Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- There are no moral victories for Sherwood Christian Academy.

At least not on the basketball court.

"We're not looking for a moral victory. We're looking to win the game,'' Sherwood Christian boys basketball coach Gavin Felix said Thursday.

That's what you need to know about tonight's Sherwood-Deerfield-Windsor showdown, which has moved across town to Sherwood, where they're looking for a big crowd and a new result. The first round belonged to DWS, which hammered the Eagles, 78-52, at Deerfield.

That lopsided score might have hurt Sherwood's feelings as much as it damaged the Eagles' record, which has climbed to 17-1. But it didn't dampen any hopes at SCA.

"I think we can play with them,'' Felix said moments after the game on Jan. 11. He blamed himself for the loss, saying he should have made better decisions on the floor, and all but promised to alter his practices to bring his team to the next level.

It started the next day.

"That game was a wakeup call,'' SCA forward Patrick Stanford said. "We came together the day after that game. We had a meeting about it, and the next two days at practice we probably worked as hard as we have ever worked together.''

No one at Sherwood seemed to mind the extra push.

"We had to change,'' Stanford said. "If we didn't change then we would probably have the same result when they come here to play us.''

They will be there tonight, and all that is on the line is first place in the GISA Region 3-AAA race, bragging rights as the best private school team in Albany and everything else that comes with one of the best private school rivalries in the state.

"It's exciting,'' said Felix, a first-year coach who found out right away what playing Deerfield meant around Sherwood. "It's a cross-town rivalry. The kids know each other, and Albany is not that big. And it's two teams playing for the No. 1 spot in the region. It's certainly a big game. It's bigger because we have two talented teams. The first game didn't live up to expectations, but I'm sure this one will.''

DWS is 15-3 and 7-0 in the Region 3-AAA race with three games left. Sherwood is 6-1, but if the Eagles win and forge a tie for first place, Sherwood would win the top seed in the region tournament. The GISA's region by-laws state that the first tiebreaker is based on head-to-head competition, and if the teams split, then the team that wins the second game becomes the top seed. The region tournament begins Feb. 8, and the semifinals and finals are held at Darton, where there could be a third matchup.

"This is Round 2,'' DWS coach Gordy Gruhl said Thursday. "It certainly could end that way (with the two of us playing for the region title in Round 3). If we win (tonight) we could secure the No. 1 seed, and that would be nice, but we're not going to pack up the basketballs if we lose.''

Sherwood, meanwhile, is looking for a little redemption.

Deerfield is the only team to beat the Eagles, not to mention the fact the Knights have gotten the best of the series for years.

And one more thing: Deerfield is the defending GISA Class AAA state champ -- and the Knights are rolling.

They've won 11 in a row, and no one has been close in that run, which has consisted of one romp after another. During the winning streak, DWS has won by an average score of 74-43.

Sherwood might have found a new beginning after the loss to DWS, but so has Deerfield. The Knights lost four starters from the state championship team, and it has taken a while for this new group to find its identity. Evidently, that identity has something to do with blowing teams off the court, because that's all they have done lately.

"It's kind of hard to put your finger on it,'' Gruhl said of the win streak. "We've picked up in all areas, playing better defense and our offense has really improved -- inside and outside. We're playing together, making the extra passes, and hitting on all cylinders.''

Even though the first game was one-sided, no one expects a blowout tonight, but that may come down to how well Sherwood defends against Deerfield's guards, who simply drove by the Eagles all game in the first meeting. Ramello Carter (30 points) and Banks Kinslow (20) combined for 50 points on a night when Sherwood scored just 52.

"It will be a much closer game at their place,'' said Kinslow, who also had a big game against Sherwood last fall at quarterback when the Knights opened the football season with a victory to start a 13-0 run to the state title.

If Kinslow and Carter combine for 50 again, it could be a long night for Sherwood.

"We've got to play better defense,'' said Sherwood's Rashard Davis, who is one of SCA's quick and aggressive guards that have been giving everyone else fits with a vice-like defense. "We came to practice (after the DWS loss) and we were real focused. We will play better defense (this time), and just hustle more.''

Sherwood also missed 16 free throws in the loss.

"One of the biggest differences in that game was that we missed 16 free throws,'' Sherwood guard Cass Stutz said. "And we didn't run our offense. They were more disciplined than us in that game.''

The buzz at both schools is rising about tonight's game, and the Sherwood kids hope it reaches deafening proportions by the time the 8 p.m. tipoff gets here

"It will be very hostile here,'' Davis said Thursday afternoon. "Our crowd will make a difference.''

Stanford said he hopes a big crowd shows up because he felt out-numbered at DWS.

"They had a lot of fans at the game at their place,'' he said. "Now we have to have a lot of fans when we play them here.

"It's a big game. When you get the top two teams in the region and they're both from the same town, it's a big game.''

Davis can't wait.

"I love it,'' he said of the rivalry. "I hope we get a lot of fans.''

It should be standing-room-only -- with only one team left standing at the top afterward.

"It will be a challenge,'' Gruhl said. "I'm sure they will try to make amends for that loss. I'm sure it will be an exciting environment. It'll be fun. The kids are excited. People are excited. We're expecting a real barn-burner.''