The path to Peoria started exactly four months ago today (Tuesday) for the Harrisburg boys' basketball team when they opened up play against Gallatin County in the Harrisburg Invitational.
Twenty eight wins later and their fourth straight regional championship under their belt, the Bulldogs long and winding road is getting shorter.
Starting Wednesday, Harrisburg will take on Chester in the first round of the West Frankfort Class 2A Sectional at 7:30 p.m., while Nashville and Mt. Carmel meet in the other matchup Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.
The championship will then be played Friday night at 7:30 p.m., with Harrisburg looking for its sixth sectional title under head coach Randy Smithpeters.
In retrospect, Smithpeters is 384-208 in his time at Harrisburg High School. The regional captured Friday night over Benton was the 11th under Smithpeters and the 20th in school history.
As for its counterpart Chester, the Yellow Jackets won the school's first regional since 1975 with a win over No. 1 seeded Trico at the Murphysboro regional.
Chester, who from 1993-94 until 2009-10 was a part of the River-to-River Conference with Harrisburg, playing opposite on the Mississippi Division never played the Bulldogs in any sport during that tenure.
Three years ago, Chester made the move to the Black Diamond Conference and this past season won the BDC football title and had their playoff run come to an end with a gutty performance against Belleville Althoff, who played their season as a 5A school, but qualified for the playoffs as 2A based on school enrollment.
Smithpeters says the Yellow Jackets are a team that pose players with decent size, starting at 6-foot and climbing the ladder at 6-2, 6-3 and 6-6.
"The thing that everyone says about Chester is that they play hard and in watching the film, I've been able to get to this point, that is very true. They play hard at both ends of the floor."
Kyle Landon, a 6-6 senior forward, is a state champion in the high jump and is considering Illinois and Missouri for his post prep career. Currently, Landon is lighting it up for the Yellow Jackets, dropping 25 points on the Pioneers.
To boot, Jacob Lochhead, a 6-0 junior guard, sparked Chester for 18 points.
Chris Schwartz is averaging a team-high 13.7 points per game for the Yellow Jackets as a 6-1 senior guard, while Lochhead isn't far behind at 13 ppg.
Chester head coach Brad Norman called this game his team's biggest feat of the year and believes that in the open floor they are as good as anyone.
"If we can get into a rhythm and get our shots to fall early … and make smart decisions, I believe that will play into our favor.
Page 2 of 3 - "We also know we're going to have to limit Harrisburg to one shot on the offensive end and grab the rebound."
Norman said that's where Chester's focus remains right now is limiting the Bulldogs on the boards and admits his team has come down off cloud 9 from their regional victory.
"We realized very quickly what's in front of us and we know we have to play our best basketball possible."
Smithpeters acknowledged how well the Yellow Jackets were peaking at the current time.
"They're playing well right now," Smithpeters said. "They shot very well in the championship game at Murphysboro and pressured the ball, while playing multiple defenses. They do a lot of things well."
In terms of defenses and doing a lot of things well, no one is doing anything better than Harrisburg right now.
This season, Harrisburg is giving up a total of just 44 points in offense to the opposition. No one has scored more than 59 points against the Bulldogs this season, with the one exception being Dyer County, Tennessee, who put up 76 on Harrisburg.
The full-court pressure-packed defense the Bulldogs brought in the semifinals and finals of the Eldorado Regional were something that fans haven't seen in quite some time, maybe all season, has Harrisburg played two of their best games to date.
At the midway point of the fourth quarter when Smithpeters called off the troops, Harrisburg was up 60-18 on Benton.
For the 20-year Harrisburg head coach it's not just one thing he can put his finger on when it comes to the team's defense, it's a combination of things.
"It's our athletes," Smithpeters said. "We're very long and very athletic. "I think we have worked together very well with a new system. Much better than I ever thought we would in the amount of time we got to spend on it. And I think they take a lot of pride in it. They play hard and they focus on it and help each other."
Michael Dann can be reached at hbgsports@dailyregister. com Follow Michael Dann on Twitter @spydieshooter.
West Frankfort Class 2A Sectional
Who: Harrisburg (28-1) vs. Chester (21-8)
When: Wednesday; 7:30 p.m.
Where: West Frankfort; Max Morris Gymnasium
Radio: WEBQ 1240 AM and online at webqradio.com
11 Tyler Smithpeters (17.2) G 6-4 Sr.
21 Capel Henshaw (14.7) G 6-3 Sr.
22 Ryne Roper (6) G 6-3 Sr.
42 Eli Taborn-Scott (11) F 6-4 Jr.
Page 3 of 3 - 55 Dakota Upchurch (6.5) F 6-6 Sr.
30 Bahari Amaya (5.6) F 6-4 So.
12 Justin Younger (2.4) G 6-0 Sr.
40 Snjolfur Bjornsson (2.7) G 6-2 Jr.
13 Link Cushman (7.1) G 6-0 Sr.
15 Jacob Lochhead (13) G 6-0 Sr.
21 Kyle Landon (9.8) G 6-6 Sr.
25 Caleb Arbeiter (8.5) G 6-0 Sr.
34 Chris Schwartz (13.7) G 6-1 Sr.
23 Boyd Miles (2.3) F 6-1 Sr.
33 Alec Weir (4.5) G 6-1 Sr.