When the calendar rolls to February during the high school basketball season, sometimes finding motivation to keep rowing the boat can be tough.
With a trip to Junction City looming on Tuesday, motivation shouldn’t be an issue.
“It’s a big one, but no bigger than the ones we’ve already played,” MHS boys’ coach Tim Brooks said. “But it is the next one. So it’s a big one. Our guys are looking forward to it and Junction’s really playing people well.”
With a win over Shawnee Heights on Friday, the Manhattan High boys (9-7, 5-4 Centennial) are now in the thick of the race to earn a No. 2 seed at sub-state. Derby (14-3), with a five-game lead with four games to go, has clinched the top seed in the Junction City regional. But Manhattan is challenging for the second seed, with Wichita East (10-7 and Washburn Rural (9-7). Wichita Heights (8-8) and Wichita Southeast (7-9) are both close also.
That makes Tuesday’s matchup with the Blue Jays all the more important. While Manhattan didn’t have much trouble dispatching Junction City (5-11, 3-6) the first go-round at home — winning 55-36 — the Indians may struggle a bit more this time.
Manhattan hasn’t played well on the road this year, though they did get their first true road victory at Topeka West last week. Brooks said while he prefers to play at home, he thinks his team will respond to the big crowd at Junction City.
“I tell you what,” he said, “now that we’ve got the monkey off our back with a true road victory, I don’t see it being a problem.”
Junction City is riding a two-game winning streak, beating Seaman in overtime and knocking off Washburn Rural on Friday. In two losses prior to that, Junction City lost by a combined 13 points to Hayden and undefeated Highland Park.
“They knocked off Seaman, they’ve been playing people tough,” Brooks said. “We’re going to have our hands full. The (Semaj) Johnson kid is really playing well and Cedric Johnson is playing well also.”
On the girls’ side, Manhattan (12-4, 6-3) will try and rebound from a tough loss against Shawnee Heights at home on Friday.
While the loss was frustrating, especially with the Indians hoping to challenge for the top line at sub-state, righting the ship against Junction City (5-11, 3-6) is pivotal, especially with Junction City playing much better basketball.
“They’re playing really well, they just beat Shawnee Heights in their own tournament, they had Hayden beat until late in the game the other day, so they’re really playing well,” Manhattan coach Scott Mall said. “They’re taking advantage of their size a little more.”
The Blue Jays are on a four-game losing streak since beating Shawnee Heights in the Thunderbird Class on Jan. 25. But they lost by four to Hayden and just recently lost by four to Washburn Rural on Friday in Topeka.
The Blue Jays may not be winning games, but there’s no doubt they’re playing better. Just like in the first matchup, Manhattan will have to neutralize Peyton Pender and Shanna Witt, Junction City’s two posts who will outsize Darby Price and Caroline Ballard. The Blue Jays also got good production from Kori Kamm in the first matchup.
“I’m sure nothing would make their season better than if they were able to beat us at home,” Mall said.
Tipoff in Junction City is scheduled for 6 p.m.