Tom Batters
Richwoods guards Mason Alwan (No. 32) and Tylon Deal (No. 10) box out against Washington' Brian Tigue during the Pekin Holiday Tournament. Washington handed Richwoods its second loss of the season.

Last year, Richwoods came into the hostile Notre Dame gym and beat the Irish, 53-34.

After that game, Richwoods coach Mike Ellis downplayed the crowd factor. He said, “We’ve been on the road all year. We know what it takes to win tough road games.”

A few weeks later, Notre Dame went into the Knights’ house and won, 54-43, ending a 10-game losing streak against Richwoods.

The Irish then beat the Knights again in the first round of the Woodruff Regional. That game went down to the final seconds before Notre Dame was left standing with a 60-57 victory.

The two teams went on to share the conference title with Manual. It was the first conference title in Notre Dame’s history.

Fast forward to this week, when the Richwoods-Notre Dame rivalry is renewed. The two teams play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Richwoods.

This is a game that I circled on my calendar before the season started. I can’t wait to see how this rivalry plays out in 2009.

Will the two teams split the series again? Will they meet again in the postseason? Can Notre Dame spoil the Knights’ home fervor again this year?

The game has several intriguing story lines, and I expect it to be a close one, even though Richwoods (10-2) is the better team at this point in the season. The state-ranked Knights have only two loss (to state-ranked Rock Falls and Washington). They defeated Manual a couple weeks ago in their Mid-State 6 Conference opener.

The Irish (6-6) are looking for their first conference win after losses to Manual and Peoria Central.

Peoria Notre Dame has one of the most exciting players in the conference in 6’6” sophomore Max Bielfeldt.

Bielfeldt is a big body in the post who can also shoot from the outside. He is a rebounding machine, and he can cause problems for the smaller Richwoods lineup.

Richwoods does not have a player taller than 6’4”, so stopping Bielfeldt inside could be a challenge.

The guard play on both sides, however, is the most intriguing element of this game.

Both teams feature athletic guards who can handle the ball, drive to the basket and make long-range shots.

Notre Dame senior Charlie Bryant has proven that he can single-handedly take over a game. His first step is explosive and, if he gets hot from three-point range, he can rack up a lot of points in a hurry.

Junior point guard Nick Rochford is a feisty competitor who does a great job running the offense.

Richwoods will have plenty of options to defend Bryant and Rochford, though. Senior Jontell Lindsay and juniors Tylon Deal and Aaron Davis are skilled defenders.

Mason Alwan, a junior guard who transferred to Richwoods from Notre Dame this year, will play against the Irish for the first time.

Alwan gives the Knights an added dimension because he can shoot from three-point range, but, at times, he plays more like a small forward.

Alwan will get his share of jeers from the army of Notre Dame fans who make the short trip to

Richwoods, but he is a tough kid who does not get rattled easily.

Look for this to be one of the better games on the high school slate this year.

If you are going, you better get there early. The gym will fill up quickly, and it will be loud.