Dale Schuring has swept Coles County this year but that doesn’t mean anything to him these days. 

The former Arthur-Loving-Atwood-Hammond coach, who has resurrected the Mount Zion boys basketball program in his fourth year, went a perfect 4-0 against Mattoon and Charleston. If he wants to make a run at their first Regional Championship since 2017, it’s going to take a third win over Charleston, scheduled for 7:30 at Mattoon High School.

The Mattoon Regional could be a scene of deja vu if not careful. Mattoon hosted the girls regional where Mattoon’s girls avoided a third defeat to Effingham in winning the championship.

Mount Zion owns 62-37 and 70-40 wins over the Trojans but Schuring said both teams are 0-0 as far as he is concerned.

“It is very difficult to beat anybody three times in a season regardless of records and scores of previous encounters,” said Schuring. “Charleston, or not, we have to be us and do what we do. The flip side of that is to make them do or be something that they are not accustomed to doing. Whoever can play their game more effectively will win the game and advance.”

The Braves won their first Apollo Conference title since 2015 after sweeping through the competition with a perfect 12-0 record. Carson Cuddy should be a unanimous All-Apollo selection by the end of the year. It is not just Cuddy though as the 27-4 Braves have been consistently good this season and have received state votes most of the season. According to MaxPreps, Mount Zion is ranked as high as the No. 12 team in the state. 

“Mount Zion is a very skilled team and has dominated the Apollo conference for a reason this season,” said Charleston coach AJ Alexander. “They play with great tempo and seem to always have 5 guys on the floor that can make something happen and are on the same page defensively. In order to make this upset happen, all of our guys need to play with “J.I.F.” for a full four quarters.”

“Joy, Intensity, and Focus” will be the theme for Charleston, who has been blown out in both games. Alexander said that the team’s going to have to be “all in” in order to make this game competitive. 

“We need to step into every practice/game with gratitude, that basketball is a ‘get to, not a got to,” said Alexander. “We need to have intensity in our preparation for game day at practices and on game day with an ‘all in mentality,’ competing every possession until that last buzzer sounds. Last but not least, play with focus: everyone doing their own job/managing their role to the best of their abilities and playing with a we before me mentality.”

Charleston brings a 13-14 overall record and finished fourth in the Apollo with a 6-6 mark. The team is entering the postseason with a hot streak, winning their last four games. 

“I am extremely proud of what our team has accomplished this season and especially in these last four games,” said Alexander. “We have shown a ton of grit and perseverance despite any odds we have faced. There is no other team I’d rather charge headfirst into battle with than this crew.”

The winner of this game will advance to play the winner of the earlier contest between No. 2 seed Decatur MacArthur and No. 9 seed Decatur Eisenhower, who ended Mattoon’s season at 7-25 with a 49-39 win on Saturday. 

MacArthur is the projected favorite to win and has been as highly ranked as the No. 9 team in Class 3A. Both MacArthur and Eisenhower own recent wins over Mount Zion. Eisenhower defeated Mount Zion 63-56 on February 11 and MacArthur won 66-56 on February 15th. 

“I think we certainly have a shot at winning the regional but we must be on our game both nights,” said Schuring. “I like the way we have responded to the loss to Eisenhower and the 21-4 deficit to MacArthur after one Quarter.  These athletes don’t quit and never give up.  We have to be more mentally sharp than we have been recent.”