For the third time in school history, River is within two victories of reaching the boys' basketball Final Four.
However, veteran head coach Mark Romick, along with many other hoop junkies throughout the Buckeye State, knows the road won't be an easy one.
The senior-dominated Pilots (19-7) will look to continue their trek through the postseason Tuesday night when they clash with upstart Youngstown Christian (15-8) in a Division IV regional semifinal inside the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.
PICTURED ARE the Division IV?Eastern District champion River Pilots. Front row, from left, are Kam Brown, Chad Isaly, Jordan Indermuhle, Brett Price, Cody Caldwell, Evan Eggleston, Matt Marconi and Kayla Dietch. Second row, from left, are Chelsea Pandzik, Tiffany Brown, Cole Isaly, Ryan Indermuhle, Eric Dierkes, Jerrett Armann, Joe Flannery, Alex Thomas, Dacia Thompson and Becca Stewart. Back row, from left, are Gard Curtis, Dean Caldwell, Kris Pfalzgraf and head coach Mark Romick.
The other half of the bracket includes a matchup between No. 2-ranked Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph and Windham at 8 o'clock Tuesday. The two winners return to Stark County Friday with a berth in the Final Four on the line. That contest has a 7:30 p.m. tip set.
"The kids are excited. The community is excited. It's a good time to be a part of River boys' basketball," said Romick, who added that he has received congratulations from other coaches around the Ohio Valley.
River will be making the little more than 2-hour drive from Hannibal to Canton after dispatching two-time defending state champion Hiland in the district finals Saturday, 56-49, in an overtime thriller at Meadowbrook High School in Byesville.
The victory marked the first time the Pilots have ventured to the regional tournament since back-to-back trips in 1988 and 1989 under legendary head coach R.L. Potts, who the gymnasium is now named after.
Youngstown Christian was the No. 8 seed in the Struthers District, but used wins over No. 10 East Canton (57-38), No. 4 Salineville Southern (53-43), No. 2 Mogadore (52-51) and top-seeded Wellsville (75-73) to reach the regionals.
Romick and his staff made the trip to Struthers last Friday to scout the Eagles' game with the Tigers, and he came away impressed.
"They are a very athletic bunch," Romick said of Youngstown Christian. "They play some nice competition on their schedule."
According to Romick, the Eagles are led by 6-1 senior point guard Daylon Williams.
"He looks to be a very good athlete," Romick noted. "He penetrates really well and he's got a good first step off the dribble."
Jayquan Yanno, a 6-2 senior, and Darion Townsend, a 5-9 junior, play the wings, while 6-3 senior Nick Gonda and 6-5 junior Tymere Dubose work the paint.
"The two wing players can both shoot the three," Romick advised, "and the Gonda kid looks like their glue. He never came off the floor Friday night. The Dubose kid is a nice left-handed post player."
River is led by District 12 Player of the Year Brett Price. The 6-2 senior is scoring at a little over 20 points a game after a sizzling 31-point effort Saturday in the coveted win over the perennial state power Hawks. For good measure, he added a dozen rebounds, five assists, five steals and a pair of blocked shots.
"Brett is a gamer," Romick has said time and time again. "He seems to come up big in big games."
Rounding out the starting five are Price's classmates Cody Caldwell, Jordan Indermuhle, Kameron Brown and Matt Marconi. Seniors Chad Isaly and Evan Eggleston, along with junior Eric Dierkes are the first three players off the Pilots' bench.
Caldwell added nine points in the win over Hiland, while Indermuhle contributed seven counters and 10 rebounds.
According to Romick, the senior class has been responsible for 50 victories in 70 games during their 3-year careers.
"They are winners," their head coach added. "They know that Saturday's win over Hiland was huge, but they also realize that there is still business to be taken care of. We were back in the gym Sunday practicing and it was all business-like."
Romick said eliminating mistakes will be the key to victory.
"We must take care of the basketball," he said. "They will pressure you fullcourt. They run and jump at you even in the halfcourt set. We must be able to handle their pressure and we must contain them off the dribble."
Youngstown Christian is coached by Dolph Carroll, who was a 2-year letterman and captain at the University of Kansas from 1978-80. He was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the 1980 NBA Draft, but returned to Kansas as an assistant coach from 1981-84. He also served as an assistant coach at Youngstown State University.
North can be reached at email@example.com