WARFORDSBURG - Hype is certainly a factor; a heated rivalry game puts on a lot of pressure.
But what both Southern Fulton and McConnellsburg need to remember is Friday night's game is, in fact, just another boys basketball game.
"We have to look at it as just another basketball game," Spartan coach Dane Pollock said. "I know that's so hard to do, but we just need to play. It's another game against a really good team, and it just comes down to execution."
SF coach Kent Hendershot said, "It's a game. We just keep telling the kids that it's a game. We try to get a win in this game just like any other win. We can't get caught up in the hype of it. It's still a basketball that has to go through a hoop."
But with the first time around reaching a sellout crowd during the JV game, it's hard to ignore the hype. This time around, the Indians (13-3, 10-1 SHL, 10-0 ICC) will host McConnellsburg (13-2, 9-1 SHL, 7-1 ICC) in an even smaller gym, and the Spartans face an even bigger challenge of getting over the Southern Fulton hump. SF has won the last 18 straight meetings and handed McConnellsburg a 40-27 loss earlier this season.
The Spartans coming off a big win over Chestnut Ridge, previously ranked No. 2 in District 5 Class AA. Ridge is the only league team to beat the Indians.
"It's crazy how much this is about matchups," Pollock said. "We just match up better with Ridge than we do with Southern Fulton. We were fired up (for Chestnut Ridge), but we played in control. We seem to get over-hyped for (Southern Fulton). Everyone needs to just do their part; there's no need to go above and beyond."
Scoring didn't come easy for McConnellsburg in the first meeting. The Spartans put up its lowest offensive output of the season by nearly half and shot just 20.5 percent from the floor. Southern Fulton's defense was simply that stingy, and the Indians plan to bring that same defensive aggressiveness this week.
"You have to play to your strengths," Hendershot said. "We have to defend well against whoever we play, and we try to bring the defense first. If something isn't working, we'll try to adjust on the fly, but we're not going to change what we do."
The Spartans will have to be wary of Dylan Gordon, the Indians' top defender and leading scorer.
"He's tough to play against," Pollock said. "He's the best defensive player in District 5 hands down."
Hendershot said, "Dylan is our mainstay. He leads us in every stat category there is, and he's our stabilizer. He draws the best offensive player every night, and he shuts them down."
But McConnellsburg still may boast more depth. Gordon leads SF with 16.5 points per game, and Trent Rider is averaging 15.4 ppg. McConnellsburg also has two players in double figures - Jake Boehme (12.4 ppg) and Chase Novak (11.9 ppg) - but has several other big contributors.
"Chase has been playing really well lately, and Jake is coming along nicely," Pollock said. "But we're a balanced team, and that's how we want to be. It would be nice to get a quick start; we're walking into a hornets' nest down there. But it's like the big brother versus the little brother - you just gotta keep swinging and eventually you'll hit them."
Spartans-Indians at a glance
Game data: McConnellsburg Spartans at Southern Fulton Indians ... Friday, 7:30 p.m. ... Sideling Hill/Inter-County Conference game.
Media: Follow @EdGotwalsPO on Twitter for live updates ... Livestream will be available on GameTimePA.com and midpennbroadcasting.com.
Teams: The Spartans (13-2, 9-1 SHL, 7-1 ICC) ... Southern Fulton (13-3, 10-1 SHL, 10-0 ICC) is on a four-game winning streak and is coming off a huge victory over Northern Bedford, 74-27.
Series: SF won the first meeting, 40-27, and has won the last 18 contests in a row.
P.O. pick: Indians by 8.