There was some thought that District 3-A might feature more parity on the boys’ side this year than it has in several years, and that certainly seems to be the case as the season enters its home stretch.

As this week began, four different teams were within a half-game of one another at the top of the district standings, with a dangerous Rockwood team just two games back in fifth place. Paul Kamikawa’s team will look to play a spoiler’s role in the district tournament, preventing one of the district’s top teams from advancing to the regionals.

Harriman is at the top of the district standings, with an overall record of 15-5 and a 7-1 record in league play. The Blue Devils’ only loss was to Oakdale way back on November 30. The Devils have not looked particularly sharp, but have managed to stay unbeaten since December began, with a 9-point win over Oneida and a 2-point win over Wartburg.

Oneida, Oakdale and Wartburg were all tied for second place as the week began, with a 7-2 record. If the season had ended then, a coin flip would have determined the district standings, with Oneida having beaten Wartburg while losing to Oakdale, and Wartburg having beaten Oakdale.

There is a thought process in basketball that it’s better to peak later — when the postseason is nearing — than early, and perhaps that’s the case for Oneida, which had won eight consecutive games heading into a trip to Jellico on Tuesday. The Indians will be at Oliver Springs tomorrow (Friday) with an opportunity to run their winning streak to 10 games. 

Some of the key games remaining in District 3-A play included Harriman at Oakdale on Tuesday night, Wartburg at Oakdale tomorrow (Friday), Oneida at Harriman on January 25, Harriman at Wartburg on January 29, Oakdale at Oneida on January 29, and Oneida at Wartburg on February 8.

The consensus among District 3-A’s girls’ coaches has been that Oneida is the team to beat this year, and the Lady Indians lived up to that expectation last week. With their 10th and 11th consecutive wins, the Lady Indians defeated Wartburg by double-digits and picked up a road win at Sunbright to take a tight hold on the district lead.

Oneida entered last week’s games in a virtual deadlock with Wartburg and Sunbright for the district lead. Wartburg, which had earlier lost to Midway, had knocked off Sunbright to leave the Lady Indians as the district’s only unbeaten team, but both Sunbright and Wartburg were just a game back as the week began.

Now, Oneida has a two-game lead on the rest of the district, while Wartburg is three games back after losing to Midway again on Friday. 

Midway moved a game ahead of Oliver Springs in the district standings with that win over the Bulldogs. Michelle Christopher’s Bobcats are in fifth place and perhaps poised to play a spoiler’s role in the postseason.

While Sunbright and Oneida still have to play Midway again, along with Wartburg, it’s looking more likely that the top seed in the regular season will come down to the Lady Indians and Rusty Yaden’s Tigers. The two teams will meet at OHS Gymnasium on February 1. (Sunbright was to have traveled to Midway on Tuesday.)

Other key games the rest of the way include Oneida at Oliver Springs tomorrow (Friday), Oneida at Midway on Tuesday, Oliver Springs at Wartburg on Tuesday, Oliver Springs at Midway on January 25, Wartburg at Sunbright on February 5, and Oneida at Wartburg on February 8.

In a season of ups and downs for Scott High, the Highlanders have fallen into fifth place in District 4-AA with last week’s loss to Kingston. At 1-4 in district play, the Highlanders are a game behind the Yellow Jackets (2-3), and Kingston controls the tiebreaker, having defeated Scott twice this season.

The Highlanders defeated Austin-East back on November 30, and Austin-East has since defeated district-leading Fulton. Scott was also up by as much as 16 on Alcoa before ultimately losing that game, and played Fulton closely after a terrible first quarter.

For those reasons, it’s too soon to lock the Highlanders into fifth place in district play, though it won’t matter much if Scott doesn’t finish at least third. The fourth and fifth place teams square off in the first round of the district tournament, meaning the only difference in fourth place and fifth place is the color of jersey worn in that elimination game.

The top of the district remains a close race. At 4-1, Fulton has the lead but still has to play Alcoa again. The Tornadoes are 2-1, with their only loss coming to Fulton. In addition to facing Fulton on January 25, Alcoa must face Austin-East twice — tomorrow and February 5. The Tornadoes also have a January 29 visit from Scott High remaining, and will host Kingston two days later.

The Roadrunners (2-2) have those two games against Alcoa remaining, and still must host Scott on February 8. Austin-East will travel to Kingston on January 25.

The losses to Kingston have placed Scott behind the 8-ball in a bid for an automatic berth in the Region 2-AA tournament. Even if Austin-East is swept by Alcoa, the Highlanders would need Kingston to beat the Roadrunners — in addition to defeating A-E themselves — to get a 3-seed, unless they can pull off an upset of Fulton or Alcoa.

The Lady Highlanders entered this week having lost 9 of their last 10, dating back to a 63-50 win at Halls on December 11. But things aren’t as lopsided as that might seem to indicate. With the exception of a pair of games against district-leading Kingston, Scott High has been in every game and had opportunities to win.

In fact, there’s only one team in District 4-AA that Scott High hasn’t looked good enough to beat, and that’s Kingston. The Lady Highlanders only lost to Alcoa on a last-second putback, and probably should’ve beaten Fulton (the Falcons won, 51-48). Scott High already has a 50-41 win over Austin-East in the bag.

The final weeks of the regular season will see the Lady Highlanders traveling to Fulton tomorrow, to Alcoa on January 29, and to Austin-East on February 8. Those three games will tell the tale of the final standings as the postseason begins, but Scott High could wind up anywhere from second to fifth in the district.

Kingston looks like a foregone conclusion to win the district. The Yellow Jackets are 14-2 overall and unbeaten in district play, though they still have to face Fulton (Tuesday), Austin-East (January 25) and Alcoa (January 31) for a second time.

Fulton is currently in second place, with a 3-2 record, with games remaining against Scott tomorrow and Alcoa on January 25, in addition to Tuesday’s visit from Kingston. All three of those will be at home.

Alcoa’s only district win so far has been against the Lady Highlanders, with losses to Fulton and Kingston. The Tornadoes will travel to Austin-East tomorrow, to Fulton on January 25, host Scott on January 29 and Kingston on January 31, before closing with a visit from Austin-East on February 5.

Austin-East picked up an upset win over Fulton on January 5, and was one-half game ahead of Scott High in the standings as the week began, though the Lady Highlanders have the tiebreaker against the Roadrunners.

Whichever teams finish second and third in the district will have automatic berths in the Region 2-AA tournament. The fourth and fifth place teams will face each other in an elimination game in the first round of the district tournament.

From The Pressbox is a weekly sports column by Independent Herald editor Ben Garrett.