teams enter the semifinal round after a week layoff because of the smaller number of schools in that classification.
Rutherfordhas established a fomidable program during the past decade under head coach Rhondie Ross, but like many larger schools in the Panhandles it pales when compared to the four state titles won by the Raiders, including back to back in 2010 and 2011.
In addition, Rickards will have a distinct height advantage. The Raiders can go as large as 6-foot-8 (Michael Gilmore), 6-6 (Kedreatis Keaton) and 6-6 (Aaron Bailey) inside.
The Rams have balanced size in their rotation, but key post defenders Keith Arts and Dorian Moore are 6-2 and 6-1, respectively. Their backups, Kris Foster and Tyson Hills, are 6-3 and 6-2.
Rutherfordcounters with manufactured mayhem forcing teams to execute over all 86 feet of the court, rather than set up for a halfcourt game.
What also could be crucial is a boisterous home crowd. In past seasons, fan support here has increased along with the magnitude of each challenge from quarterfinals to semis and ultimately the region final.
That could play a decided factor.
Rutherford’s output usually is fueled by the outside-inside play of guards Khaliel Spearman, Gabe Steele and Josh Wade, who also can be used interchangeably as swing men or inside defenders and rebounders. They each represent viable threats from 3-point range.
Arts was a factor in the 68-51 win over Wakulla both in the post and on the break, as well as his presence in applying fullcourt pressure.
Marianna is 26-2, but coach Travis Blanton didn’t make it sound like an upset when Catholic, 21-7 upended his team recently in Marianna.
“Both teams should be in this game,” Blanton said. “They’re very very good and extremely well-coached.”
The Crusaders have won 15 consecutive games heading into the fourth encounter this season between the schools. Blanton said the drawbacks leading to the last outcome are correctable.
“We need to shoot the ball better, make free throws and rebound the ball on defense,” he said. “We shot eight for thirty on 3s last time.”
Catholic presents a problem inside with 6-6 junior Dajuan Moorer, who had 10 rebounds and seven blocks in the Crusaders’ 50-48 quarterfinal win over Madison County. Brad Hartnett added 14 points in that win as leading scorer DJ Laster, 6-5, was held to 10.
In addition to being extremely long at 6-6, 190 pounds, Blanton said that Moorer is very strong for his build.
The winner plays the winner of Andrew Jackson vs. Ribault for the region title on Friday.
Chipley begins a quest to equal the state championship it won in 2012 and give the Panhandle three consecutive titles when it hosts Port St. Joe in Region 2-1A. The Tigers have lost only twice this season, led by high-scoring sophomore Trent Forrest and a highly capable supporting cast.
Two other area schools are in the mix to reach Lakeland as Malone hosts Cottondale in 1-1A. That winner will advance to play the Paxton at Sneads survivor for a Final Four berth. The Port St. Joe at Chipley winner will play the survivor of Northview at West Gadsden.
Region championship games in classes 1A-4A will be played on Friday.