Basketball: Bunnies striving to play at Shirk Center

FISHER — If the seeds play out like they are on paper, the McLean County/Heart of Illinois Conference tournament could feature a quick stay for both the Fisher boys and girls basketball teams.

Then again, the Bunnies are playing better basketball as the season hits the home stretch of the regular season.
A home stretch that always has an added bonus with the 13-team boys and girls tournaments among HOIC foes that starts on Saturday at Ridgeview.


On the boys side, Fisher (3-15) received the No. 11 seed and will open against sixth seed Blue Ridge at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Bunnies lost a narrow 64-59 home game to the Knights on Dec. 7 in a game between the two rivals.

“I think we can beat Blue Ridge because we played good against them before,” Fisher senior center Hans Carmien said. “We went into the holidays on a good note. I feel we’re just improving each day. Practices are getting harder. I think we all get pretty excited for (this tournament). It’s not like a normal holiday tournament. You know all the teams, and they know you.”

A win for Fisher against Blue Ridge would send it into an 8 p.m. quarterfinal game next Tuesday night against third seed El Paso-Gridley at the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.

A loss would bounce Fisher into a  consolation semifinal game at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Lexington against either No. 7 Flanagan-Cornell or No. 10 LeRoy.

“I like (the tournament) because it’s a playoff atmosphere, and it’s against tough competition,” Fisher head coach Ron Ragle said. “The conference is pretty tough. Just playing games against teams from our conference will help us down the road.”

In the girls tournament, Fisher (11-12) is seeded eighth and will open against No. 9 Ridgeview at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

The two teams will have a familiar sense of what the other team likes to do.

The two schools play each other at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Ridgeview before meeting 48 hours later on Saturday.

“About halfway through the seeding meeting last Wednesday night in Bloomington, the Ridgeview coach and I looked at each other and just nodded knowing that we’re going to be playing each other twice in about three days,” Fisher head coach Ken Ingold said. “I don’t like it, but it’s happened to us several times. You just can’t avoid it.”

A win by Fisher against Ridgeview on Saturday would set the Bunnies up to face top seed El Paso-Gridley at 6 p.m. next Monday in a quarterfinal game at Lexington.

The Titans already own a 50-22 win against Fisher on Nov. 29.

“We didn’t really know what to expect because we’re a young team, and it was at the beginning of our season,” Fisher junior guard Olivia Heffernan said. “Now we’re a lot more experienced. We’ve had almost 20 games since then, so we’re not going to panic like we did.”

A loss by Fisher would put it into a consolation semifinal game at 6 p.m. on Jan. 23 at Lexington.

Fisher would play either No. 4 LeRoy, No. 5 Heyworth, No. 12 Deer Creek-Mackinaw or No. 13 Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley.

The loser of the game between LeRoy and GCMS plays the loser of the game between Heyworth and Deer Creek-Mackinaw at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, with the winner of that game advancing to the consolation semifinal game.

The Bunnies — like the other 12 schools in the field — have the carrot dangling in front of them of playing at the Shirk Center.

On the boys side, the four quarterfinal games, two semifinal games, third-place game and championship game will take place at the Shirk Center while the two semifinal games, along with the third-place game and championship game in the girls tournament are also on Illinois Wesleyan’s home court.

“I don’t really remember what the Shirk Center looks like,” Carmien said. “I feel like it’s been awhile since we’ve played there.”
It has. The Bunnies last played there during the 2011 tournament, but lost the quarterfinal game 54-50 to Blue Ridge. In the last three tournaments, that’s the only time Fisher has played at the Shirk Center.

Senior forward Tate Estes would like to see that change.

“That’s always one of our goals early in the season that we write down on paper and turn into coach,” he said. “We at least want to play one game at the Shirk Center.”

That didn’t happen last year. The Bunnies went 0-2 in the annual tournament.

“It’s such a tough tournament,” Ragle said. “If you’re playing well, it gives you a great opportunity. If you’re not playing well and lose two (right away), you’re off for a while.”

Heffernan and Fisher junior center Caitlin Cole attended last year’s McLean County/HOIC Tournament championship game that ended with El Paso-Gridley beating LeRoy 54-50 in an instant classic.

“It was just really cool to see that,” Cole said. “We took a picture and showed everybody. We said, ‘We’re going here next year, so get ready.’ This tournament gets us ready to come out and fight hard in our regional against teams our size.”


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