With NECC possibly at stake, Fairfield, Westview peeking ahead to their Saturday showdown
Fairfield and Westview, longtime rivals, are accustomed to having a long time to prepare for their Northeast Corner Conference regular-season showdowns each year. Typically, a full week.
This season, though — with an NECC title potentially on the line, no less — they'll not only have to deal with other opponents the night before, but will have quick turnarounds to an afternoon game.
The scenario was created by their game twice being postponed due to this winter's unusually harsh weather.
The Warriors (13-4, 7-1) and Falcons (10-6, 6-1) will play Saturday, Feb. 22, at Fairfield. The meeting, moved to the afternoon due to Westview's girls playing in the 2A Rensselaer Regional, follows a 2 p.m. JV contest.
Forget the traditional "we don't look ahead" mantra often declared by coaches.
Westview coach Rob Yoder is no pretender of such when it comes to this one.
"We have to admit Saturday is the most important game," said Yoder, whose club also plays Friday at surging Goshen (9-8).
"It really does change a little bit how we prepare," Yoder said Wednesday, Feb. 19. "Winning the conference remains very important to us. It's kind of a funny situation, an unusual set-up, but it's been a funny season for a lot of teams with all the postponements. There's probably not a rule or textbook for this week, because you always have your conference game first, but we'll do the best we can."
At least Fairfield doesn't have to weigh a conference vs. nonconference equation while assessing its back-to-back games. That's because the Falcons also have a league assignment Friday when they visit Churubusco (4-14, 3-5).
"Very," Fairfield coach Troy Beachy said of how important the league is to his program. "We talk about that every year as a team, that winning an NECC title is the goal. We want to be in the conversation every year. Hopefully, we are making strides in that department."
At 7-1, Westview is tied with Prairie Heights for the league lead with two NECC games remaining for each. The Falcons are 6-1 with three left, and West Noble's in the mix as well at 6-2. Other than Fairfield/Westview, none of the contenders have games left against each other.
The Warriors ran the table last season in both round-robin and NECC Tourney play. This season, they haven't been that invincible but still own the league's best body of work overall.
"They are a really good team who came ready and prepared to play us the first time," Beachy said of Westview's 71-55 league tourney win over host Fairfield. "We need to rebound and defend better and have better shot selection."
"They're good," Yoder said of the Falcons. "(Joe) Line puts a lot of pressure on you with his penetration, and (combined) with all those guys willing and able to shoot from the perimeter, it tests your defense. The energy we play with on defense, especially coming back from Friday, will be really important. If Fairfield's shooters are allowed to shoot, they're really good."
The Falcons are coming off "our most complete game of the season" in last week's 65-39 win over Angola, according to Beachy.
"Which is obviously nice to see at this point of the year," Beachy said. "We've had a tough stretch of games lately, but I thought we competed hard and did some nice things versus Northridge and ECA, and the West Noble win was a good one. We are playing better on the defensive end."
While Fairfield is the admitted priority for Westview, Yoder's impressed by his more immediate opponent.
"I think Goshen's one of the better teams in our area now with everybody healthy," Yoder said of the Redskins, who are 5-0 since sophomore point guard Brady Bechtel returned from a knee setback that cost him 10 games. "He's not the only one who missed time, but he's obviously the biggest piece. He's a really good point guard."
No. 6-ranked Penn (15-1) can secure an outright Northern Indiana Conference title this week but will need back-to-back road wins over South Bend Riley on Thursday (10-6) and Marian (9-6) on Friday.
The Kingsmen are 5-1 in the NIC with those two league games left, while Marian, South Bend Washington and South Bend St. Joseph are each 5-2 with one conference contest remaining.
Penn, which shared the title a year ago with South Bend Adams, is seeking its first outright crown since 2006.
Three area teams that have had banner seasons play their home finales this weekend.
NorthWood (16-1) — on pace for the best record in program history — hosts Bremen on Friday.
Elkhart Christian (14-4) — needing one win for the most in the 10-year IHSAA portion of its history — hosts Argos on Saturday.
Northridge (15-2) — which wrapped up a perfect Northern Lakes Conference season last week — hosts Columbia City on Saturday. That game follows a 3 p.m. JV start.
Thursday, Feb. 20
• Penn (15-1) at SB Riley (10-6), 7 p.m., varsity only
Friday, Feb. 21
• SB St. Joseph (13-5) vs. Elkhart Central (5-12) at North Side Gym
• Concord (11-6) at Jimtown (7-10)
• Westview (13-4) at Goshen (9-8)
• Lakeland (7-9) at Northridge (15-2)
• Bremen (2-13 before Tippecanoe Valley Feb. 19) at NorthWood (16-1)
• Fairfield (10-6) at Churubusco (4-14)
• Wawasee (4-13) at FW South (4-10 before FW Northrop Feb. 20)
• Penn at Marian (9-6 before LaVille Feb. 19)
• South Haven at Edwardsburg
Saturday, Feb. 22
• Westview at Fairfield, 2 p.m. JV start (new time)
• Columbia City (8-10 before Manchester Feb. 21) at Northridge, 3 p.m. JV start (new time)
• Argos (11-5) at Elkhart Christian (14-4)
• LaVille (7-8 before Marian Feb. 19 and Oregon-Davis Feb. 21) at Bethany Christian
• Culver Academy (10-5 before FW Canterbury Feb. 21) at Marian
• FW Canterbury (7-10 before Culver Academy Feb. 21) at Clinton Christian (11-8), 3 p.m. JV start