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Indians host rivalry games tonight

By Grant Guggisberg

Throw the records out the window.

Manhattan High hosts Junction City tonight, and all bets are off.

In the biggest rivalry game on the Indians’ schedule, motivation shouldn’t be hard to come by when the Blue Jays come to town.

For the boys’ team, keeping the momentum after beating Hayden on Tuesday becomes the key, as the Blue Jays are starting to figure out the system in head coach Pat Battle’s second year.

“They’re much improved,” Manhattan coach Tim Brooks said. “Coach Battle is really starting to get them to do what he likes to do. They’ve got athletes out there — Cedric Johnson is one of the top players in the league, so he’s going to be a handful.”

Junction City (2-5, 1-2 Centennial) doesn’t have a glamorous win/loss record so far this season, but has managed to keep games close and compete all year, with the exception of games against a talented Hays team in 5A and Centennial League favorite Highland Park.

For Manhattan (4-3, 1-2), winning this game, regardless of the time of year, takes on importance. But getting another league win before taking a break from league games next week at the McPherson Invitational would be a positive step.

“It’s big,” Brooks said. “If we lose this one, then we’re really down. We talked about having mini-seasons. The mini-season before our tournament is these three games after Christmas, and we want to have a successful mini-season. We didn’t start off very well on Friday night, but if we win (tonight), we’ll be 2-1 in this mini-season, and if we keep doing that, we’ll have a good year.”

After tonight’s game, Manhattan will open as the No. 4 seed in the McPherson Invite, playing against No. 5 Blue Valley West (3-3) at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

For the Manhattan High girls (6-1, 2-1), finding a way to rebound after a tough loss to Hayden on Tuesday will be pivotal.

Junction City (3-4, 2-1) comes into tonight’s matchup with a two-game winning streak, beating league foes Highland Park and Topeka High last week. Part of the challenge against the Blue Jays will be the size advantage they’ll hold in the post.

“They’re really big,” Manhattan coach Scott Mall said. “They have two girls — Shanna Witt and Peyton Pender — who have been playing on their varsity all four years.”

Mall said matching the physicality those two will bring will be a challenge for Manhattan on both ends of the court.

“They’re big strong girls, so it will be important for us to neutralize them and to try and keep them out of the game as much as possible,” he said. “And it’s important for us to come back and play better.”

The girls’ game is set to tip off at 6:15 p.m., with the boys’ game to follow.

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