PANAMA CITY — Saturday night was one makeup game Rutherford boys basketball coach Rhondie Ross was sure he didn’t want his team to miss.
It wasn’t because Niceville was expected to be a major challenge, and it wasn’t in a 70-32 Rams’ romp. More to the point, Ross didn’t want Rutherford entering the start of the District 1-5A tournament at Bay coming from a 10-day layoff.
Rutherford, 21-2, is the top seed and will be idle until Friday’s semifinals. The Rams will await the winner of tonight’s Mosley-Gulf Breeze game at 5:30 p.m. The other matchup tonight pits Arnold and Choctawhatchee at 7 p.m. That survivor faces host Bay in the other semifinal on Friday night.
Like all teams in the Panhandle, Rutherford was held hostage by last week’s cold blast that closed many schools for two days at midweek. In retrospect, Ross said last week that might not have been a detriment.
“We played Tuesday night, then didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday and will practice on Friday,” he said prior to the Niceville game, rescheduled from Thursday to Saturday.
“It may not be a bad thing. They (had) two days off to rest their legs, then we’ll have four days of preparation. Otherwise you lose a lot of your sharpness, even conditioning.”
Host Bay earned the No. 2 seed and is 17-6. Those six losses are spread equally against Rutherford, Marianna and Leon, three outstanding teams that have combined for just nine losses this season.
The Tornadoes possess the best inside-outside attack in the district tournament with 6-foot-6 senior post player Tommy Wade, 6-4 power forward Keith McNeil and sharpshooters Donald Taylor and Rayshawn Patterson, among others.
The Tornadoes were unable to overcome the Rams in two meetings this season, but narrowed the gap considerably in their rematch at home. They again are playing on their home floor, which should be an advantage, but district tournaments provide no guarantees, and it’s possible neither of the top seeds will advance out of the semifinals.
Ross admitted that his squad, which lost to graduation its floor leader in Kiki Williamson and post presence in Jai Jencks, already has been a pleasant surprise.
“I thought this was going to be a rebuilding year,” Ross said of the Rams, who have become accustomed to 20-win seasons in recent years. “I’ve had the most fun coaching this group as any team I’ve had.
“We don’t have a lot of size, but the kids have given me everything they’ve got. I can’t be more pleased.”
Rutherford makes up for its lack of prowess in the post by trying to establish the tempo for an 86-foot sprint from baseline to baseline.
“This may be the best defensive team I’ve had,” Ross said. “Our defense dictates our offense. We can execute (in the halfcourt) but not as good as the last two years.
“In space, in the fullcourt, we have the advantage. Especially against a team like Bay that has a lot of size, we want an up-tempo game. They definitely have the talent to beat us.”
Mosley comes in as the fourth seed with a 10-15 overall record. Arnold is seeded sixth.
District schedules involving area schools. All times CST; not all first-round games are on-site.
District 1-5A, at Bay
Tuesday:Mosley vs. Gulf Breeze 5:30 p.m., Choctawhatchee vs. Arnold 7 p.m.
Friday:Rutherford vs. winner of Mosley-Gulf Breeze 5:30 p.m., Bay vs. winner of Choctawhatchee-Arnold 7 p.m.
Saturday:Championship 7 p.m.
District 1-4A, at Marianna
Friday: Walton at Marianna 7 p.m., West Florida Tech at Pensacola Catholic 7 p.m.
Saturday: Championship 7 p.m.
District 1-3A, at Rocky Bayou Christian
Friday: Pensacola Christian vs. North Bay Haven 7 p.m.
Saturday: Championship, Rocky Bayou Christian vs. Pensacola Christian-North Bay Haven winner, 7 p.m.
District 1-1A, at Bethlehem
Tuesday: Poplar Springs at Paxton 7 p.m., Bethlehem at Laurel Hill 7 p.m., Ponce de Leon at Milton Central 7 p.m.
Friday: Paxton-Poplar Springs winner vs. Bethlehem-Laurel Hill winner 6 p.m. Ponce de Leon-Milton Central winner vs. Malone 7:30 p.m.
Saturday: Championship 7 p.m.
District 2-1A, at Graceville
Tuesday: Altha vs. Wewahitchka 4:30 p.m., Cottondale vs. Blountstown 6 p.m., Sneads vs. Graceville 7:30 p.m.
Friday: Altha-Wewahitchka winner vs. Graceville-Sneads winner 6 p.m., Vernon vs. Cottondale-Blountstown winner 7:30 p.m.
Saturday: Championship, 7 p.m.
District 3-1A, at Chipley
Tuesday: Jay at Freeport 6 p.m., Holmes County at Baker 6 p.m.
Friday: Northview vs. Holmes County-Baker winner 6:30 p.m., Chipley vs. Jay-Freeport winner 7 p.m.
Saturday: Championship 7:30 p.m.
District 4-1A, at Liberty County
Tuesday: Bozeman vs. Franklin County 5 p.m., Port St. Joe vs. Liberty County 6:30 p.m.
Friday: Bozeman-Franklin County winner vs. West Gadsden 5 p.m., Port St. Joe-Liberty County winner vs. South Walton 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: Championship 6 p.m.