The Westfield Shamrocks enter the sectional red hot, winning nine straight to finish the regular season. file photo.
The Westfield Shamrocks enter the sectional red hot, winning nine straight to finish the regular season. file photo.
WESTFIELD - If there's one thing Westfield head coach Shane Sumpter and Hamilton Southeastern head coach Chris Huppenthal can expect anytime their programs meet, it's a close game.

"It's always a good basketball game," Huppenthal remarked on the friendly inter-county rivalry. "It seems the last four games, it's come down to one possession at the end. They're always going to compete."

The same goes for the Class 4A Royals.

Before losing the past four consecutive to Sumpter's 4A Shamrocks (16-6, 4-2), Huppenthal's program racked up three in a row versus their geographic and Hoosier Crossroads Conference foe.

The last Hamilton Southeastern victory came in 2012-13 during the regular season on the Royals' home floor.

If Westfields' streak does indeed end on Wednesday night in the first round of Sectional 8 as HSE (15-6, 4-2) hosts the Shamrocks at 6 p.m., Sumpter already knows how it might play out.

"When you look at our games, they are usually always low-scoring, grind it out kind of games. Every possession is at a premium when we play them," Sumpter emphasized. "I doubt you're going to see a game in the mid-60s when we play. It will be a low-scoring, grind it out. We just know each other so well."

On paper, both teams are so similar they could be mistaken for each other.

HSE and Westfield both finished tied for second in the HCC standings. Each program has averaged around 50 points per game on offense and 40 points allowed on defense.

Since 1999, both teams have seized a pair of sectional titles with HSEs' coming in 2006 and 2007 while Westfield has enjoy more recent success in 2010 and 2013.

In their respective tenures, neither coach has had a team fall below 12 wins and combined they have produced five 20-plus win campaigns.

Needless to say, when the Royals and the Shamrocks get together, all bets are off.

"Our game with HSE was a one-point game during the regular season. We've played them the past couple of times in the sectional, so it's a big rival game for us," Sumpter said. "We expect nothing else but to go in there Wednesday night and have a great challenge. They're a very good basketball team, very well coached. I have a lot of respect for their basketball program."

The Shamrocks bested HSE 38-37 on Jan. 16, but more importantly they are 2-0 in the sectional against them in recent years. Westfield won the title in 2013 with a slim 37-35 victory. Last February, the Shamrocks beat HSE 44-40 in the sectional semifinals before losing to Fishers in the title game.

As one of the hottest teams entering the sectional, a potential fifth straight win for Westfield over HSE would be a considerable boost to an already self-assured group.

"It certainly doesn't hurt to be on a nine-game win streak here at this point," said Sumpter whose team hasn't lost since Jan. 6 to 3A No. 12 Bishop Chatard. "Our kids are confident. We're healthy for the first time this year. That's all we can ask for. We're going to let the chips fall where they may."

Before Westfield's recent run, health was a difficulty for the team. Junior center Haliegh Reinoehl (12.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg) was sidelined momentarily with an ankle injury and junior guard Jalyn Foland (6.3 ppg) sat out with a stress fracture.

"We've had some injuries this year, and I think we're as healthy and playing as well as we have all year right now," Sumpter said. "We talk about that every year. I'm not one of those coaches that puts a bunch of goals up on the board or anything like that. We only have one goal, and that's to get better every single day. We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year."

The Shamrocks appear right on schedule as evident from the strong play from junior forward Allison VanDyke (14.1 ppg) and her classmates Abby Reeder, Maddy Grennes, among others.

"Bottom line is our kids feel like they can win any game they play," Sumpter said. "It doesn't matter who it is, they feel like they have a chance and the opportunity to win any game on our schedule and in our sectional. Our kids are confident."

Huppenthal feels the same despite the substantial injuries his team has suffered since Christmas.

Losing three players in succession to start the new calendar year, the Royals first saw top-reserve Anna Murhling go down with an anterior cruciate ligament tear against Warren Central on Jan. 9.

The next day, leading scorer Bre Lloyd suffered an injury that sidelined for several games. During HSE's game with Westfield, junior Elana Ededuwa tore her ACL.

"We've been through a lot of adversity. We've had three injuries and lost two girls, so some of that is a contributing factor to how we've done down the stretch," said Huppenthal whose team went 2-4 to finish the season.

With Lloyd back at full strength, however, and her 16.1 points per game average back in the lineup, the Royals believe anything can happen this week.

"They're very well coached. They're good defensively, and offensively, they move without the ball very well. They take care of the basketball, and they have a lot of weapons," Huppenthal said. "But I'm very confident with the kids we have going into the sectional. They've done a great job down the stretch and they're ready to play. We're not going to have any excuses."