Tuesday, February 12, 2008

SPORTS >>Abundant Life gets ready for district with

Leader sports editor

Tim Ballard isn’t afraid to set lofty goals for his Abundant Life Owls as they head into postseason play this week.
Eight straight wins will do that to a head coach.

The Owls tuned up for 2-3A district tournament play this weekend in Rose Bud with an easy 62-32 win over Kirby last Friday in the final regular-season game for the Owls.

Abundant Life, which earned a No. 2 seed after turning a 4-3 conference start into an 11-3 finish, is already guaranteed a berth in the regionals next week at Riverview and has a bye into the district semifinals this Thursday at 5:30. The Owls will play No. 3 Harding Academy, if the Wildcats are able to get past the Brinkley-Barton winner on Tuesday.

Last Friday, the Owls got 18 points from Dane Lottner and 15 from Colby Woolverton, who saw limited action due to the lopsided nature of the win.

“We were hoping for a tune-up,” said Ballard, whose Owls improved to 25-6 overall. “We were wanting a tough game on the road. Kirby’s down a little this year. That’s the first time they’ve been down in a while.”

Though it didn’t turn out to be the tune-up Ballard wanted, he still thinks his Owls are playing top-notch basketball at the right time.

“I still don’t think we’ve played our best basketball,” he said. “There were a couple of weeks early in the season where we were playing lights-out basketball.”

Ballard is hoping that the addition of a much-improved post game to go along with outstanding guards Woolverton and Lottner is going to make the Owls that much tougher to defend. Senior center Nelson Boren has added scoring prowess to his already dominant defensive play.

“If you talk to people, they’ll say our inside game is non-existent,” Ballard said. “I think with Boren playing like he is, we’ll catch some people off guard. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the offseason. We’re hoping to get 10 points from him. He’s going to get his five or six blocks.”

Ballard also hopes that Dustin Keathley’s ankle will continue to improve. Keathley injured the ankle the first of December and has never fully recovered.

“He was going to be our focal point inside,” Ballard said. “I’ve never seen an ankle injury like this. It’s still swollen double its size. He’s just now starting to get some lift off it. He’s one of our few players that plays with his back to the basket.”
If there’s any good news resulting from that injury, it’s that it has given Boren and sophomore post Garrett Sutherland an opportunity to log some valuable minutes.

“They’ve developed some confidence,” Ballard said. “If Keathley can come back, we should be even stronger.”

Asked if the fact that Abundant Life played top-ranked, unbeaten Rose Bud its toughest game of the year — a 58-53 loss on Dec. 13 — gave the Owls extra confidence, Ballard said no.
“I’ll be honest with you, we were confident we could beat them going into that game,” he said. “They’re good and they’re better than we are. But the guys were sorely disappointed. We didn’t feel like we were happy just to play them close.”

So if the Owls figure they can play with the best, what are their hopes for the postseason?

“I’ll tell you this: The way we’re playing right now, we feel we can go all the way,” Ballard said.