Friday, February 12, 2010

SPORTS >> Owls tune up for tourney

Leader sportswriter

Time will tell if the recent winter weather has done anything to cool off the Abundant Life Owls, who have swept the 5-2A North Conference for the second straight season.

The Owls (28-4, 12-0) have also claimed the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye for next week’s district tournament at White County Central for the second year in a row, but Abundant Life coach Tim Ballard wants to take additional measures in the week before postseason play.

Snow forced the Owls to cancel practice Monday and Tuesday, but it’s not the weather that concerns Ballard as much as the basics.

“It’s one of those deals where I always think that everyone else is in the same boat,” Ballard said. “We are trying to have a lot more practice time leading up to the tournaments than we have in years past. We’re not sloppy, but could be a little more focused.”

The Owls had a non-conference make up game with Hector tentatively scheduled for Friday.

“We also want to watch videotapes and see what fundamentals we can work on,” Ballard said. “We have the No. 1 seed pretty much sewn up, so all of the games we have left we will pretty much look at as practices — practice games. We don’t have to play any more really meaningful games until district starts.”

Abundant Life has a balanced lineup featuring the scrappy guard trio of Mike Stramiello, Cameron Slayton and George Herring.

But senior post player Garrett Southerland has anchored the Owls as the leading scorer and rebounder. Southerland is not just an inside scoring threat, he is also one of the Owls’ best outside shooters.

Abundant Life made a perfect run through the 5-2A North last year, but began to struggle once it reached the regional tournaments. The Owls did not make the regional finals, which gave them a lower seed to begin the state tournament and eventually led to a semifinal matchup with tournament hosts Melbourne.

The Bearkatz eliminated the Owls before falling to Conway St. Joseph in the championship game. Abundant Life beat Conway St. Joseph on three separate occasions last year.

While Ballard is the first to admit facing Melbourne at home in the state tournament is a tough draw for anyone, he said his Owls could also have been more prepared.

“It was an oversight on my part,” Ballard said. “Too many times, if you’re winning, like we beat St. Joe three times, it feels good, and you start thinking you’re better than what you actually are. You’re not focusing.”