By Chris Chaney
Sometimes over the course of a season, you need something to go your way in order to flip the switch and get things back on track. Winning the Ripley-Union Pepsi Holiday Classic could do just that for the Felicity Cardinals.
At least that’s what head coach Damon Smith is hoping the tournament win will do.
“We haven’t done as well as I had anticipated,” Smith said of his team’s 3-7 start. “The team hasn’t played as well as I would have thought and our margin of loss has been a little too big. And while I’m not happy with it, I need to realize with only one varsity player returning, I can’t complain too much.”
Smith’s squad had to overcome losing most of the 2011-12 team that featured nine seniors. The lone returning player is now-senior Chris Smith.
“He averages 12 or 13 points per game for us,” the elder Smith said of his senior forward. “And we have eight seniors on this team this year, so you would think we would have some experience, except for seven of those guys played on reserve last year.”
The learning curve was brutal on the Cardinals to start the season dropping six of their first seven games. The losses ranged from a two-point loss to Batavia to a 46-point blow out courtesy of Georgetown.
However, going into the Ripley tournament at 1-6, Felicity was still fighting and playing hard for their coach.
The holiday break caused some problems for the team as three players missed practices leading up to the Pepsi Classic, essentially leaving Smith with six players available for the tournament.
“To be honest, I don’t think we were supposed to win the tournament,” Smith said. “I was disappointed to see that we were playing Ripley in the first round and with them being the host of the tournament, you would expect them to set it up to give them the best chance to win.
“But we went out and played really well that night. With those three boys not coming to practice, I was down to six players and I was going to go with those six. If I got beat, then I got beat. I wasn’t going to reward them for not coming to practice.”
The six players who were available and were at practice rewarded their coach for his loyalty by going out and taking down the tournament hosts in the first round with a 57-56 win on Dec. 27.
Senior guard Bradley Prather led the way for the Cards with 23 points on 9-15 shooting. Chris Smith added 16 points and 12 rebounds while Shane Reese put in 11 points.
Coach Smith was really impressed with a junior varsity step-in, Trevor Barrons, who came into the game when Ethan Rudd fouled out early in the second half.
“When Rudd fouled out about a minute or two into the third quarter, I had no other alternative than to put (Barrons) in,” the coach said. “The other four starters stepped up and played hard.”
Felicity came out the next night and played well again, taking the championship with a 65-50 win over St. Patrick.
Although the Cardinals dropped their next game to Goshen, a 54-32 loss on Friday, Dec. 4, Smith still thinks that they can use the tournament win as a jumping-off point to salvage the season.
“(Winning the tournament) can be a big boost for us,” he said. “It gave a big boost to morale beating a nice St. Patrick’s team in the final to win, especially to do it handily by 15 points. It could start a big turnaround. Even with the loss to Goshen — we were down four at halftime and fell apart during the second half, which is synonymous to what our season has been like.
“We just need to go out and work hard for all 32 minutes. If we don’t play 32 minutes it shows up on the scoreboard.”
The Cardinals will look to use the momentum gained from the tournament win as they face a slate of out-of-league games over the next two weeks.
Felicity will begin their second shot at the Southern Buckeye Conference National Division beginning with Clermont Northeastern on Jan. 25.