Three Dog Night once sang that one is the loneliest number.
One is the number the Harrisburg girls have embraced all season, and it’s a number they’ll proudly take into postseason play next week.
Barring a stumble in their regular season finale Thursday night against Herrin, the Bulldogs will close the regular season at 28-0 with a wire-to-wire No. 1 ranking in the state Class 2A poll. They’ll host a regional and, if they win that, will have a 30-minute trip to Hamilton County for the sectionals.
Simply put, everything is in place for Harrisburg to end its season at Redbird Arena in Normal in late February. It’s just a matter of surviving the postseason gauntlet that has a way of turning dreams into nightmares, or 14-14 teams into Cinderellas.
“I feel like we’re good enough to make a run,” said Bulldogs coach Jake Stewart, “but one bad night can end it or another team having a great night can end it. You start every game 0-0. You can lose against any team.”
But any team had better be good to take out Harrisburg. It has a proven floor leader at the point in Lotte Miller (15 ppg, 5 assists), a force inside in Matty Hawkins (13 ppg, 11 rebounds, 6 blocked shots per game) and a pair of explosive scorers on the wings in Jessica Hopson (12 ppg, 4 assists) and Karsyn Davis (11 ppg, 8 rebounds).
It also has decent depth, although it lost a key component inside when Lydia Miller tore her ACL last month, and is solid defensively. When pressure defense isn’t forcing turnovers, the halfcourt defense frequently forces a well-guarded shot, and the presence of the 6-2 Hawkins inside often creates rejections.
Moreover, this team’s experience lends it a been-there, done-that feel, which comes in handy under postseason pressure.
“We have clicked on and off the court,” Miller said. “This year has just been amazing.”
Stewart and Miller said the team was shocked when they learned of their No. 1 ranking two months ago. Instead of allowing it to consume them and govern their play, though, they have embraced the pressure. It’s merely another challenge to be tackled.
“Not many teams from down south get the honor of being ranked number one,” Stewart said. “The kids loved it and thought it was really cool. You don’t get that opportunity very often, and teams get up to play us. I can say that the kids have taken everybody’s best shots.”
Including Murphysboro on Monday night. The Red Devils, who are probably the one team in SIRR Ohio that can beat the Bulldogs because of their guard play and ability to force turnovers, led 23-19 at the half and had the ball last with a chance to win or force overtime.
But a 3-pointer and a putback missed in the final five seconds as Harrisburg escaped with a 50-48 victory.
“We have three seniors and five juniors on our roster,” Stewart said. “They know what we’re trying to do, how to handle a full season of practice. They’ve been here for three or four years, so they know how things work.”
Miller and her teammates still remember how last season ended — with a sectional semifinals loss to Nashville in Johnston City. Their first loss this year would also be their only loss.
They don’t want that feeling again.
“Without that experience,” Miller said, “we wouldn’t be as good or determined to go where we want to go. We learned that we have to play together. We expect to have more pressure on us, but we want to go to state.”