By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — For the second straight year, the Anderson boys basketball team cut down the nets at the end of the Madison County tournament in January.
But if the Indians want to avoid a fifth consecutive first-round exit in March, they must find a way again to get past their greatest county rival.
The Tribe (9-12) opens play in the Class 4A sectional at New Castle on Wednesday against three-time defending champion Pendleton Heights (14-7). Introductions will not be necessary.
"Neither team has to work real hard getting motivated to play each other," Anderson coach Joe Nadaline said. "The kids all know each other. They play against each other all the time."
And, recently, the Indians have gotten the better of the exchange.
Anderson won the last two meetings between the schools, 61-48 in the opening round of the county tournament on Jan. 10 and 46-41 in the championship game of the same event last year. But the Tribe hasn't won a postseason game since 2009, when three-time Herald Bulletin player of the year Troy Taylor led the program to its most recent sectional championship.
Pendleton Heights, meanwhile, hasn't lost a sectional game since the 2010 final against Muncie Central — adding further intrigue to a matchup dripping with storylines. Just don't try selling them to either coach.
"In my mind, at this time of year, it doesn't matter who you draw," Arabians coach Brian Hahn said. "I'm a big believer in that. It's about being prepared. It's about being focused on what you need to do. One of the things that's important is not getting caught up in the emotion of the tournament."
Fortunately, there are plenty of narratives to follow aside from the rivalry.
Like the health of Anderson point guard Kenya Wilkerson, for instance. The senior injured his knee during practice and was sidelined for the final five games of the regular season.
He underwent arthroscopic surgery a few weeks ago, and all the Indians can do now is wait for their leading scorer to heal.
"We won't know whether he's going to play or not until probably Wednesday morning," Nadaline said. "We're pressing on like we normally would. But you hope, for his sake, he can get out there."
Pendleton Heights has had health issues of its own, with leading scorer Sean McDermott missing most of the first half of the season recovering from a severe staph infection and center Caleb Hardy returning for the regular-season finale after missing four games with a foot injury.
The Arabians enter the postseason with three straight losses, but Nadaline doesn't read much into that slump.
"That's not a reflection on how they're playing," he said. "It's a reflection on who they've played."
Pendleton Heights' losses came against Class 3A state title contender Guerin Catholic and Indianapolis powerhouses North Central and Lawrence North down the stretch.
Anderson is riding a two-game losing streak of its own after suffering defensive lapses against New Castle and Brebeuf. But Hahn expects to get the Tribe's best effort.
"Anderson's a very good team," he said. "Obviously, they dominated us in the county. We didn't play well, they played well. But they're a different team now, we're a different team now. Everything's different. To me, it's about who plays better and who's more prepared and focused come Wednesday night."
Class 4A Sectional 9 at New Castle Today -- Mount Vernon (9-13) vs. Richmond (19-2), 7 p.m. Wednesday -- Anderson (9-12) vs. Pendleton Heights (14-7), 6 p.m.; Connersville (13-9) vs. New Castle (8-12), 7:30 p.m. Friday -- Mount Vernon-Richmond winner vs. Greenfield-Central (5-17), 6 p.m.; Anderson-Pendleton Heights winner vs. Connersville-New Castle winner, 7:30 p.m. Saturday -- Championship, 7:30 p.m.