2019 NECC Softball Tournament Preview

Once Easter weekend ends, the 31st NECC softball tournament (as long as mother nature doesn’t crash the plans) will start on Monday. Here’s my previews for all 11 teams. In the meantime, here’s the 2019 bracket and the champions from the previous 30 years.

Fremont Lady Eagles (8-1, 4-0 NECC)

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How can they be contenders?

Fremont’s offense in 2019 isn’t quite as dominant as the team that won regionals last year, but this is still a feared lineup that has terrorized opposing pitchers in and out of conference play. However, their pitching and overall defense is quite a bit stingier than the 2018 team as the rotation has posted a stat-popping 1.57 ERA and .940 fielding percentage. Western Michigan commit Autumn Godwin is showing why she is going D1 as she leads the entire conference in ERA with pitchers going through at least 12 innings with a dazzling 1.19 ERA as well as wins with 6 and strikeouts with 82 in 47 innings of work. Fremont could be poised of making their 2nd title game appearance in 3 years and maybe win their first ever conference tournament.  They get a rematch with Westview that saw the Eagles squeaking out a 2-1 win not too long ago.

 

Potential Team MVP(s) of Tourney

Without question, Autumn Godwin is the best pitcher in the NECC, and to no offense of anyone else, very few pitchers are nearly as dominant as she is. In terms of offense, junior 3rd  baseman/shortstop Maddie Beeman has been the catalyst of an offense that had to replace quite a bit of talent from last year’s team and Beeman’s .393 average with a team-leading 2 bombs and 14 RBI’s (4th in the NECC) backs up that statement. Senior Jaden Cardoso has also been very good herself as she bats .393 with 9 RBI’s. Those are just the two most notable names of a very deep roster that includes Macayla Guthrie (.370 average with a bomb and 8 RBI’s), Nicole Palmer, and Jada Rhonehouse.

 

Breakout Star

Junior 1st baseman Machenzie Friend has been a vital part of her team’s incredible start that is actually outpacing the start of their 26-6 2018 season. Friend is batting .400 with a bomb and 6 RBI’s.

 

Unsung Hero

Sophomore outfielder Jazlyn Hafner is making the most out of her first varsity season with a significant role. While she won’t be looked at as the best, second, third, or even fourth best by the media, Hafner leads the team in steals with 4 while batting .333 with 4 RBI’s.

 

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Central Noble Lady Cougars (6-2, 2-1 NECC)

 

How can they be contenders?

Coming off of back-to-back conference regular season titles, there’s still something missing from that trophy case: first conference tourney crown. Their most recent visit to the title game was a 3-1 loss to the Eastside Blazers back in the 2015 season. Yes, I do remember that game because I called that title game and it was a great pitchers duel. For CN, to win their first softball tourney title in the NECC, pitching will have to continue being the bread and butter for the Cougars. They probably have without question the best pitcher tandem in the NECC with junior Madisen Bremer and sophomore Jennica Berkes. This is a team that ranks in the upper half of the conference in average behind WN, Westview, and Lakeland and that will have to continue against teams that will execute their pitches against a hot CN bat. Now, if I’m correct, CN gets an automatic bye in the NECC tournament because (correct me if I’m wrong) Hamilton doesn’t have a softball team this season as far as I know (sometimes it can be tricky to know if Hamilton is able to field varsity teams in recent years due to enrollment).  If that’s correct, they would travel to the Fairfield-Lakeland winner.

 

Potential Team MVP(s) of Tourney

For as deep of a team CN is, Madisen Bremer is the best all-around player for the Cougars. While posting a 3-1 record with a dominant 1.77 ERA (second only to Fremont’s Godwin) 31 K’s and only allowing 6 walks, she also bats .483 with 2 bombs and 10 RBI’s. While Jennica does not hit the ball as well as Bremer, she has posted a 2-1 record with a nice 2.70 ERA and 27 K’s which makes this rotation quite deadly when they’re in the zone. One other player I want to mention is sophomore catcher Bridgette Gray as she is batting .394 with a bomb and 7 RBI’s.

 

Breakout Star

Allow me to introduce to you sophomore Bree Waikel, one that I saw coming from a mile away from her strong JV performances. She has went from a JV starter a year ago to recording a NECC best .682, and while she hasn’t been hitting for power, her presence has made an immediate impact on the club and she has also batted in 7. Don’t count out junior 3rd baseman/utility girl Sam Brumbaugh as she still making a presence on both ends of the field with 7 stolen bases that’s tied for 4th despite a bit of a slow start at a .286 average. Junior 2nd baseman Jocelyn Winnebrenner can rake as well steal bags and make plays on defense.

 

Unsung Hero

I’ll go with Bridgette’s younger sister Ashleigh Gray who is making an immediate impact on the team as only a freshman batting .333 with 2 RBI’s and 3 steals further adding depth to that lineup.

 

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Fairfield Lady Falcons (6-3, 2-1 NECC)

How can they be contenders?

Here in 2019, Fairfield continues to be a softball powerhouse as they look to build off of their regional championship season by trying to avenge their 14-inning loss to the Lakeland Lakers in the title game (which they will ironically be playing each other in the first round). Unfortunately, I don’t have the stats for the Lady Falcons because they’re not available so I’ll do the best I can to analyze their tourney preview without being looked at as an idiot or an unknowledgeable person.

 

Potential Team MVP(s) for Tourney

It appears Junior Sara Shank has picked up right where she left off from her 14-0 0.81 ERA season and she will need to pitch well for her team to have a shot at winning the title because the top half of the softball bracket is brutal and wide open. Others to watch for are sophomore Kayla Miller, Junior Chloe Dell, and Senior Krista Wagler who hit the walk off home run last Thursday vs Angola.

 

Breakout Star

I’m going to guess Kayla Miller I don’t know why but I have a feeling she could have herself a tournament.

 

Unsung Hero

Here I’ll go with sophomore Jaidyn Rhodes who could step right in and make key plays at the most important times on the bat and with the glove.

 

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Angola Lady Hornets (7-4, 3-2 NECC)

 

How can they be contenders?

Yep, this is the Hornets, and they’re always in the hunt. Angola can still hit the ball well and that shows when 8 players are batting .300 or higher and one is just shy of .300. They’re 5th in batting average, tied for 2nd in homers, 3rd in RBI’s, and 4th in ERA. Their pitching has improved thus far, but how they’re able to close out those tight, low-scoring games will determine how far they’ll go. The bottom half of the bracket where Angola is at is fairly wide-open, and a trip to the title game is definitely not out of question.

 

Potential Team MVP(s) for Tourney

Emma Konrad is their biggest MVP of the Hornets. There is a reason why she is going to college for this sport and it is the senior’s versatility on the mound and at the plate. Konrad is near the top 5 in ERA at just over 3 and tied for 7th in wins with 3 while batting .409 with a bomb and 7 RBI’s. Junior catcher Amanda Cope is their best hitter with her .457 average putting her just outside the top 10 in the conference while barreling 2 bombs and 12 RBI’s. Don’t count out junior Kylar Crowl, and seniors Alyssa Hernandez and Reace Peppler who are very capable of being difference makers. The other pitcher junior Janna Schwartzengraber has had a solid season going 4-3 with a 3.12 ERA and 37 K’s.

 

Breakout Star

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to get to know sophomore Addison Campagna aka Angola’s very own Ms. Utility girl who has posted a reasonable .294 average with a bomb and 9 RBI’s. I can see her going off in this tournament.

 

Unsung Hero

Normally a senior who had a monster junior season wouldn’t be considered as the “unsung hero”, but it’s been a tough start for Jayden DeGraw. But, I think there is still potential for her to make a difference starting in this tournament. If she can get some confidence, that could go a long way for a team that has more than plenty of talent on the roster.

 

West Noble Lady Chargers (4-5, 2-1 NECC)

 

How can they be contenders

Unless you’re a Chargers fan or coach, raise your hand if you had them competing for a NECC crown in 2019? I saw potential for a better season, but I surely did not see this coming. How did they get there you say? How about fielding the conference’s 3rd or 4th best average pending on where Fairfield is at (which I don’t have), 2nd in slugging, and 3rd in steals.  It’s going to be a tough task to get to the title game, but they get a really nice draw with a 2nd round matchup on the road against a Prairie Heights team that we’ll admit is down this season.  Pitching and defense will need to improve to have a shot of a “upset” in the semifinals and possibly in the championship game.

 

Potential Team MVP(s)

For West Noble to succeed in this tournament, sophomore Kacee Click will have to be the best player of each game they play. Despite the 3.95 ERA, Click has recorded all 4 of their wins this season while striking out 60 batters in 44.1 innings. This is a team-by-committee when it comes to their hitting, but senior Jaden Hanna might be their best hitter with a .500 average that is tied for 7th in the NECC along with 7 RBI’s.  Watch out for senior Kourtnie Jones, and sophomores Lilly Nelson and Taitlynn Forrer as ones that can also make opposing teams pay.

 

Breakout Star

It’s difficult to necessarily find one when any of them can get hot, but I’ll go with sophomore Tori Franklin who has a .357 average with 6 RBI’s and 9 steals which is 3rd in the NECC.

 

Unsung Hero

Again, deep teams like the ones we have discussed to this point will have a better chance to find that unsung hero. But, sophomore Olivia Yates could be that player. She has only had 3 at bats this season so far, but she has a perfect batting average, 3 RBI’s, and 2 steals. If she can improve on her fielding when given the opportunities she could quietly make a difference for this team.

 

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Garrett Lady Railroaders (3-6, 3-2 NECC)

 

How can they be contenders?

Good question and it’ll depend on which Garrett team performs. After getting off to a 1-4 start, they are 2-2 since. Small improvement, but is it enough? Hitting at times has been a little hot and cold this season, but it has picked up recently. But, for Garrett to go far in this tournament, the pitching has to be better because a team 6.39 ERA one of the worst in the area won’t get it done.

 

Potential Team MVP(s) for Tourney

In spite of some cold spells with scoring runs, juniors Ryanne Arambula and Kierra Richards have been their best players. Arambula is batting .429 with 7 RBI’s and Richards is batting .440 with 2 RBI’s. Despite posting a 6.42 ERA, junior Brooklyn Runion has all 3 Garrett wins and has not been that bad when she is on her game or doesn’t give up homers which has been problem for Garrett pitchers this season, but does have a .389 average.

 

Breakout Star 

I’ll go with senior Olivia Kellham who is batting .318 with 4 RBI’s.

 

Unsung Hero

It was a hard decision here, but I’ll take another senior Marissalee Johnson who is batting .379 with a RBI and 2 steals.

 

Lakeland Lady Lakers (7-3, 2-2 NECC)

 

How can they be contenders

Let me make this clear that they’re lower in the standings, but that is not me making them look bad. Lakeland was basically 2 or 3 big plays from having an undefeated conference record which those 2 conference losses both came in the 9th inning in walkoff fashion to Westview and Angola. If these learning curves have made the reigning conference tourney champs stronger in the long run, then I may have bad news for everyone else. No NECC team has a roster with a more prolific offense, produced more RBI’s, more lethal power, and have stolen more bases than the Lakeland Lakers. They have batted .384 as a team with already 9 (9!!) home runs, 95 RBI’s (20 more than the next closest team), and 54 steals (16 more than the next closest team). Now, let’s not put shade on the pitching as it has produced a 2.43 ERA that only trails Fairfield, CN, and Fremont. Lakeland has all of the confidence, pieces, and experience to make another trip back to the championship game. The Fairfield-Lakeland first round match could and I think will set the tone for the rest of the tournament.

 

Potential Team MVP(s)

Senior pitcher Elise Edwards is the heart of the rotation and the numbers prove it yet again; 4-2 record, 2.03 ERA 3rd or 4th best in the NECC, and 50 K’s that is also 3rd in the NECC. Sophomore Keirstein Roose continues to terrorize opposing pitchers with a .655 average which is second behind CN’s Bree Waikel, but Roose has also had 14 more plate appearances so you have that argument. Roose has blasted 4 bombs and 22 RBI’s and 15 steals all the most in the NECC. yeah she is a gamer, but don’t let that ignore other pieces they have. Junior Kylee Palmer has an argument of her own batting .579 3rd in the NECC with 7 RBi’s and 12 steals second only to her aforementioned teammate. (Cough) She’s a Freshman Chloe Gust .514 batting average 6th in the NECC with 2 bombs and 19 RBi’s 2nd in the NECC along with a 3.50 ERA and a 3-0 record (yeah she is going to be a good one and Lakeland should be a little spoiled that they have that much talent). That doesn’t include sophomore Hannah Harris who is having a solid year to.

 

Breakout Star

Look, I know I’ve complimented this kid and calling her a walking bucket in basketball, but come on Bailey Hartsough. Softball to? In all seriousness, she is just that gifted and while you can teach work ethic and fundamentals and sportsmanship and defense, you can’t teach any of them talent (that’s a gift). Hartsough is batting .310 with a bomb 8 RBI’s and 6 steals.

 

Unsung Hero

Wait, you’re putting senior Makayla Mast as a potential unsung hero? Crazy because I think she is that much more important than this title because of her ability to make big plays and being the catcher of an excellent defense, but it is soooo easy to forget how important she really is. She has a .286 average with a bomb and 5 RBI’s. Heck, I’m forgetting that their third best RBI producer is freshman Breeanna Lovelace who will be a big piece for the next 3 years as she has a .500 average with a bomb and 12 RBI’s. This isn’t even fair how gifted Lakeland is in softball. Warning: they’re dangerous.

 

Eastside Lady Blazers (4-3, 1-2 NECC)

 

How can they be contenders?

While they aren’t exactly successful in going from worst to first like they were before the conference season, this team has without question done so well this season and are definitely working their way back to conference contention quickly.  This is a team that does not have the championship pedigree of Fremont and CN or the talent like Lakeland and Angola, but what they do so well is their pitching and working hard. This is a very stingy defensive team with a ERA somewhere between a high 2 and a low 3 (hard to tell because the stats aren’t exactly up to date), but it’s really solid. Offensively, they’ve went through their adventures, but they have bared through adversity pretty darn well. they get a nice rematch with Busco, but it’s going to be a tough road for the Blazers to get to the title game.

 

Potential Team MVP(s) for Tourney

Senior Shyan McKinley and junior Kensie Rieke have to be their best players to this point and they will have to perform well for this scrappy group to have a chance at a deep run. Rieke and McKinley have been solid hitters for them while Rieke has carried the way at the mound. Don’t count out players like senior Brittany Salinas and freshman Skyelar Kessler who could come up big.

 

Breakout Star 

I’m going with freshman Mataya Bireley because I think she is going to be a real nice athlete for Eastside athletics for the next 3 years, and she is showing that in softball as well. Jahnna Weaver could be another one that could break out as her picthing has been pretty much on point so far.

 

Unsung Hero

I’m going with freshman Ryelynn Glander as one that could come out behind the scenes and make an impact this tourney.

 

Westview Lady Warriors (5-5, 2-3 NECC)

 

How can they be contenders

They’re having a decent season, but it is fair to say that they have had their fair share of hardships and big wins. Westview has the best batting average (.383) not naming Lakeland, they have the most RBI’s not naming Lakeland, most runs and steals both also not naming Lakeland. So, they can score runs, but their pitching has been ok, but it has had its moments at times this season with a 3.68 ERA. They get a real tough draw @ Fremont, but they played very well against them, so no win is guaranteed in today’s NECC.

 

Potential Team MVP(s) for Tourney

Junior Zoe Williams has improved in a lot of ways this season with a .321 average with a bomb and 12 RBI’s while posting a 3-1 record with a 2.80 ERA 5th best in the NECC and 22 K’s. The Antal sisters have been deadly for Westview as senior Tori Antal is batting .576 4th in the NECC with 14 RBI’s and 7 steals. As for Freshman Alexys Antal, she is batting .556 5th best in the NECC with 7 RBI’s and 6 steals. Sophomore Addie Bender is batting .433 with a bomb and 13 RBI’s.

 

Breakout Star

For me, I’m taking freshman Savana Strater who is batting .423 with 3 RBI’s and 3 steals.

 

Unsung Hero

I’ll take senior Shelbi Smith who’s batting .267 with 7 RBI’s and 4 steals.

 

Churubusco Lady Eagles (0-7, 0-4 NECC)

 

How can they be contenders

It’s been a tough start for Busco, but it’s not because of lack of effort. Again, this isn’t a bad roster overall, but it’s the pitching that has killed the Eagles to this point with a near 10 ERA. Their matchup with Eastside isn’t necessarily ideal in the tourney, but it is better than playing a elite team like Lakeland or Fremont. Scoring will be an issue from the opening game due to Eastside’s strong pitching and everyone else is pretty good, but Busco’s pitching again has to be better if they’re going to advance past the first round.

 

Potential Team MVP(s) for Tourney

USF softball commit and senior Abi Erwin hasn’t had the most ideal start with no homers so far, but she is still batting well at .385 with 2 RBI’s, sophomore Mariah Hosted has had a learning curve season but she isn’t doing too bad as she has a homer and 3 steals despite the .200 average. Junior Kurstin Clark has a .294 average with 4 RBI’s, but sophomore Kathy Krider might be the most impressive player outside of Abi Erwin as she is batting .381 with 4 RBI’s and a steal.

 

Breakout Star

I’ll go with sophomore Kara Williams who is batting .286.

 

Unsung Hero 

I’ll take a senior on this one and I’ll go with Brooke Nondorf who’s .222 may look like deceiving because she has been one of their better players on a struggling program as she has 4 RBI’s and a stolen base.

 

Prairie Heights Lady Panthers (0-9, 0-3 NECC)

 

How can they be contenders

It depends on how contention should be used in Heights’s perspective because as expected they’re struggling to win games, literally they have no wins which wasn’t the case early last season. But, as expected they are very young so contention for them is gonna be different than how most teams would use it. Because I can’t find the stats or the roster to be exact, it’s going to be a little different for them. Heights has been shut out twice, and have scored more than 2 runs 4 times the most being 11 in their game 1 loss to Woodlan. They play hard and give it their best, but their inexperience shows from the results as they have allowed double digit runs in 7 of their 9 games this season. I guess, ideally, a home draw in the second round against West Noble sounds reasonable, but it’s going to be hard to win games let alone the tournament as I stated in my season preview. Now, they arguably had one of their best efforts of the year against WN despite the score being 8-2. If they can give WN a fight in the tournament, I’ll call that a quality performance because I can’t evaluate this team as “contenders” the same as if I would evaluate Fremont as one due to that inexperience. Again, keep your eyes out for Trelynn Tschannan Maddie Harmes Kiana Allehouse, Amy German, and Bre Walter as ones that will give WN or anyone else a effort in this tourney.

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An Appreciation Post For My Readers

 

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We are reaching the final laps of the 2018-19 season and with the finishing touches on the Area preview for boys and girls track (outside of the baseball and softball NECC tournament and sectional previews and more), there will not be much activity from this blog for the next 3-4 months. Yes I acknowledge that I am behind in the track previews, so I hope to get it posted within the next 5-12 days in theory.  I’ve been busy writing college papers, studying and taking 3 exams from 3 different course, and my personal life has been chaotic as of late. So, for any of you track players, coaches, and fans that may be interested, I apologize for the inconvenience, but be patient it will be out ASAP.

Schools are closer to the end of the year and the Class of 2019 commencements will occur all across the nation if not have already started as we speak. I will also be having a post at some point before the end of the 2018-19 school year to mention some of the most noticeable college athletes from the area as well as mentioning the faces of the 2019 class that will be leaving their respective high schools to pursue new adventures while taking their athletic talents to the college level.

To kick things off, I want to thank Mike Ganger of New Level Media in Goshen for supporting this and even sharing the link to my blog on his site. To my readers, thank you for taking a few minutes of your time in the social media wilderness to read my thoughts, stats, and opinions on each article I posted throughout the year. I also want to thank some of them for occasionally giving me compliments for my work and sharing this blog to anyone that may not have been aware of it. Hopefully, I did the best I could to bring good coverage and respect for the kids/programs that contribute to the NECC and the surrounding schools. Even if you agree to disagree on some things, I appreciate that you at least attempt to read through my work.

Next, I want to thank my friends from Outside the Huddle for occasionally sharing some of my work throughout the basketball season as well as their major contributions to the area sports athletes and programs in NorthEast Indiana when we initially thought the New Sentinel layoffs would bring uncertainty to the coverage of high school sports.

And finally, I want to thank the men and women that strongly represent all forms of media from KPC News to the Journal Gazette to the Goshen/Elkhart News, to the local news outlets of WANE 15, WPTA 21, NBC 33, FOX 55, etc. Your work is greatly appreciated!

This was something I thought about for over a year and to be honest it’s quite amazing how far my writing has went from my childhood years. For someone that has encountered many obstacles from having autism, it’s remarkable that I can speak and express as profoundly as I am let alone writing papers and having the wit of creating a blog just to talk about sports. Writing was something I grudged in elementary and middle school. But, it is now something I truly enjoy (and no that is not the same joy as writing a 30-page research paper cuz I don’t think there is a ton of people that would enjoy this unless you have a passion for it).

According to WordPress, 17,901 people have currently viewed all of my posts on Around the Northeast Corner from July 2018 till now over 12,000 of them have come in 2019 alone and counting. While this blog reached tremendous success, I had some ideas that ultimately failed because of school or that the method I went wasn’t as appealing as it could be. College fans, I’m sorry I was not able to recap as much basketball as I would have liked,  but mark my word I didn’t forget you guys and have stay connected with your programs’ success. I’ll find a way to make up for it and to give more interest to viewers without too much “fluff”. My suggestion is, if you or someone you know likes to write and wants to share their thoughts, content, etc on anything (doesn’t have to be sports), I HIGHLY recommend you or anyone to use this site. You all if it is in your desire could do things that I’m still trying to work on as we speak.

So, I have a favor for you viewers. If you want to give me feedback on anything you want me to do or improve on (as long as it’s appropriate for my time and content), then I’ll listen to ALL options. But, please keep in mind that I’m only one person. Also, if you want to give me any compliments or comment on what you liked, feel free to do that at the end of this post where it’ll let you write a thread and reply to the post. should be after my short bio that says published by Sam Frick. Or you can do however it works for you. Again, this is optional, so you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. But, please be courteous if you’re going to write anything as if you are talking to me face-to-face.

Also, if you follow the NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB, or most College Sports, I will be writing posts for ALL of that on my personal blog called Think Sports that is WAYYY DUE for some content. I will be recapping this year’s NCAA Boy’s Basketball Tournament and what to take away from it. I will preview the Stanley Cup Playoffs for hockey because I love hockey of course. I will not preview the NBA playoffs until the conference finals because who cares about the first 2 rounds imo, and I may do a NFL Draft recap on what guys I like heading into next season and/or I could do a special where we look back at a NFL/NBA draft from 5-10 years ago and reflect on which picks were steals and which ones were in a nice way of saying this disappointing or overhyped. Let me know if you have suggestions for topics on my other blog since topics are pretty wide open in the sports realm. But, most of my work will come from baseball since there will be quite more dead time than usual. I’m so excited to get back to writing some stuff on my other blog and although I still have work to do with the 2019 Spring Sports season, I’m looking forward to working on posts for the next school year!

One last thing, since April is Autism Awareness Month, feel free to read my story about my experience with this as you please. Some of you may have seen this before, and then there are others that might be saying “Great. Not this post again.” Even if you don’t understand it, that’s find. This is a story based on overcoming adversity not as much on the autism itself. But, this is the kind of adversity I faced at one point in my life and I still face obstacles every day over this and that does not include some of my struggles of having back pain from scoliosis. Don’t worry, I’m fine. Thankfully, I do not feel nearly as much pain as I did 6 years ago when I was first diagnosed and prior to that hiked for 2.6 miles in one of the Smokey Mountains on a hot July plus dealing with chronic back pain. Though, I highly recommend at some point to visit the Smokey Mountains if you haven’t been there yet (worth the drive and the frequent hot summers especially if hiking is one of great interest). This world talks too much about the negative and this post was something that I think has touched many people. Thanks for reading in advance!

Top 20 NECC Boys Basketball Players of 2018-19

 

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With only Angola and Wesview advancing to regionals, it’s time to unveil my top 20 boys basketball players for 2018-19. Keep in mind that this is not the All-NECC list as that was unveiled earlier this week. This is completely subjective, so please don’t try to take offense to this because it is a fun way to look back on a great year of NECC basketball. Again, for honorable mentions, I will pick at least one and up to 3 per school. Just because you are not in the top 20 or not in the honorable mentions list, doesn’t mean I didn’t think you were good. I can only fit 20 in this list and up to 3 per school. Like there are teams like Angola West Noble and Eastside that plays a lot of players and they all contribute very well. It’s hard to only pick 3 players from a team that emphasizes teamwork. The NECC has gotten so strong in terms of talent and competition, that this has forced me to make tough decisions and ones some will not like. I Hope you enjoy this and good luck to Angola and Westview in regionals!

Honorable Mention

Jack Hillyard Senior Angola

Luke Honer Senior Angola

Blake Pocock Senior Angola

Nick Alwine Senior Central Noble

Carson Capps Senior Central Noble

Sawyer Yoder Sophomore Central Noble

Luke McClure Sophomore Churubusco

Gage Kelly Junior Churubusco

Mason Garland Senior Churubusco

Chase Franz Senior Eastside

Noah Johnson Junior Eastside

Gabe Trevino Freshman Eastside

Payton Faldoe Senior Fairfield

Skylar Mast Senior Fairfield

Ethan Marten Senior Fremont

Kameron Colclasure Sophomore Fremont

Kobe Lucarelli Senior Garrett

Graham Kellham Freshman Garrett

Sam Farney Senior Garrett

Bailey Merritt Senior Hamilton

Dustin Cool Senior Hamilton

Calin Kent Sophomore Lakeland

Kole Miller Senior Lakeland

Jashaun Poole Senior Lakeland

Brandon Christlieb Junior Prairie Heights

Layne Bachelor Senior Prairie Heights

Nick Knepper Senior West Noble

David Flores Senior West Noble

Josh Gross Junior West Noble

Josh Hostetler Senior Westview

Dennis Wingard Senior Westview

Jordan Schrock Junior Westview

 

 

20. Joel Knox Sophomore Guard Angola

Now here’s an Angola player that’s quietly having a quality season for the Stingy Hornets. He’s a guy that is one of many big pieces for “Bentley Ball” and that is getting nasty on the defensive end for rebounds and loose balls, plus he’s quite athletic. But, Knox has a bit (well, I should say much) of a shooter’s touch and he’s a got a chance to have an even bigger role next season as a junior. As a matter of fact, he is far from exceeding his true potential, and that is exciting cuz he can be better than where he is at. This player from what I’ve saw like any Angola athlete doesn’t take shifts off, and it would be an understatement to think where his upside truly is.

 

 

19. Marko Stanojcic Junior Forward Hamilton

It’s not every day that an athlete from Hamilton gets into the top 20 list, but when one does you know I’m admired by their game. For the most part, Marko is a double-double machine that is super athletic, can drive to the net, and he’s quite fast for a forward. They haven’t had a guy like this since Colton Rose was a near triple-double machine at Hamilton a few years back.  However, For guy with a ton of gifts, I feel like he can take his game to another level than where he’s at and really set the tone in games. Nevertheless, this guy is quite the underrated talent for the Marines program. If this is the only time we’ll be able to see him play in North America, we sure enjoyed his efforts this year.

 

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18. Brayton Bonar Senior Center Churubusco

Brayton is not your typical natural center, but you can make an argument that he has been Busco’s backbone on the defensive end. For a team that doesn’t have a lot of bodies to choose from, Bonar has had to come up big in conference games and in sectional preview games. While he does not have the height or wingspan to pound in the paint, he has used his other gifts to become a threat in the post, and making gritty plays on defense.

 

17. Alex Yoder Senior Guard Eastside

Leading a balanced Eastside attack, Alex Yoder is one example of the kind of senior you would expect to see from any program. Here’s a guy that’s a multi-sport athlete that on the court is a solid defensive player, smart, gritty leader, and oh did I forget to mention he’s got a scoring touch. Yeah, having games like breaking a 49-year single-game scoring record with 41 against Hamilton will get you some praise. Plus, with him having some breakout games as of late along with some much needed help with his teammates helped this program to turned their season around.

 

16. Trevor Franklin Senior Guard West Noble

This Charger has been a big part of a West Noble squad that clearly has the athletes to put the ball in the basket and that’s been the case for the sharp, perimeter shooter. When the outcome of games have been at stake at times, West Noble has been able to find their go-to-man to help them propel to victory. Also, when he missed a game or two including in the NECC tournament semifinal game vs Westview, I could sense the void missing from Franklin’s presence. He has helped WN gain strides and hopefully he and the other seniors there left a mark for the next senior class to step up. He’s had some breakout games like the one against South Side, the game vs Columbia City, and his recent 32-point monster game on Hamilton.

 

15. Garrett Culler Senior Guard Prairie Heights

Garrett Culler has had a very good career at Prairie Heights and his ability to facilitate the Panther offense while continuing to be a excellent perimeter defender is why he is one of the more underrated players in the area. Smart kid that takes care of the ball well, can shoot anywhere on the floor, makes smart decisions, gets it done at the free throw line, and is the kind of player that a coach can trust to be prepared and do his job. Heights will miss this player’s contributions.

 

14. Lucas Deck Junior Guard Central Noble

Maybe, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but when he’s healthy he’s one of the better all-around guards in the area. After suffering a serious knee injury last season along with a back injury, it’s remarkable that this guy continues to give his 100% on the floor each night. He typically produces numbers close to a triple-double as he fights for rebounds, he is excellent passer, and he still has a bit of a scoring touch all while remaining focused on the defensive end. When’ he’s out of the lineup, you could sense that the team struggles in his absence. Could we see a breakout senior season? I think he has another level that he’s capable of getting to.

13. Nick Rensberger Senior Center Westview

This Westview Warrior has been an integral part of a solid Westview defense that has helped put Westview in the top 20 in the state regardless of class and a potential trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse later this season. However, these accomplishments have come at a cost for the future Huntington University baseball player who has struggled in the last one and a half years with a couple nagging injuries. Even with that, Rensberger continues to bring interior presence each night, even if he’s not scoring as much on some night. This guy continues to be a game-changer for Westview. That’s why I had to put him this high up in the list.

12.  Nolin Sharick Junior Guard Fairfield

When he transferred to the school as a sophomore, very few people outside of the Fairfield community would realize the kind of transformation we would see from this guy. Sharick has been important to this basketball team and more. Very strong and poised with the ball that just has this composed gesture about him on the court with the ability to drive to the net and get buckets. He also does a really nice job of crashing the boards and can let it fly from downtown. Fairfield will be pleased to have him back for another season.

11. Cordell Hofer Senior Forward Fairfield

Cordell throughout his Fairfield career was destined to be clutch for the Falcons. Usually when he’s on the court, he never gets overwhelmed with the spotlight and he does exactly whatever he can to give his team a chance to win.  I had that chance to watch him a few weeks ago and he lit up 28 points with 7 triples that night, and he played awesome that night despite the loss. A strong player with a tough as nails mentality, another strong rebounder, and yes he obviously can shoot from distance all while playing good defense yet again.

 

10. Brady Bontrager Sophomore Guard Lakeland 

Despite a tough season for the men in baby blue and white, this Laker did everything he possibly could to give his team a chance to win, even if the Lakers weren’t able to get the dub. Brady continued to build upon from his freshman season, and quite frankly his career scoring (730) is outpacing his brother Cameron’s career scoring when he completed his sophomore season (665). Brady made every play look effortless with his confident three point stance and his body of work in the glass. there were some plays where I didn’t know how he made it leaving me to say “Only Brady would have made that shot”. He’s got so much room for him to grow it cannot be fathomed how good he can be next season.

 

9. Mike Perkins Junior Guard Prairie Heights

Let me say that this dude is a bad man! I’m serious he is quite the player for the Panthers and he’s only junior that will reach the 1,000 point mark barring injury next season. Perkins has always been talented who knows how to find ways to drive to the net, and opposing players cannot take a shift off when he’s around because he is so dangerous wherever he’s at. Foul him? forget it. He’ll just cash in easy points from the free throw line as he amassed a near 90% in that department. The Panthers haven’t have a guard this good since probably Jacob Heller (LaGrange County all time scorer) and boy was he a treat. Perkins dropped 41 in a upset win over LaVille and he’s only going to get better in that area while continuing to work hard on the defensive end.

 

8. Tanner Behnfeldt Senior Guard Fremont 

One can argue that there may not have been a player that has improved more from one season to the next than this guy. Last season, he was pretty good don’t get me wrong, but there was something missing about his game that maybe he can pick it up notch. This past season, he did just that and more. Not only did he average over 22 some points a game and led his program to a 3-win improvement, but he was ice in his veins in big game situations such as the Garrett game with the buzzer-beating 3 on the road in OT. While this list isn’t all about players scoring points, it is about the players that have made the most impact on this conference for the 2018-19 season and you have to respect what he did for the small town of Fremont. You have to think his contributions along with the other seniors will help this program carry them into 2019-20.

 

7. Dyer Ball Junior Center Angola

Do you see some similarities? His dad, Lloy, was a big time volleyball athlete not only in Indiana but in the biggest international stage: The Olympics. While that is not quite the career Dyer has had to this point, he has been a major contribution to the Angola program. He’s not always the leading scorer as you would expect for the defensive-oriented system Ed Bentley implements, but this guy flat out gets it done. He has been a rebounding work horse, and he makes every single play so effortless it’s not fair. When you’re 6’7, you sure have an advantage, but not every player of this height can excel the way he has. Dyer can not only rebound and pound the glass, but he extends his game to jump shots, the free throw line, and perimeter shots. When he sets his mind to it, he is essentially unguardable. The crazy thing is: he can take his game to whole another level next year, and this program will need him to be one of the leaders.

 

6. Elijah Malone Junior Center Prairie Heights

When I saw him play as a sophomore during the 2017-18 season, I was watching the skills of the player he would wind up being from my own eyes. From a team that won 8 games, I couldn’t understand why he along with many of the core players weren’t able to reach their full potentials.  Very talented, but came up short. Whatever happened prior to this season whether it was their efforts in the offseason or the systems implemented by a new coaching staff, it has changed significantly from last season alone. I saw a guy in Elijah that went from being just an ordinary big guy to a freight train that bulldozed through a maze of ants it seemed and has blossomed on the program’ way to a 20-win season. This guy knows how to bring home the bacon because this dude can not only utilize his power on the court, but he is starting to show off some skill most big men don’t do. Not only that, he continues to be really good on defense much like Dyer, and this guy seems to have this mindset that he will not let anyone score. Heights is glad to have him along with a deep class that includes Perkins and Christlieb for another year.

 

5. Ridley Zolman Senior Guard Central Noble

How many guards in the area, can I say in the state, not only has such a defensive presence , but an absolute monster on offense? Rid or Squid as referred to by some of his peers, has that small-ball, splash brothers appeal to him. It doesn’t matter where he shoots the ball because most times he’ll let it rain and drain it. He’s the catalyst of this entire Cougar team that can pound in the paint, launch threes, and is strong from the free throw line. That changes entirely on how defenses match up with him. And when you have 3-4 other players that can do this consistently, opposing defenses will have a migraine after playing CN. He’s got a lot like his brother where he’s in the zone, exceptional rebounder, smart player, very disciplined, nice all-around athlete, good in screens and iso, and he’s known for making big plays in the crucial moments. Yeah, that screams Reeve all day. Ridley’s performances in his career put him 5th in program history behind the likes of Mike Young, Tyson Parker, and Brett Freeman  in just 3 seasons.

 

4. Jackson Paul Sophomore Guard Churubusco

Man, putting Jackson at 4th seems low to me because I was really admired by his all-around game through his sophomore season. He is as I mentioned before a court general and the heartbeat of this program. Heck, I’ll go as far as to say he’s the second link to their coaching staff because he is willing to do whatever it takes for his team to come out on top. Well, when your dad is a former college girls basketball coach at IPFW (now PFW), and your big brother Jalen having the career he had at Canterbury and Busco, you better be intelligent enough about this game. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Jackson like his brother has the “it” factor that has benefitted Busco. He’s got a lot like his dad in terms of his leadership and his passion to the game. He sets the tempo of the Eagles’ offense much like a composer on a ensemble as he does well in when to make plays and who to feed the ball to. His defensive presence is as big as his offensive game. One area I think he can improve on is to be a tad more consistent from perimeter because he has that potential. He’s already a difficult player to guard to begin with. Here’s another thing to keep in mind, he’s probably going to have another good team to play on next year.

 

 

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3. Connor Essegian Freshman Guard Central Noble 

The only reason I have Jackson lower is because Connor’s performance as only a freshman convinced me to give him the very slight edge. Before the season, I had zero clue about this kid until I want to say 2-3  months before the season actually began. I was told by my sister and cousin who go to CN that there’s this freshman that’s said to be really good. Well, I was thinking “He can definitely help this team”. However, much like I thought of Syd and Meleah, I got roasted…..by my sister……again (note she don’t even like sports). From day 1, Connor just has this presence about him that stands out from everybody, it has made an immediate impact on the CN program, and no I am not saying this because I have announced games for them. Everybody that has seen him play knows he’s one of very few guys in this conference and the area that has that “it” factor.  He finished as a the highest scoring freshman in Noble County history at 433 (I’m the one that researched this), and he is on pace to potentially threaten Sydney Freeman for the school’s all-time scoring mark. Connor is an exceptional shooter that is quite disciplined considering he’s a freshman, an outstanding rebounder for being a 6’2 guard, very composed for being a freshman, and he fights for every possession that he is on the floor. What makes it better, this guy focuses on the results as a team over his personal stats.  He has plenty of room to grow because I know he will be working hard to address his areas of improvement and next year will be another fun year for the Cougars with the talent coming back.

 

 

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2. Elijah Hales Senior Guard Westview

Again, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It seems that every single member of the family has done wonders for Westview over the last 7-8 years in the high school level. His father Ross, former WN basketball coach and a current coach on the Westview boys basketball team, was the first big-game player of the family as far as I know who is still the all time leading scorer at Elkhart Memorial and played briefly at IU (that’s nothing to snooze on). His older sister, Grace, heck, no big deal. All she did was becoming Westview’s all time leading scorer in basketball and led both the volleyball and girls basketball teams to a sectional in all 4 years of her high school career. Right now, she is making the college game look easy at Valparaiso. Yet, why in the lord’s name have I not heard a squeak about this man getting an offer? Either he is doing an outstanding job of hiding that info from the public or scouts are sleeping on him. If there’s a scout out there, I would consider reading this and take notes.  He is indeed the best all-around guard in the conference that makes the smartest decisions, reads plays exceptionally well, very solid on defense, very self-less with the ball, and most importantly, he finds ways for his team to win. He has that notion of going out in this business like manner and just plays ball. There’s a reason that every time a Hales kid is playing a sport, I always keep saying “crap!” because I know what they’re capable of. There are certain players that most people can admit when they’re at their best, opposing teams know it’s probably going to be a long day/night, and that’s a compliment I hope he realizes. Right now, Elijah is 6th in Westview history and 10th in LaGrange County in all-time scoring regardless of gender at 1,504. He only needs 7 to surpass Westview grad Tiffany Fisher and he’s only 24 points from 2018 Lakeland grad Cameron Bontrager.

 

1. Charlie Yoder Junior Guard Westview

This dude has ice in his veins. I know there seemed to have been like a thousand Yoders that have done wonders for Westview and there are 4 Yoders in the LaGrange County’s top career scorers, that includes this guy. Outside of the exceptionally gifted and all time greats that I have seen or heard like Deshaun Thomas, sophomore Luke Brown, Romeo Langford, and Damon Bailey among the few all time greats from the boys side, Charlie Yoder is admittedly one of the greatest pure shooters I have ever seen and it’s not close. That speaks volumes to how much he has accomplished. The coach’s son can have a “off game” and still score 20+ points and a couple triples. He’s averaging 23.1 points a game for a total of 670 points in one season. Ladies and gentlemen, only 1972 grad Gary Yoder has scored more in a year with 683. He’s ONLY A JUNIOR! He is not only an incredible shooter, but he is so smart in every facet of the game, he rebounds really well, he plays equally great defense, and more than anything else, this kid works his ass off. You can see from pictures like this one that he really loves this game. Ladies and gentlemen, he has already contributed 1,419 points for 13th in county history. He is on pace to not only threat 2015 Prairie Heights grad and current Trine baseball player Jacob Heller (1,775) for the title of LaGrange County’s all-time scoring mark, but to shatter it. Plus, there is a very good chance they can not only win regionals, but to even go to state and possibly win a title. This is complete bonkers! I’m watching one of the all-time greats from my own eyes and he will be back next year.

2019 NECC Softball Preview

Practice just got underway yesterday for all softball teams across the Hoosier State. While Hoosier Hysteria is still alive and well, it’s never too early to start previewing the spring sports season. First, I start with the 2019 NECC softball season to see where I think your team will finish. Remember, that this is completely subjective and I’m not expecting to get these predictions right. It should be a very competitive season of softball where I think up to 5-6 teams have a real shot at the NECC title and even the tourney title. Hope you enjoy this read and good luck to the 11-12 schools on your seasons!

 

 

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1st Place: Central Noble Cougars

Central Noble enters this season as the 2-time reigning NECC regular season champions, and out of the 11 teams in the NECC, they’re one of few teams that has the biggest return from last season.  They return one of the conference’s best pitching duos in junior Madisen Bremer (13-1 1.43 ERA 92 K) and sophomore Jennica Berkes (4-3 2.80 ERA 48 K).

What also made them a threat is being one of the conference’s deepest rosters with one of the best team batting averages, one of the 2 fastest teams, and one of the better fielding teams in the area. Junior Sam Brumbaugh, who is coming off of her school’s memorable winter season on the basketball court, was second in hitting at .383, runs with 33, 16 walks, and 21 stolen bases. What makes her one of the team’s most important players is not only her defense or her hitting, but it’s also her versatility on the field where she can play just about anywhere on the field except pitching and catching.

Junior 2nd baseman Jocelyn Winnebrenner (who also was on the basketball team this season) had a breakout season last season after only playing 11 games her freshman season due to a back injury. Winnebrenner last season finished 2nd on the team in average (.370) and tied for 6th in the RBI’s (15). Sophomore Bridgette Gray is coming off of a breakout basketball season solidified the catcher’s position while batting .312 with 16 RBI’s and 11 stolen bases.  Senior 1st baseman Andrea Leonhardt had a breakout season last season with a .342 average and 18 RBI’s.

While Bremer and Berkes knows how to amp up their game on the mound, they can also get it done at the plate. Bremer last season batted .313 with 19 RBI’s while Berkes had  team highs in batting average (.406) and RBI’s (25). This does not include sophomore center fielder Casey Hunter who had a .306 average and 14 walks as well as a deep bench. CN is so well-invested in their bench that they can play senior Kayla Kay in key situations or she is a flawless catcher whenever Bridgette moves to the outfield, and this season expect more new names to step right in which may include sophomore Hayleigh Egolf, junior Shelby McClelland, senior Kristen Weeks, and sophomore Bree Waikel.

The only new faces per position for this season will come in shortstop, right field, and left field as Calista Rice, Mikayla Weber, and Kayla Rice all graduated after last season. Expect senior Breanna Hull to take over at short who could shine in a much bigger role. Berkes will be in the outfield when Bremer pitches, and Leonhardt can play right as well.

This is a team that simply executes the little things well, and if they play the kind of energy and work ethic that best resembles the success of Central Noble Athletics, they’ll for sure be in the hunt for the NECC’s regular season and tourney title. This is a team that barring injuries could find themselves with Bremen battling it out yet again for a sectional title. It’s been 7 years since they last won sectionals.

 

 

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2nd Place: Fairfield Falcons

After making the memorable run to semistate, Fairfield probably feels they have the roster coming back to make another deep playoff run yet again. Last year, Fairfield avenged their NECC tourney title 14-inning loss to Lakeland by beating them in the sectional championship, and they would later make it to semistate by upsetting Bishop Dweneger in the regional title game.

The Lady Falcons return their leading hitter sophomore Mackayla Stutsman who batted .400 and stole 15 bases. They also bring back their leading RBI producers: sophomore Kayla Miller (.299 1 home run 15 runs scored and 16 RBI’s), junior Bobbie Freese (.377 20 runs scored 14 RBI’s 10 stolen bases), junior Sara Shank (.290 13 RBI’s), and junior Chloe Dell (.314 12 RBI’s).

For years, Fairfield’s success has derived through its rotation, and last year’s pitchers contributed a NECC best 1.24 ERA. Sara Shank led the rotation with an impressive 14-0 record with a 0.81 ERA 13 walks and 133 K’s. Much like with CN, Fairfield has been very good on the field with a over 93 fielding percentage. The roster that went through a 19-8 2018 season only have to replace starting center fielder Julia Brown and 2nd baseman Natalie Garber. Expect this Falcons team to be deep yet again and that is why they may have the best shot at ending CN’s 2-time conference title defense, and will be in the hunt for the NECC tourney title and sectional/regional yet again.

 

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3rd Place: Lakeland Lakers

I have bad news if you’re not a Lakeland fan. They’re not going away any time soon. They only lose one player from last season Grace Arend who was an important role player for them, but the main core of this group is back with a full year under their belt and most of them are only sophomores that went 14-12-1 last season.

This is a Lakers team that while it showed some of that inexperience with an up and down season hitting and fielding wise, they showed some pop with 6 solo shots, 66 stolen bases, and 11 double plays. The team’s heart and soul in the mound starts and ends with senior Elise Edwards who last year led the entire state in strikeouts with 204 while posting a 10-7 record and 2.38 ERA. One of the best hitters in the state (can I say country) comes from infielder Keirstin Roose who batted a ridiculous .615 with 4 bombs, 31 runs, 31 RBI’s, and 21 stolen bases. Junior Kylee Palmer batted .423 with 28 runs scored, senior catcher Makayla Mast has been excellent behind the plate and last season was one of the team’s top RBI producers with 13, sophomore Hannah Harris batted .304 with 15 runs scored and 11 stolen bases. Bailey Hartsough who has had a very good volleyball and basketball season batted .316 with 2 home runs 12 RBI’s and has made 6 appearances as pitcher.

Much like with Bremer and Berkes of CN, Edwards has also contributed from the plate batting .376 with 4 home runs and a team-leading 33 RBI’s. As for the other Lakers that struggled last season, they get a full year or two under their belt, and I expect improvement from them in 2019. If they can take that next step, the Lakers could be in full contention in the NECC and sectionals. It’ll be a great battle with them Fremont Garrett Fairfield Angola and CN. It’s been 7 years since they last won sectionals.

 

4th Place: Angola Hornets

There’s still plenty of excitement for the Angola Lady Hornets as they return 98% of the roster that went 15-10 and 7-3 in conference despite coming up just short in the sectional title game vs Bishop Dwenger. However, the one player they did lose to graduation was current Saint Francis outfielder Regan Peppler who like every single Peppler sibling that went through this program it seems batted .533 with 34 runs scored 3 home runs 23 RBI’s and 24 stolen bases.

That’s some pretty big shoes to fill from one player, but the pieces they do have back will help continue being a pretty solid hitting group. Let me tell you that Angola has a lot of weapons that can create havoc on opposing pitchers if they give them any cookie pitches cuz they can still hit and score at will. The biggest name they will bring back is the University of DePauw (OH) commit senior  Emma Konrad who batted .422 with 21 runs scored 2 home runs and 30 RBI’s all while posting a 4-5 record with a 5.50 ERA and 26 K’s. Senior Reace Peppler still has some pep to her step as she batted .333 with 2 home runs 13 RBI’s and 19 runs scored, and she will be a big part of this Angola lineup this season. Senior Jayden DeGraw batted .403 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI’s and junior Amanda Cope batted .313 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI’s. The rest of a class of 6 seniors Kiaja Bledsoe, Novalea Boots and Alyssa Hernandez will provide additional senior leadership, contributions to a very fundamentally sounded team on the field, and depth in the batting lineup. Junior Janna Schwartzengraber (try saying that name 10-15 times) posted a pretty good season going 10-3 with a 3.67 ERA with 68 K’s and 34 walks allowed.

While this team could easily be higher than 4th in the conference, how much their rotation improves along with the team being a bit more consistent with finishing off games will determine whether or not they can win the NECC regular season and even tournament title. The sectional will once again come down to them and Bishop Dwenger like it seems to have always been. But, Angola is having a historic year in all of their sports and their recent success vs SAC schools could potentially give Angola confidence to compete for the first sectional since 2003.

 But, I must warn everybody else because I know Angola all too well. Beware of the Stingy Hornets! They can fly like a beaver and sting like a bee. They’ll be hungry for a bounce back season, and I’m sure they were disappointed about the missed opportunities of not winning sectionals or the NECC. To them, going 15-10 and not finishing even 3rd in conference is inexcusable. I think they’ll be ready to play because I fear they might prove me wrong due to their work ethic.

5th Place: Fremont Eagles

Coming off of a program record 26-6 and a regional title, Fremont will look to build off of this wave of momentum they’ve been having to this season. It’s very possible that could happen again, but they’ll have a better chance to go deep in the state tournament than winning the NECC. While CN, Fairfield, Lakeland, Angola, and even Garrett brought almost everyone back, Fremont was hit fairly hard with graduation with all-time leading home run hitter and 2nd baseman Tory Foster, 3rd baseman Bailey Weidenhamer, catcher Gabrielle Saltzgaber, and center fielder Cara Eichler all moved on to college or transitioning to adulthood.

The good news is that they were so deep the past couple seasons that they will still bring back quite a bit of experience from that 2018 group. Senior Jaden Cardoso batted .371 with 25 runs scored and 13 RBI’s, junior Maddie Beeman batted .389 with 2 home runs 40 runs scored 12 steals and 36 RBI’s, junior Riley Clausen batted .302 with 20 runs scored and 18 RBI’s, junior Mackayla Guthrie batted .354 with 19 RBI’s , and junior Makyala Connolly batted .315 with a home run and 16 RBI’s. And that’s just the main players of a deep roster.

Their rotation last season composed a 2.26 ERA and 226 K’s. Senior Autumn Godwin returns to the program after recording a 16-5 record with a 1.75 ERA and 163 K’s. Expect the pitching to continue to be solid once again. This is a team that completed 9 double plays and fielded an impressive .963. While a few big pieces are no longer there, this team is still deep enough to be a threat in conference this season.

 

 

6th place: Garrett Railroaders

After a couple down seasons where the powerhouse softball program went a combined 18-28 and 9-10 in conference, Garrett had a turnaround season under head coach Jason Richards going 11-11 and 5-5 in conference. Entering this season, Garrett brings back 4 seniors, 5 juniors, and a few underclassmen to the roster. So, you’re talking about a team that has plenty of varsity experience just from the last season alone.

Junior Kierra Richards led the roster in batting average at .391 with 6 RBI’s and 6 steals, senior Camden Bodey batted .313 with a team leading 9 RBI’s, senior Brianna Kauffman batted .341 with a home run and 8 RBI’s, and then you have the rest of the roster that contribute their roles well despite some of the struggles.

They didn’t score a bunch of runs, but they did fairly well in fielding the ball, and their pitching performed well at a 3.69 ERA. .Their number one from last season Chloe Hinkie graduated, so most likely we will see more innings from senior Brooklyn Runion who went 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 20 K’s. She could breakout on the mound this season. This is a team that had to play by committee to earn their 11 wins, and that will probably have to continue for them to stay in the mix in NECC play and compete in sectionals.

 

SOFTBALL: Falcons put a dent in Westview's NECC title hopes

7th Place: Westview Warriors

Westview enters this season with the assumption that they’re still planning on being in the NECC title hunt once again. Despite a decent regression from the 2017 season, Westview still posted a respectable 9-9 record and 5-5 in conference.

The 2019 Lady Warriors still brings in a decent amount of experience and leadership from the previous year, but the team lost a good chunk of their offensive production that made Westview a contender with the graduation of Adrianna Wilson, Hayley Courtney,  and Megan Schrock who led the Westview attack. However, the Lady Warriors still have some decent talent to like for 2019 with senior Tori Antal (.400 average 15 RBI’s), senior Shelbi Smith (.306 average 13 RBI’s), junior Allie Hillman (.303 average 7 RBI’s), sophomore Addie Bender (.395 average 17 RBI’s), and sophomore Kelsey Rich (.324 average 11 RBI’s).

Westview had a pretty decent year in terms of fielding at just over 90%, but their young rotation did went through some adversity last season posting a 4.55 ERA. Junior Zoe Williams posted a 7-6 record with a 4.74 ERA with 63 K’s, but she struggled at times of walking batters as she allowed 67 batters to reach on base via base on balls. Expect junior Chelsea Weaver to get more innings as the team’s number 2 pitcher. If Westview’s pitching can improve and cut down the number of walks they had from last season (96), this team can still be competitive in conference and possibly in sectionals.

 

 

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8th Place: Churubusco Eagles

The Lady Eagles last season didn’t quite have the magical season the 2017 team had that led them to the program’s first ever NECC tourney title. But, entering 2019, Busco still returns a decent group that is still quite young.

The biggest name coming back to the program is the senior Abigail Erwin who just signed her letter of intent to play this sport collegiately at the powerhouse program in the University of Saint Francis. Erwin posted some very impressive numbers batting .534 with 6 home runs and 42 RBI’s from the program’s all time leading slugger. Senior Breanna Baughman batted .409 with a home run 11 steals and 9 RBI’s, sophomore Mariah Hosted batted .385 with 8 RBI’s and a team-leading 12 steals, junior Madison Simmons batted .333 with 19 RBI’s, and junior Darian Manth batted .290 with a home run and 8 RBI’s. Busco still has a decent core of leaders like Erwin, Brooke Nondorf along with young talent like freshman Alex Leazier, sophomore Amanda Erwin, Rylee Crooks, and Jaylynn Baughman.

Busco as a team fielded well at .932, but for Busco to surprise everyone in NECC contention, their pitching has to bounce back from 2018. Last season, their inexperience showed as they posted a 5.31 ERA as a team. Sophomore Kara Williams struggled at times her freshman season posting a 6-8 record with a 4.81 ERA with 30 K’s and 29 walks allowed. If she can make progress and gain confidence along the way, that will only help Busco start to make progress. You look at this team, this isn’t a bad group at all. It’s a team that’s still young and still learning while trying to bounce back from a 11-17 season and 2-8 in conference.

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9th Place: Eastside Blazers

There’s no place to go but up for the Eastside Lady Blazers. Once a consistent powerhouse program on the softball diamond traveled in unfamiliar trenches in 2018 as they posted arguably their worst season ever at 2-16 with their lone conference win coming in a major upset win over a 26-win Fremont team at Notre Dame early in that season. However, despite the lack of success, the Blazers showed a ton of fight especially towards the end of the regular season going neck and neck with CN.

Eastside was probably the youngest team in the NECC last season, and in 2019, they return everybody but 2 players from that team. Junior Kensie Rieke led the team in batting average at .364 with about 6 RBI’s,  senior Brittany Salinas batted just south of .300 with a few RBI’s and led the team in stolen bases, and senior Shyann McKinley batted .342 with about 10-12 RBI’s. This is a team that struggled to score as you would expect for a team that had 4 freshman on the roster, but maybe they didn’t get enough credit for the amount of heart they played that season. Despite fielding just under 87%, this team did quite well of making strides and improving as the season progressed, and a couple of their players did exceptionally well in that department. For a team that was very young, pitching was once again a strength for the Lady Blazers as they posted a 3.71 ERA with close to 40 K’s and just under 30 walks. Senior Jahnna Weaver held her course well with a 4.05 ERA wih 20 K’s despite the 20 walks, and Rieke can pitch as well with a 2.82 ERA and 13 K’s.

No, this isn’t exactly the same Lady Blazers softball program that current baseball coach Aaron Willard during his softball stint led them to a 1998 state title, numerous conference and sectional titles, and over 500 wins, but this team could very well be moving in the right direction. I still think they’re in a rebuild, but I expect them to bounce back this season.

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10th Place: West Noble Chargers

West Noble will look to change its image and find their way to start finding consistent success. It’s been a while since this program has been competitive let alone winning games. Last season, they posted a disappointing 3-17 record with their lone conference win coming against a young Eastside team. West Noble had moments where games went ugly, and then there were other games that they were competitive.

West Noble should return a bunch of seniors, 6 to be exact, along with some juniors and sophomores. Sophomore Tori Franklin batted .321 with 7 RBI’s while posting a 0-5 record with a ERA over 8. Senior Kourtnie Jones batted .300 with 12 RBI’s, sophomore Kacee Click batted .357 with 11 RBI’s while posting a 3-7 record and a 3.91 ERA (which is impressive considering the season they had).

This is a team that did ok on the offensive end, but their biggest problems from last season came with a .857 fielding percentage and a 5.02 ERA. I do think having a ton of seniors should help them make progress, and some of their youth is pretty good when they are in the zone and fully confident. This is a wild card prediction  because it will depend on how these pieces gel this season. If they play well enough, they can be as high as 7th possibly 6th in conference. But, I need to see progress from this team before I look at them as a team on the rise and they have some potential to surprise people.

 

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11th Place: Prairie Heights Panthers

Much like with West Noble, this team has been pretty bad in all 5 seasons that I have followed NECC softball. The frustrating thing about this is that quite a few of their games last season were pretty darn close of winning those games and actually won 3 games in conference. But, they couldn’t get it done on a consistent basis. Heights lost quite a few seniors from last year, so based on the roster they had last season, I’m expecting a younger roster entering the 2019 season.

A few players to keep an eye on are Trelynn Tschannan, and junior Maddie Harmes who were key contributors on last year’s team. For this team to make progress in 2019, pitching will need to improve as that was a problem that costed them a few more than 5 wins last year. Expect some growing pains this season, but with a experienced coaching staff along with a decent group of young talent especially from a pretty successful JV team, they could progress faster than expected. Crazy thing is that it’s been over a decade since they went 17-5 and finished 2nd in conference.

 

Bonus Preview: Hamilton Marines?

This will depend on if they can even field a softball team. The last 3-4 years have proven to be very difficult for the school to get a full roster consistently due to declining enrollment. So, once again in 2019, we could see the same results as it has been for most of those 4 years. However, they somehow were able to field the minimum number of players to play a couple games during the final 2 weeks of the 2018 season.  With some players like Tori Creeger who have been fully committed to try to keep programs from cancelling their seasons, perhaps there could be a chance we could see them field a team. But, volleyball and girls basketball spent most of their seasons playing just JV games against NECC competition. Could we see that again if they can field a team? Maybe. It will be a major win for Hamilton if they can field a team this season and that’s bigger than just the wins and losses.

Epilogue: The Future of CN Lady Cougars Basketball

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Now that the 2018-19 season has come to an end, it also means the end of an era in Albion as Syd and Meleah will transition to the college level. Syd heads off to Ball State and Meleah will go to Saint Francis and both will ball at their respective campuses.

But, going back to CN. How’s is it going to look you say? They won’t be terrible at least I don’t see it. Well, it’s obvious you cannot replace Syd and Meleah, but they shouldn’t lose really anybody after them and Anna Stayner. You should have a roster that returns 3 incoming seniors, 4 juniors, a few sophomores, and a pretty big freshman class.

I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past on how much I praise Sam Brumbaugh especially on the defensive end. Well, now she’ll have a much larger role on the team and we could see a breakout year on the offensive end, but when healthy she has been coming up big. Bridgette Gray is another one to keep a close eye on as she has continued to improve every game, and if she can stay healthy and continue to get better I could see that trend continue into her junior year. It’ll be interesting to see how she transitions from being the 3rd option to now being possibly one of the faces of the program for the next 2 seasons.

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I’ve mentioned about Lydia Andrews a couple times and she should continue to have a strong year on the defensive end with maybe slight improvement offensively. Jocelyn Winnebrenner who has spent most of her career playing on a smaller role will have a bigger role next season as a incoming senior and she is capable of being a decent 2-way guard with more minutes. Adrienne Mast who most people don’t hear about. She’s a decent player that’s about 5’10 to 5’11 forward, plays solid defense, and if she can get back in shape this offseason without the nasty injury bug that has plagued her, I can see Adrienne make huge strides that could help them fill some of that void. Shelby McClelland who’s a decent player herself could find herself off the bench, but she’s got some scoring upside and can let it fly from the perimeter. Casey Hunter could wind up becoming another Lydia Andrews who is small but I’ll tell ya she is quite pesky and has a lot of her brother’s defensive grit that he brought for the 2017 sectional champs for the boys.

Could we see incoming sophomore Dalila Geiger in the varsity lineup next season? Possibly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts off in JV. She is a nice role player that can score a little and plays real good defense. Same can be said for Ashleigh Gray, but she has some potential in the distant future.

Finally, you have the freshman class, who I’ve heard could make some noise next season. I’ll tell you for my name is Sam Frick we will see at least one if not two or even three freshman playing a big role on the varsity lineup. I can see one of them definitely starting, and that’s I want to say 5’10 incoming freshman Meghan Kiebel.

Kiebel (number 12 above) is a three-sport athlete that has been heavily involved in volleyball and basketball during the season, Team Pineapple volleyball, and on Always 100. From glimpses, she has potential to be really good, don’t know about Syd and Meleah good but definitely a potential star in the making.

Madi Vice who is another multi-sport athlete who can be a pretty solid point guard.

Then there’s Kyndal Pease also a multi-sport athlete and one I unfortunately don’t know anything about as of now, but I’ve heard some good things and it would make sense since her brother was a pretty good baseball player. There could be others to, but that’s the 3 I’ve heard the most about.

Having Coach Treesh potentially back for his 6th season would be huge since he has been the guy that has lay down the foundation of what they pride for most: TEAMWORK AND DEFENSE. But, with a team that will be smaller and obviously less talented than the past 4 teams along with them moving up to a 3A sectional via success factor, CN will have to build from the depth they have and be a much deeper team for the next couple seasons and it has that potential kind of like an Angola or a West Noble.

Defense now becomes bigger than ever, health becomes crucial as it always is, playing an all around team game becomes one of greater emphasis, and competition will be tougher for them especially with potential sectional rivals like WN, Northwood, Lakeland, or even Angola depending on the reclassifications of sectionals that will be unveiled sometime this spring. Though they could go through some adversity, I think this team can still win 9-10 maybe even 13 games plus if things go well. So, yeah I don’t expect this team to be a cellar dweller. They just won’t be that 27-0 team like they were this season, but the future is very bright. Can’t wait for next season.

My Story on Central Noble’s Run to Girls Basketball Excellence (Part 8)

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Chapter 8 The Perfect Regular Season 

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since the 2018-19 Central Noble Lady Cougars’ Basketball season ended in a 53-36 loss to Oak Hill that snapped their 36-game winning streak, and ended their state title defense. Since I knew many of the Cougar fans, players, and coaches were disappointed by the outcome of that game, I wanted to wait a couple weeks until things started to cool off a little to start writing this chapter.. this past season was by far the busiest year for me ever as I announced a total of 20 Boys and girls basketball games that includes sectionals and NECC tourney. But, despite that one loss, the Lady Cougars arguably had their best season ever for any sports team in Albion. Now, it is time to look back at this historic run this program had that cemented the legacies of Syd and Meleah, as well as the entire program’s legacy of excellence in general.

The setting now takes place nearly 8 months after the school claimed its first state title in dramatic fashion over Winchester, practice just got underway for all Indiana girls basketball teams, and I’m getting ready to start shooting a college project for one of my COMM classes and interviewing the players and coaches that are back for the season about the state championship run. Over the next 2 days, I came to their practice with a script, a SONY video camera, tripod, and a lavalier mic to get things rolling.

Most of the main core players from this year’s team had just ended their volleyball season where they lost in a tough 5 sets to the eventual sectional champs, Prairie Heights, and Coach Treesh decided they should get some time off from volleyball season. Thankfully for me, Coach Andrews, the JV coach, did a marvelous job of keeping me contacted, help me get everything arranged, and some of those kids that just got out of volleyball were willing to do their interviews on the first day of practice before they went home. So, now we are discussiong the season we’ve all just completed, and obviously it was without question the greatest season in the history of Central Noble Athletics for any sport.

Prior to the season opener, I actually attended the annual scrimmage with East Noble and had a chance to watch them for most of that day, and I knew that the team was poised and determined to try to repeat as state champs.

The 2018-19 season for Central Noble began Nov. 3, 2018. I’m calling the home opener vs SAC foe Bishop Luers that still had Lydia Reimbold as well as role players like the Gray sisters. But, luckily for the then reigning state champs, Luers started the season with a couple significant players out of the lineup via injury.  It was certain that the injuries along with rust had a drastic impact on the game itself. But, even that, the Lady Cougars started their season the way they finished 2017-18 and that was playing with the energy and poise that led them to a championship run. First quarter was all Central Noble who led 14-4 after 1, and Luers was apparently overwhelmed by CN’s tenacious defensive pressure.

If you was at the game, you would know that Luers started to find confidence in the 2nd where a 10-0 by Luers tied the game at 14. If you have ever followed this team, you knew what was coming. Luers who had already got bit for leaving Syd wide open from downtown in the first, left her wide open from the volleyball line to give her team the lead. Thanks in part to great defense, Syd would do this no once, but two more times and by then The Jungle exploded with emotion. I don’t think Luers ever recovered after that despite a 21-point effort by Reimbold. Syd Meleah and Bridgette combined for 43 of the team’s 50 points along with 31 team boards and 7 blocks as CN won 50-35.

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Then came the Whitko game 3 nights later where Syd who had already became the program’s all time leading scorer would make history yet again. In route of a 80-31 dominating win, Sydney Freeman broke 2 records: 1. She obviously became the school’s all-time leading scorer and 2. She scored the most points (38) nd 3’s in a game (9).

A young Prairie Heights team invaded the Jungle Nov. 10. I arrived at the game not to announce the game, but rather finish up on a big college project where I’m shooting that particular game for B-roll. As you might expect, the Lady Cougars showed they were the best team in the area and one of the best in the state with a dominant 69-19 win. Syd had 27, Meleah had 21 points 13 boards, and Lydia Andrews played well that night with 10 points of her own.

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The stage is now set for Nov. 24 @ the New Castle Fieldhouse, where the Cougars faced the then number 1 team in 2A the Triton Central Lady Tigers. Again, CN got off to a great start and led 17-8 after one, but with TC being as good as they were they fought back to make it interesting. But, thanks to great defense and making timely baskets, CN held on to beat a quality Triton Central team 51-45.

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Ah yes! It was Angola yet again that set up a Nov. 30 NECC match at the Hive where the 2 stingest defensive teams in the conference squared off. But, it was a critical 1st quarter by CN and thanks to a dominant 1st by Meleah, it put CN up 20-8 after 1 and applying pressure on a very solid Angola team. That quarter would be huge because CN would fail to score a single field goal until Sydney Freeman’s clutch 3 at the buzzer extended their lead to 23-16 at the break and was probably the one that decided the game from there. Angola kept Meleah in check for the majority of the remaining 3 quarters. But, they were unable to stop her Syd and Bridgette who both had 23 crucial points, and that Cougar defense weathered through a buzzing Angola attack. CN held on to win 43-32. Remember this Angola team, they’ll be mentioned a few more times.

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Then, we fast forward to Dec. 14. CN dominated both Lakewood Park and Westview, and they await a strong West Noble team in a critical NECC match at a jammed pack jungle on Military Appreciation Night. Home bleachers were nothing but a sea of burgundy and the visitors wore the usual red and blue for WN. The first half was all CN who had a 15-point lead at the break despite an unusually off night for Sydney Freeman who had the flu. Depth became crucial for CN especially in the second half. Jocelyn Winnerbrenner hit a critical buzzer-beating 3 to end the half, Anna Stayner had 5 that night, Meleah Leatherman had 12 points and 10 boards, and Brdigette Gray made a crucial basket late in the 4th when the Chargers were making a valiant comeback on her way to 13 points and 11 boards. Despite being outscored 25-17, CN held on yet again to win 41-34 in front of a ruckus crowd. Remember West Noble as well as they’ll be mentioned a few more times.

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4 nights later, CN welcomes a new opponent in NLC foe Goshen and their relentless defense. Once again, the 1st quarter was all CN as they led 13-5 after 1. But, knowing that their coach Shaun Hill had faced this CN team numerous times when he was at Bremen made the proper adjustements and it changed the tides from there. Goshen made it clear that they were not going to let the Cougars toy around them and made them earn their baskets. Brynn Shoup-Hill wowed me on how amazing of a 2-way center she became who made life so miserable for the Cougars blocking a ridiciculous 9 shots. I can sensed that messed up the 2A’s top dog’s rhythm and a buzzer beating 3 by Regan Mast gave Goshen life with CN only leading 19-11. That lead was cut to 28-25 entering the 4. It wads clear that it would take some pure guts to get out of this game with the W. While the rest of the team outside of Syd and Meleah only made 9 points in the game, boy they needed every last basket to hang on and beat the Lady RedHawks 37-33.

Those last 2 games were ones they desperately needed as they finished the 2018 calendar year dominating Wawasee and Bremen.

So, the Lady Cougars entered the NECC tournament drawing a 2nd round home game vs Westview and they were coming off a less than satisfying performance @ Garrett despite the win. Again, the Lady Cougars started off strong up 30-16 at the half. Now came a Westview rally where Westview had cut it to single digits on a couple occurrences thanks to a stong effort by Ashya Klopfenstein and some big baskets from Jensen Reynolds that kept them close. But, as the narrative goes, CN held on to win 50-40.

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The next night, they hosted West Noble yet again, and I knew if there was a night an opponent had a shot of a massive upset, it would have had to been West Noble. For the first time that season, CN had a rough 1st quarter and trailed 11-7. But, CN responded the 2nd and from there it was back and forth the rest of the game. Tied at I believe it was 38 all, Sydney Freeman stole the pass race down the court and made a huge basket to give her team the lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Free throws were huge down the stretch. WN keeps making buckets to keep it close. I felt like I had to get this crowd going beyond just Dennis being Dennis. So, I played some classic 80s songs with Rocky Balboa, The Final Countdown, and of course (Welcome to the Jungle). That along with the typical CN atmosphere for a girl’s game was so electrifying that I thought the roof was going to fall off. That’s how loud the fans were that night. Anyway, CN held on to win 49-45.

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That surge carried them into the championship game the next night, and even though Angola did the best they could, I felt CN was not going to be denied of this NECC title. I can just sensed they were hungry to want that title back and it paid off with Meleah leading the way with 21 and CN winning 43-32 to claim their 3rd conference tourney title in 4 years.

So, the Lady Cougars reached the final stretch of the regular season with the finale coming Jan. 25 vs rival Churubusco. The Jungle had just witnessed an epic battle form the boys’ game with CN edging off the Eagles 55-53 in front of a rumbustious crowd that might have been the loudest the Jungle had ever been in my time as the announcer there. The girl’s game wasn’t quite as exciting as the boys game, but it was nice to honor the seniors, induct the newest school hall of famers, and seeing Meleah record her 1,000th career rebound on her first defensive stance of the game in route of a 70-18 Cougar win.

Sectionals week was a historic one for the NECC as 4 conference schools claimed a sectional title in the same season. Obviously, you had the Lady Cougars who stormed their way to a school-record 3rd straight sectional title

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West Noble who had not won a sectional in 30 years at the time beat a tough Northwood team and beat Tippy Valley on a late field goal by Madison Schermerhorn with 7 seconds left, Fremont won a sectional on their home court and the Angola Lady Hornets who had given fits on CN time and time again finally got the monkey off their back with the sectional-clinching win over the host Concordia thanks to a 21-4 4th quarter (first sectional title in 16 years at the time).

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A week later, lots of exciting basketball was played in regionals. At Caston, Fremont got to the title game only to lose the 2-time reigning state champs Marquette Catholic. At Columbia City, Angola and Marion traded buckets in that title game, but it was Marion that ended Angola’s magical season. However, the NECC was alive and well for another week as CN hung on to defeat a stingy North Judson team 43-37 to claim their 3rd straight regional.

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However,  the number 1 team in the state and undefeated through 36 straight games had its historic season come to an end at Logansport as Oak Hill’s defense along with some uncharacteristic turnovers and sloppy play ended a season that won’t be defined from just one L.

 

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It was that night that ended an era of greatness that this community may not see this kind of greatness again. A team that risen from decades of turmoil, bad luck, inconsistent play, and heartache. This was a team that had won just 6 playoff games total before the 2017 playoffs and never won a conference regular season title. The senior core of Syd, Meleah, and Anna Stayner went 95-16 in the regular season and 16-3 in the playoffs. It went from a program that never won a sectional to 3 straight sectional and regional titles, and being crowned the 2018 2A State champions along with 3 NECC tourney titles and one regular season crown. Sydney Freeman finished as the 3rd highest scoring player in Noble County history and second for a female basketball player. Meleah winded up finishing just behind Syd at 4th. If that’s not enough to say “Holy Toledo! What a great ride that was.”, I don’t know what will. It obviously took great talent, but it took a total team effort to reach those goals, and that’s pure Indiana. The link below will talk about the future of CN Girls Basketball moving forward.

Future of CN Lady Cougars Basketball

The Ultimate IHSAA Boys Basketball Sectional Preview

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Now that the 2018-19 season has come to an end, now it’s time to experience Hoosier Hysteria at its finest in the 109th State Tournament. Please note that my picks are completely subjective, so please don’t take this to offense. Besides, I’m not expected to be right every time and with this tournament being as historic and crazy as it has been, my picks are in major jeopardy. So, here goes.

 

1A 52 @ Fremont

 

Sectional Titles

FW Blackhawk 11 defending sectional champs

Fremont 5 (2005)

Hamilton 4 (2001)

Elkhart Christian 1 defending sectional champs

Lakewood Park 1 (2017)

 

 

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FW Smith Academy (3-19) vs Fremont (6-16)

If there’s one thing Fremont accomplished in this year’s sectional is that not only they avoided Lakewood Park and Blackhawk Christian in the first two rounds, but they play the worst team in the sectional, and potentially a winnable game in the second round. Difference between the two teams: 1. Tanner Behnfeldt and his teammates are decently good athletes, 2. Smith plays almost ZERO defense and 3. It’s Fremont’s barn: The CAGE where the fans get loud in a unique, enclosed basketball setting. Just like what that crew from Fremont sports dot com would say, “Nothing But Net”.

Prediction: 71-43 Fremont 

 

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Lakewood Park (7-15) vs Hamilton (4-17)

Winner gets to meet the alpha dogs known as Caleb Furst and Frankie Davidson. Hamilton enters this sectional with the most wins in 2 seasons despite having yet another down season. But, they get to redeem themselves against a Lakewood Park team that has been young and have struggled to transition with new head coach Steve Oberlin.

One things for certain, both teams can score buckets, but both teams have struggled to stop buckets from going into their own nets. Part of the Panthers’ problem is the fact they’re playing a lot of young players that aren’t accustomed to playing significant varsity minutes. As for Hamilton, they’re not only small but they have been plagued with turnovers and bad defensive play. Stanojcic and Merritt along with a decent group led by Dustin Cool could make things interesting especially since this is the most talented team they’ve had in a while, but if they’re going to beat a Panthers team that has Caedmon Bontrager as a freshman, Caleb Kruse, Josh Pike, and Dylan Miller, they can not afford getting caught in this trap of who can make the most baskets. Hamilton has got to be better defensively if they’re going to have a shot at their first sectional win in 4 years. Lakewood Park is 4-2 all-time in the playoffs vs Hamilton.

Prediction: 68-62 Lakewood Park

 

 

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1A #1 FW Blackhawk (21-2) vs Lakeland Christian (10-13)

Hey, nice season for Lakeland Christian. But, here’s the problem, they don’t play anybody that can test the superteam known as the Blackhawk Christian Braves. So, unfortunately, Lakeland Christian is the FURST (get it? No? You’re not fun) team to face the wrath of  1A’s top dog. I think it’s time for Fremont to start rehearsing that trophy presentation speech.

Prediction: 98-34 Blackhawk 

 

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Bethany Christian (3-19) vs Fremont 

You know what’s better than drawing the worst team in sectionals? Potentially getting to play the 2nd worst team there. Fremont fans definitely want to cheer their team for one more night.

Prediction: 71-36 Fremont  

 

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Lakewood Park vs 1A #1 Blackhawk 

Congratulations, Lakewood Park, now it’s time to meet that team that dropped a school-record 114 on you. I know life’s not fair..

Prediction: 91-47 Blackhawk 

 

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Fremont vs 1A #1 Blackhawk 

Congratulations Fremont, you most likely get to play in the sectional finals even though you probably have no chance to beat a team that shouldn’t even be in 1A. Dang. That’s just cruel, man. But, hey, at least you could feel proud that you’re going to fight to the bitter end even if Blackhawk has a couple guys that are almost a foot taller than you. And just to not make it sound like I have zero emotion whatsoever. Blackhawk has way too many weapons for half of 1A to compete with because Caleb Furst (19.4 point 10.6 boards) is awesome and will go to the Big 10, Frankie Davidson (22.3 points 10.8 boards) is probably going to the Big 10, plus his dad is a stud coach, Zane Burke (13.1 points) is playing too well right now, and that entire bench could have probably competed with 80% of the other sectional teams’ starting fives. #MoveBlackhawkTo2A

Prediction: 84-52 Blackhawk 

 

 

Top 1A teams in Northern Indiana

  1.  Blackhawk Christian
  2. Gary 21st Century
  3.  Lafayette Central Catholic
  4.  Argos
  5. Washington Township
  6. Southwood
  7. Morgan Township
  8. North Vermillion
  9. Pioneer
  10. Jac-Cen Del

 

2A 37 @ Oak Hill

 

Sectional Titles

Rochester 33 (2009)

Wabash 26 (1967)

Manchester 11 (1995)

Oak Hill 9 defending sectional champs

Lewis Cass 9 (2014)

North Miami 3 (2011)

 

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Rochester (10-10) vs Manchester (12-10)

With a massive graduation class depleting the reigning state champs, it appears to me that there is some breathing room for someone to finally hoist a trophy in 2019. One of them could come from the Manchester Squires, who are quietly having a solid season led by sophomore Weston Hamby (15 points and 3 assists per game) and senior Brayden Casper (10.1 points and 6.8 boards). As a team, they shoot the ball fairly well at 42%  from the floor, they have made over 100 3’s for about 33%, and they’re pretty solid from the free throw line at just under 70%. But, more than anything else, this is a team that is very humbled on their defense as they amass a reasonable 25 boards and over a block a game.

But, Rochester will be a challenge for the Squires as this Zebras team is also stingy on the defensive end. While this team is probably not as deep or talented quite frankly as their opposition, they shoot fairly well at 46% and makes 33% of their triples despite only making less than 70 in that area. I’m expecting this game to be tight and low scoring for most of this match. Squires won the first playoff meeting 2 years ago 59-36.

Prediction: 44-36 Manchester 

 

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Wabash (18-4) vs North Miami (7-13)

Wabash is a bad matchup for North Miami. Good day.

Prediction: 70-45 Wabash 

 

Cass (5-17) vs Manchester 

Yeah I have nothing to say here. Hopefully, Lewis Cass doesn’t play the game of we’re going to try to spoil Manchester’s run like the girls team almost did.

Prediction: 62-35 Manchester 

 

 

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Oak Hill (10-12) vs Wabash 

Now, here’s an interesting scenario. You have Oak Hill who won state last season, but lost almost everybody from that team, and have struggled all season to stay at .500. Meanwhile, you have a Wabash team that’s having its best season in probably 25+ years at least. Some may argue they could make the deep run to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

This Apaches team is loaded all the way around. Their offense has been humming all season at over 65 a game led by junior Trenton Daughtry (17 points 3.8 assists 4.7 boards and 3.3 steals per game) and 6’5 senior Logan Vander Veldon (10 points 3.5 assists 5.3 boards 3.5 blocks and 2.3 steals a game).  This is a very deep Wabash team that loves the 3-ball making nearly 120 of them despite shooting under 30%, but they have been tremendous on the boards with nearly 33 of them. They also distribute the ball well, and they average over 4 blocks a game, but their biggest area of weakness to this point has been the free throws as the team shoots a pedestrian 62%. The other challenge has been they’ve only been in 6 games where it was decided by 10 or less in which they only went 3-3.

Oak Hill went off to a disastrous 1-7 start, but have since went 9-5. Scoring has been nowhere near where it was last season, but it has been good enough to help the team grind out wins led by senior Konner Cable (12.4 points and 4.2 boards) and junior Tahj Johnson (8.4 points 3.3 boards and 2.2 steals). Like Wabash, they love the 3-ball as they’ve made 94 of them for 33%, but shooting just 56% from the free throw line. Rebounding will be a trial for Oak Hill as they’ve only recorded just under 23 a game, but have facilitated the ball well on the court. The Golden Eagles grit and depth should be able to keep the defending state champs in this mix, but they’re going to need to find a way to shut down this potent Wabash if they want this run to continue. Oak Hill has eliminated Wabash in each of the last 2 years.

Prediction: 57-54 Wabash 

 

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Manchester vs Wabash 

This is probably the most fitting way to decide the sectional: a conference and county rivalry. Clearly these 2 do not like each other and it shows from past games. Manchester hasn’t won a boys sectional in 24 years, while it’s been 52 years since Wabash last claimed a boys basketball sectional. These two have faced each other 7 times in playoff action with Wabash winning 4 of them. Wabash pretty easily won their regular season game vs the Squires, but I don’t see the same result from that game. I think Manchester will step it up defensively because if they were to meet whoever in the title game, they know what’s at stake, especially if it’s none other than Wabash. But, in the end, I think Apache hang on to win their first sectional since 1967.

Prediction: 57-48 Wabash 

 

2A 36 @ Eastside

 

Sectional Titles

Bluffton 31 (2011)

FW Canterbury 6 defending sectional champs

Adams Central 6 (2012)

South Adams 5 (1993)

Eastside 4 (2010)

Churubusco 1 (2017)

 

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Eastside (9-13) vs FW Canterbury (6-13) 

Here you have two teams who are in interesting trends as we head into the 2019 boys basketball state tournament. We can admit both teams have had their struggles for much of this season one way or another, but they seem to be able to weather the storm.

This is a very gritty Eastside team that still has youth and depth with 6,7, or even 8 guys they can rely on to get the job done with the likes of Alex Yoder, Chase Franz, Gabe Trevino, Noah Johnson, and Phoenix Smyth, but I’m honestly still struggling to figure what they really are. Some nights they look like their old selves, and other  nights, in a nice way of saying things, it’s obvious that there are some struggles. From what I saw them a month ago, it seems like they on occasion have went through a couple dry spells, but the Blazers are having a decent year on the offensive end, especially when they move the ball real well. As for the defense, it’s really hard to describe. I watched them play CN, and while CN is undoubtedly an excellent offensive team, I felt like Eastside didn’t play their best defensive game that night much like a couple nights. However, on other nights like the Angola game, they seemed to have been more sharper defensively.

While I still think the Blazers have a shot of a “upset” on the reigning sectional champs, how well they move the ball and their defensive performance could very well be keys to either survive and advance or have their season end early. Now, this is probably the weakest Canterbury team I’ve ever seen, but this is still Canterbury. The Cavs have never been known for having a very good bench, but their starting 5 when they’re at their best is pretty solid with Will Shank, Noah Drapala, and Noah Wolfe. Do NOT assume they’re a bad team based on their record cuz they play most of the teams in Fort Wayne and play a much tougher schedule than most teams in 2A.

Size could potentially be an issue for Eastside as the Cavs have 5 players that are 6’3 and taller, while Eastside only has 5 6-foot players. Both teams definitely love the 3-ball, especially from the Cavs, so this could be a high-scoring game, but for Eastside they cannot let this game turn into a shootout. This will probably be a close game. Canterbury own a 2-1 playoff record vs Eastside.

Prediction: 58-51 Canterbury

 

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South Adams (2-20) vs Churubusco (11-11)

Well, at least South Adams was able to hang on and beat a prep school in Anderson (no not the Anderson Indians. The other team that nobody knows) I don’t expect Churubusco to let this game fall out of their grasps. Onward to round 2 hopefully in convincing fashion if you’re the Eagles.

Prediction: 67-50 Busco 

 

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Adams Central (13-10) vs Canterbury 

This is probably the most likely matchup in this sectional with Adams Central getting the bye. The Jets like pretty much that entire sectional has seen its ups and downs. AC started the season 5-1, but are just 8-9 since.  Kevin Brown became the school’s all-time leading scorer just a few weeks ago in a loss @ Southwood, and while there is some help at AC, I get the perception that it’s basically him caring his team on the offensive end. Now, defensively, this has been (for the most part) a solid team that has helped them grind out wins, especially like the come-from-behind 61-56 win @ Fremont which is not an easy place to win let alone make a comeback and win there.

Now, AC did beat Canterbury 65-50 back on Dec. 8 at the Hanger (also not an easy place to win either), but do keep in mind that AC was 5-1 at that time, and Canterbury was in a midst of 8 losses in a 9-game span. Canterbury has since slightly improved at 3-4. I just have this feeling that the Cavs are going to find a way to win this game, and if AC cannot contain Will Shank or can’t stop the Cavs’ perimeter shooting, then I might be right. I know the USF baseball commit Kevin Brown is darn good at sports, but I see the Cavs advancing.

Prediction: 59-55 Canterbury 

 

 

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Bluffton (7-15) vs Churubusco

Here’s a interesting scenario with the Bluffton-Churubusco matchup. You have two teams where one way or another have faced their fair share of adversity but have improved enter sectionals. Busco has won 4 of their last 6 while Bluffton has posted a 6-7 record since posting a 1-8 start.

The Tigers are a pretty relentless team where they’ve been a team-by-committee led by senior Johnathan Irwin (12.4 points and 2.1 assists). Bluffton has been in a ton of close games as they are 3-7 in games decided by 10 points or less with 4 of those games decided in OT. Busco has had to rely on the 6-7 guys that play the most often, but boy have they been good. Jackson Paul (18.1 points 5.7 assists 5.3 boards and 3.3 steals a game) is one of the most dynamic guards in our area along with great contribution from Mason Garland, Gage Kelly, and obvioulsy Brayton Bonar.

I could potentially see Bluffton’s size in the interior create some problems for Busco, but the way they have performed on defense lately, I like their chances to move on in the title game.

 

Prediction: 59-50 Busco 

 

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Canterbury vs Churubusco 

Let’s be honest. We kind of want this matchup since last year’s sectional, and it would interesting to see how these two teams match up this time around. Obviously, these two teams are no where near deprived when it comes to the talent department, but work ethic you might argue is quite high for both teams. Now, right off the bat you might notice there is a size difference between the two teams as Canterbury is obviously taller in size, but that doesn’t always make the case here. Busco has proved time and time again that as long as they’re healthy and playing hard, they’re going to give every team fits.

With a sectional as weak as this one since it is the state’s fifth weakest sectional, you can make a real argument for really any of them to win that sectional. I went back and forth with this matchup for the past week. Yes, it was a struggle. But, you know what I was impressed enough of Busco’s effort and cohesion that perhaps they might play well enough to win another sectional title. This will be a very interesting week at Eastside for sure.

Prediction: 57-56 Busco 

 

2A 35 @ Westview

 

Sectional Titles

Westview 19 defending sectional champs

Whitko 14 (2009)

Bremen 9 (1999)

Central Noble 5 (2017)

LaVille 5 (2015)

Prairie Heights 2 (2011)

 

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Central Noble (15-7) vs 2A #3 Westview (21-5)

After tonight’s crazy comeback by the Cougars, there’s a vibe with CN, more of,  I can sense a wave of momentum that feels similar to the 2017 run. But, can they do it again?

This is where that will be put to test. Despite Westview’s loss @ Concord, this does not affect how I look at Westview. I’ve watched several of their games and 2 in person. One thing that sticks out to me is that they don’t shoot themselves too often, they make hay out of taking advantage of turnovers or mistakes from opposing teams, and they work really hard pretty much every game regardless of the outcome, and with a deeply talented group there, they’re obviously well-coached at Topeka. Charlie Yoder is to me the greatest “pure shooter” I have ever seen, and he’s just a solid all-around athlete. Elijah Hales needs no introduction as he has been an outstanding all-around athlete for the Warriors, Nick Rensberger continues to be strong on the defensive end, and Josh Hostetler is arguably the most dangerous “6th man” in Northern Indiana.

Now, while Central Noble hasn’t been as inconsistent as in years’ past, sometimes I’m still not quite sure what they really are. It’s quite evident they can score the basketball, and quite frankly they are so much fun to watch. But, their defense (while it’s not bad) has its moments. Connor Essegian has been a joy to watch since his debut and his poised 2-way game has made an immediate impact on this program as he shattered the program’s freshman records and became Noble County’s highest scoring freshman. Ridley Zolman continues to be Ridley Zolman. Strong rebounder, excellent post player, and obviously he knows how to let it rain. Lucas Deck when he’s healthy produces almost like Jason Kidd numbers where he is a triple-double machine at the point guard position along with his defense, and finally you have other players like Nick Alwine, Jacob Brose, and Carson Capps that just do their jobs well.

Both teams can shoot the ball well as stated. Westview tends to be slightly less aggressive with the 3-ball since they have the size to pound it, while CN is simply extremely athletic, and they are extremely dangerous from the perimeter where it has to be close to 40% if not higher.  But, here’s the challenge with Westview. I don’t know how you really beat them because they’re expected to go to at least semistate maybe state. I guess the only way you’re going to have a chance to beat them is you’ll have to play with a ton of heart, mental toughness, and you’re probably going to have to be physical enough that you make them a uncomfortable and force them to take tough shots without being undisciplined.

When CN trailed most of that game they had to pick up the intensity big time and play with grit. The second half Cougars were a completely different team from the first and if they can play somewhere around there for a whole game, they’ll have a shot for sure.  Rebounding will be crucial in this game. Depth will be crucial in this game. Keep an eye on Schrock or Wingard for Westview. And Sawyer Yoder for CN if he can perform at a level that I know he’s capable of like the most recent game vs Fairfield, it’ll go a long way.

Now while I hate doing this on the Cougars since I am an alumni at CN and they’re actually a really good team, but I’m still taking Westview for the reasons I stated about them, and their home crowd is one of the toughest atmospheres in all of Indiana, but Westview cannot take this Cougar team lightly. If CN plays to their fullest and close to their best efforts like they have had at times this season like the end of the Fairfield game, you better believe that the Cougars will push them to their limit.  Westview is 10-3 in playoffs vs CN.

Prediction: 57-52 Westview 

 

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Prairie Heights (18-5) vs Bremen (10-12)

The Panthers have posted their best season in program history as they have shocked many Hoosiers with their 10-win turnaround from just a year ago. Man, I love watching Elijah Malone (14.3 points 10 boards and 3.3 blocks a game) play because he is such an animal for them that plays stellar defense and he knows how to bring home the bacon. Mike Perkin’s (15.5 points 3.5 boards and 2 assists a game) growth has made him a lethal scorer at will and an even better defender at the guard slot, Brandon Christlieb has been a major contributor on both ends, and Garrett Culler who has been overlooked at times still a solid contributor, but he is a work horse on defense for them. Give a ton of credit to Coach Watkins when he was there for a short while as well as Coach Everidge who has coached this team the entire season to not only play extremely hard but to do it with confidence. This is a confident Heights team without question that battles every inch of floor for that ball.

Now, Bremen is no slouch as they’ve been acclimated to be a tough team on defense with Justin Zumbrun and Brooks Feldman leading the way on both ends of the floor. Both teams have a lot of size which could make things interesting. But, man there’s something special about that Panthers team right now.  The Panthers have never beaten Bremen in sectional play.

Prediction: 58-46 Prairie Heights 

 

 

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Whitko (13-9) vs 2A #3 Westview

This semifinal matchup depends on who wins the first game, if CN wins, well you might have an arguement for either team. If it’s Westview however, then I’ll probably lean towards Westview. Don’t get me wrong. Whitko has a really nice group with Spencer Sroufe and Brett Sickafoose. But, I see some problems scoring in the paint on Rensberger and Hostetler, and Westview’s style of play could overwhelm Whitko alltogether.

Prediction: Westview 71-54 Westview

 

 

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2A #7 LaVille (19-3) vs Prairie Heights 

Now here’s a LaVille team that some people would argue can get to the title game and make noise. Now, LaVille has a real strong team all-around, they might get to the title game, but they wouldn’t beat Westview. I just don’t buy them that much cuz their schedule is kind of weak. yes, I’m not always a stickler for that, but it’s notable in this case. LaVille is 7-1 in games by 10 or less, yes they beat Winamac and St. Joe. But, I see Prairie Heights’ size as a major challenge for the Lancers that could be too much to overcome. I mean for crying out loud, Heights made Angola look bad in the NECC tourney and Angola has been an excellent team for the last 4 years. It’ll be close, but I’ll take Heights’ grit and depth over LaVille’s usual fast pace and talent. LaVille is 2-1 in playoffs vs Heights.

Prediction: 57-50 Prairie Heights 

 

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2A #3 Westview vs Prairie Heights

If you’re thinking that Westview is going to cruise to this sectional title game, you’re getting the sense that you’re probably wrong. This sectional is way tougher than last year by itself as it is the number one sectional statewide this year regardless of class. Every team in this sectional can win this sectional. Prairie Heights has proven this year that they can hang with Westview not once, but twice. It would be a lot of fun to see the matchups between Rensberger and Malone, Hales, Culler, Perkins, and Yoder. And with this sectional being at Westview, I would assume the title game would be jammed pack if Heights gets in the finals or even LaVille to some extent. Westview holds a 6-1 playoff record vs Heights.

Prediction: 51-49 Westview 

 

Top 10 2A teams in Northern Indiana

  1.  Westview
  2.  Andrean
  3.  Shenandoah
  4.  Frankton
  5.  Bowman Academy
  6. Wabash
  7. Prairie Heights
  8. Hammond Noll
  9. Central Noble
  10. Tipton

 

3A 24 @ New Castle

 

Sectional Titles

New Castle 58 defending sectional champs

Delta 10 (2011)

Blackford 10 (1991)

Muncie Burris 9 (2003)

Yorktown 5 (2010)

Hamilton Heights 4 (2015)

 

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Muncie Burris (5-17) vs Hamilton Heights (14-8)

On the bright side, at least you didn’t draw Delta, but drawing Hamilton Heights is just as painful. Onward, Huskies!

Prediction: 78-40 Hamilton Heights 

 

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3A #1 Delta (23-0) vs Yorktown (5-16)

Ouch. Not a good way to end your season when you draw 3A’s alpha dog.

Prediction: 72-30 Delta 

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New Castle (12-10) vs Hamilton Heights 

This could wind up being one of the better all-around matchups in the state. Here, you have a New Castle team that had to retool its roster a little after the departure of a senior class, yet they’re 12-10. The Trojans continue to have an outstanding offensive unit led by Purdue recruit 6’6 Mason Gillies who missed most of this season with a knee injury  6-foot senior Luke Bumbalough (31.2 points 3.3 assists and 5 boards per game). Like the girls team there, they love the 3-ball to how about 218 times for 41% (LET IT RAIN). Yes, this is an excellent offensive team, but there are some weaknesses with this team especially on the defensive end where they’ve allowed just under 60 points on average.

Hamilton Heights, a team New Castle lost to on their home court back on Nov. 30 73-61, can also shoot the basketball averaging 67 points a game, but unlike New Castle, they have 3 guys that can score in double digits: sophomore Gus Etchison, junior Camron Knott, ad senior AJ Field. As a team, they basically have made the same number of 3’s and shot about the same as their opposition, but it is a little more widespread.

The interesting areas to keep an eye on is the rebounding department since both teams average below 25 a game, and both teams tend to give up a ton of points. I’m expecting the scoring to go down a bit in this potential matchup, but with it being at New Castle in a playoff atmosphere, I like the Trojans’ chances. New Castle is 3-0 in the playoffs vs Hamilton Heights.

Prediction: 68-64 OT New Castle 

 

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Blackford (17-5) vs 3A #1 Delta 

When you see the words Luke Brown, Blackford, and 3A #1 Delta, you know there will be a lot of media attention for this one. Delta enters this tournament as the undisputed favorite to win their sectional, and possibly the frontrunner for a state championship. Delta has not lost a game in the regular season since February 8th, 2018 when they lost 65-46 @ New Castle. Delta, as stated, is an outstanding defensive team that allows just 44 a game, averages nearly 29 boards, and 2 blocks a game. But, they’re as explosive up front averaging 67 points, with 3 players in double-digits: 4’5 senior (This is not a typo) Josh Bryan (24 points 2.6 assists 5.5 boards and 2.4 steals a game and yes he’s not even close to being 5 feet tall) 6’3 senior Tyler Wilburn (11.4 points and 4.3 boards a game)and 6’5 sophomore Brady Hunt (11.8 points 7.3 boards and 2.1 assists a game). The Eagles can also shoot from the perimeter making over 140 of them at 37%.

Meanwhile, you have the touching story of a small town that had little to no success and this young phenom shows up and makes them a contender. It’s as pure Indiana as you’re going to get. Blackford’s success in the playoffs starts and ends with Luke Brown. The sophomore leads the entire state and is 5th in the nation in points per game at a whopping 36.6 along with 6.6 assists 5.2 boards and 2.9 steals. But, he does have a decent supporting cast with 6’3 junior Brandon Stroble (15 points and 5.3 boards) and 6’1 junior Dalton Wilmann (7.5 points and 6.1 boards).

Blackford can also shoot the 3-ball well at 36% and are an astonishing 80% from the free throw line which is impressive since Delta and Hamilton Heights are at the upper 70s in that area. Blackford also contributes to nearly 32 boards and 1.5 blocks. But, the biggest downside to the Bruins is obviously scoring depth beyond those 3-4 guys and they have played one of the weakest schedules in the entire state. People are going to overlook Blackford and take Delta for the obvious reasons. But, this could potentially be as big of a Indiana story as ever if the Bruins somehow pull off “The Upset” because all of these elements are in place to script a fantastic Blackford story. Delta cannot overlook this Bruins team, and I expect it to be close.  Blackford is 5-4 lifetime in the playoffs vs Delta, and the games have typically been pretty close.

Prediction: 63-60 Delta 

 

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New Castle vs 3A #1 Delta 

New Castle or Hamilton Heights could find themselves in an interesting situation. If they face Delta, obviously it’ll be a test, but you can definitely expect some entertainment in either matchup. However, if Blackford is in the finals, then this would be the most intriguing matchup in the country.

This sectional is pretty difficult to project this year because you have 4 teams that you can argue can win this sectional regardless of the weaknesses that could be exposed. However, I have a feeling New Castle could have the best chance to pull off an upset on Delta and win yet another sectional. Delta lost to them in last year’s sectional meeting by over 20 points. Expect drama in this game and throughout this sectional.

Prediction: 56-53 OT Delta 

 

3A 23 @ Bellmont

 

Sectional Titles

Marion 68 defending sectional champs

Norwell 13 (2014)

Bellmont 13 (2005)

FW Bishop Luers 6 (2017)

Mississinewa 2 (1954)

Heritage 1 (1998)

 

 

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Mississinewa (12-9) vs Norwell (13-9)

In what could potentially be a low-scoring game, Norwell will try to attempt a major upset on a potential run to the championship game, but they must take care of business vs Ole Miss and it won’t be easy.

Mississinewa is a very efficient team that has three guys in double figures: sophomore Tai McClung, sophomore Landen Swanner, and junior Anthony Horton. Again, here’s another team that shoots the 3-ball well at just under 40%, grabs 25 boards, and average over 2 blocks a game with a mix of young and veteran talent.

Meanwhile, Norwell is the opposite where they’re more of a scrappy, defensive unit that has to perform through their work ethic and fundamentals to win games. Will Geiger will obviously be the guy to keep an eye on as he could be the spark of their success in this fairly tough sectional. But, there are some concerns with Norwell in terms of their consistency. Norwell has allowed 50+ points just 6 times (none since Jan. 8), but they’ve been very streaky on offense where 10 times they’ve scored 50+ points and the other 11 coming in games less than that. One instance, is their 47-43 loss @ Luers just a couple weeks ago and that’s a Luers team that has won just 4 games and allow nearly 67 a game.

If Norwell cannot find ways to score on a consistent level, they’ll struggle to advance past the first round. These two teams met back on Nov. 27 with Norwell winning 61-55 on their home court, but expect a lower-scoring contest here. Norwell is 3-0 in playoffs vs Ole Miss.

Prediction: 57-53 Norwell

 

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FW Bishop Luers (4-17) vs Heritage (15-7)

Entering this sectional, we may find ourselves a interesting storyline. You have the rebuilding Bishop Luers Knights who have won 5 games in their last 2 seasons combined. But, do you buy them as a bracket buster? They are probably the most dangerous 4-17 team in the state. Then, you have a Heritage team that most of this season has looked like a decent threat to jump on Marion, but have now lost 5 of their last 6 games with 4 of the 7 L’s coming to NECC schools. Is Heritage for real? You be the judge.

Luers who has struggled against tough competition like the SAC has been ok offensively especially since they’ve spent all but 5 games without their leading scorer DeMarcus Hudson. Sophomore Naylon Thompson (15.8 points 2.4 assists 4.8 boards and 2.5 steals) has been the driving force of Luers’ success during some of the program’s most darkest times, and junior Jalen Causey has also been a big help for Luers and for Thompson. Luers may not be as talented or experienced as some of the other teams, but they’re quick, athletic, and can play while blocking over 3 shots a game.

Heritage is also a very athletic team, but you can argue they’re deeper and more fundamentally sounded defensive team than Luers. Seniors Cameron Mitchell (14.4 points and 7.3 boards),  Alec Burton (11.8 points 2.9 assists and 3.2 boards), and Jaydon Harris (12.7 points and 2.9 boards) have been vital to Heritage’s success over these 4 seasons, and they’re going to be crucial in the playoffs where every game will not be easy (not even Luers will). Their remaining core players are also good athletes, and they just do their jobs very well. This is still a good defensive team (with nearly 29 boards a game) when they’re at their best, it’ll be difficult for Luers to overcome.

Prediction: 64-52 Heritage 

 

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3A #11 Marion (15-7) vs Norwell 

How Norwell plays and if they advance will determine how they do vs Marion. This is the flashiest and talented team in the sectional and possibly in the whole state. Led by Fort Wayne native James Blackmon Sr. as head coach, he’s got another Blackmon kid that’s pretty good.

As a sophomore, Jalen has averaged just under 30 points, under 4 assists, and over 3 boards all while already eclipsing the 1,000-point milestone. But, this isn’t a one-man show as Marion has junior Jakylen Thomas, Freshman RaSheed Jones, senior Dre Aguilar, and 6’6 senior QuRan Howard-Clement who can all become effective scorers at any point in the game. This is a pretty good perimeter-shooting team, shoots 74% from the free-throw line, generates over 25 boards, and averages nearly 4 blocks a game.

This is one of, if not, the most successful boys basketball program in IHSAA history with a library full of sectional and even regional titles and 8 state titles to their repertoire.  Marion is 7-0 in the playoffs vs Norwell, and I don’t see them if not anyone in this sectional that can truly be a threat to playoff-mode Marion.

Prediction: 61-45 Marion

 

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Bellmont (14-8) vs 3A #15 Heritage 

After posting a befuddlingly 67-217 (.236 winning percentage) since their last winning season in 2004-05, the Bellmont Braves have finally restored its glory from their hay days in the 90s and early 2000s.

A lot of their success comes from a deep senior class led by Aaron Lehrman (10.8 points and 4.9 boards) along with a high-scoring junior from the coach’s kid Kade Fuelling (17.6 points and 7 boards). But, the question now becomes: can they make noise in the playoffs? Since 2005, Bellmont has won a grand total of 1 playoff game and none since 2011. This could be their first playoff meeting with Heritage.

Prediction: 57-47 Heritage 

 

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Marion vs Heritage 

The only way Heritage beats Marion is if their defense contains their offensive weapons well enough that they can put the offense in a position to win, otherwise you can forget it. Marion is 13-3 when scoring 60+ compare to just 1-3. Heritage is 11-1 when their opponents score less than 50, but are just 4-5 in other games. Rebounding will be huge in this game.

Prediction: 66-51 Marion

 

3A 22 @ Garrett

 

Sectional Titles

Garrett 20 (2009)

Angola 17 defending sectional champs

FW Concordia 6 (2013)

New Haven 6 (2017)

Leo 6 (2002)

Woodlan 4 (2014)

 

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FW Concordia (12-10) vs Angola (17-5)

This game here most likely decides the sectional championship, before we even get to the semifinals. On paper, these are two stingy defensive teams that grind every possession for baskets. What a turnaround it has been for the Cadets who went from a team stuck in a mud puddle of mediocrity to a team under Phil Brackmann that is on the rise. Now, I know there will be people that are going to hound on Angola because of the system they play in and accusing it of being “boring!!”. Let me say my advice for the 150th time: GET OVER IT! They’ve been implementing this system basically since Coach Bentley came to the program, and look “Bentley Ball” has led to 4 straight seasons with at least 17 wins, perennial NECC contenders, one of the 3 best defensive teams in state regardless of class, and 2 sectionals. If it works, don’t fix it. They don’t play flashy. This team is a solid one that stresses fundamentals and depth. Period. Should be a solid game, but don’t count out Concordia as they’ve proven to be a pesky team in past years. How Blake Pocock and Joel Knox plays could be key as well because the 6’4 junior Dyer Ball will have his way to the net. This game could have potential for overtime because why not. Indiana loves the flair of the dramatic.

Prediction: 45-39 Angola 

 

New Haven (8-14) vs Leo (8-12) 

When you look at this matchup, these are two teams that are really young and they have made mistakes. The Bulldogs have struggled at times to get production outside of Donnovyn Lewis. Leo while they have struggled with their youth has started to play better on defense. Boy, it’ll be close, but I’m going to take my chances and I’ll take Blake Davidson and the scrappy Leo Lions to advance.

Prediction: 54-51 Leo 

 

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Garrett (3-19) vs Angola 

Ouch. It’s been a tough year for this young Garrett team and ouch they get to play the Angola-Concordia Winner.

Prediction: 58-37 Angola 

 

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Woodlan (6-16) vs Leo 

Woodlan has had quite an interesting year and they’ve been a big REID on Outside the Huddle all year. But, freshman Joe Reidy is destined to be another Allen County folk hero and making Bounce his biggest fan. So, in honor of respecting greatness and because the fact this game is another 50-50 match, I’ll take Woodlan and the Fighting Reidy’s. There you go Bounce! I made your day.

Prediction: 52-50 2OT Woodlan 

 

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Angola vs Woodlan

The last few meetings between the 2 have been fairly close one way or another. Their last game was a nail binder won by Angola, but that came when the team was started to be in full strength from football and they were still trying to get to know each other. I think this game has potential to be a dandy. But, Sorry Woodlan, I just like “Bentley Ball” a little more.

Prediction: 52-38 Angola 

 

3A 21 @ Wawasee

 

Sectional Titles

Lakeland 10 (2008)

Fairfield 9 (2017)

Tippy Valley 9 (2013)

Northwood 8 defending sectional champs

Wawasee 6 (2010)

 

 

 

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3A #13 Fairfield (15-7) vs Northwood (9-12)

Fairfield enters this sectional as the favorites to win their 2nd title in 3 years. On paper, they are one of the best teams in the area and arguably one of the best defensive teams in state. However, their last 2 games were not particularly their best games especially at CN. But, when they have played at their best, they’re darn good at basketball.

Senior Cordell Hofer (15.3 points 6 boards 1.5 assists) has been a marvelous athlete for Fairfield, and I have been lucky to watch him on a livestream twice at Angola and last night at CN in person. Despite the loss, this guy was incredible for the Falcons and did a lot of nice things on both ends. Junior Nolin Sharick (12.7 points 4 boards 3.4 assists) is very composed with the basketball, very poised, and he just does a lot of the little things well beyond just points and rebounds. Fairfield will be blessed to have his talents for another year, and then you have other guys like Payton Faldoe, Skylar Mast, and Cade Gall who provide much needed depth and versatility on both ends.

While Northwood is having its worst season in 9 years, Northwood is still a very scrappy team that can give teams like Fairfield fits in sectionals. Fairfield can score from anywhere and they are pretty lethal from downtown at 40% while I possibly see Northwood as a team that can still pound the ball and get rebounds. The Falcons are going to want to hit a reset button and move on from those 2 losses including a 62-60 loss at the buzzer at CN when they were up by 20. One thing’s for certain with Fairfield is that those 2 losses will either be learning lessons that get them motivated for sectionals or it could be 2 losses that could deflate the confidence of a team like Fairfield. Knowing the fact they’re always well-coached, I think they’ll be fine and I think they’ll find a way to get by Northwood. The Panthers are 6-2 in the playoffs vs Fairfield.

Prediction: 54-46 Fairfield 

 

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Lakeland (7-15) vs West Noble (11-11)

Another sectional matchup where these two teams have already met twice this season. Both teams are heading this week trending in complete opposite directions. At one point in late January to early February, Lakeland appeared to have started to find its form winning 4 of the first 5 games since the NECC Tourney. However, the Lakers have lost their last 6 games scoring just under 50 points a game and allowing over 58 points in that span.

Here’s the thing about them: they play a whole lot better than 7-15. Of the 22 regular season games, half of them have been decided by 10 points or less, but have only won 2 of those games. Yes, you can argue the loss of Cameron Bontrager and Cole Harp from last year’s team left a big void on this team, and yes the team is younger than last year. But, for me, I think this team struggles to play a full 32-minute game on a consistent basis. A lot of their games that they have lost have either come from terrible starts and having to play catchup, dominating most of that game but shoot themselves in the foot in the last quarter, or it has been both getting terrible starts, getting the lead, and just not getting the job done.

You look at this team, you wouldn’t think they’re 7-15. Brady Bontrager (16.4 points 5.6 boards and 1.9 assists) has shown a lot of his brother’s skills and toughness and the Lakers will be glad to have him for 2 more years, Kole Miller has been big in not only filling some of the Laker’s void, but he has shown some big games on the offensive end, and they have some decent young pieces from the JV and Varsity team to work with beyond next week and into the next season.

Then. you have West Noble, who has faced all of this season dealing with adversity on and off the court. But, the Chargers are starting to figure things out on the defensive end a little and enter sectionals winners of 3 of their last 4 including a dramatic win @ Goshen where it had been nearly 2 decades since beating them. I like this Charger team because they have depth up front with David Flores, Josh Gross, and Bryan Bowman, and they have tremendous depth from the backcourt with Takota Weigold, Nick Knepper, Trevor Franklin, Drew Miller, and Joel Mast. This team can score, but their issues for most of this season is getting the big stops when needed and maybe they have solved that a little. I don’t know. With their community going through the amount of heartache that they do and the girls basketball team winning sectionals, am I starting to think that this team is rallying around all that? It happened at CN. It’s happened in pro sports like the Vegas shootings and the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team. We shall see. However, Lakeland is 8-2 in the playoffs vs WN.

Prediction: 58-54 West Noble 

 

 

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Tippy Valley (13-9) vs Fairfield 

This could wind up being a intense semifinal game no matter who advances in that Fairfield-Northwood game. All three teams have proved in the past they win games by being physical and work ethic, and that is no exception this year. Tippy Valley like the Akron community is nothing flashy. While they have some nice talent with Parkur Dalrymple and Tanner Trippiedi, this team prides itself on their blue-collar mentality. This team gets after it, works super hard, and they grind out wins. Tippy Valley has been in 11 games decided by 10 points or less and have come away with 6 wins in those instances. This game could decide the sectional crown. Tippy Valley beat Fairfield in the playoffs back in 2016.

Prediction: 56-51 Fairfield 

 

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Wawasee (5-16) vs West Noble 

Whoever wins the West Noble-Lakeland game, don’t let Wawasee’s record fool ya. They’re one of the feistiest defensive teams in the state and they are the most dangerous 5-win team out there. Wawasee has some athletes that can score a little and rebound, and they have frustrated some of the more offensively gifted teams in the past. They gave West Noble fits despite the Chargers winning, and they dominated Lakeland in the regular season. This could be close for a lot of this game. Both WN and Wawasee have beaten each other twice in the playoffs.

Prediction: 46-39  West Noble 

 

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Fairfield vs West Noble 

Ah yes! The US 33 Rivalry could possibly be reborn yet again. These are two teams that have some similarities but both play different styles. Both teams can shoot and both teams have a lot of depth and that’s what could make this game a good one. The potential storyline for West Noble entering sectional play is the lack of sectional titles. West Noble has never won a boys basketball sectional despite coming close on numerous occasions. The Chargers are 0-9 in sectional championship games that includes the most recent one in 2017. They hung around with Fairfield in the regular season despite losing 62-54 at Fairfield. With a team that has a ton of seniors that probably still remember that loss a few years back and all of the other factors I’ve just mentioned, West Noble if they get in this stage will not be a push over. However, Fairfield probably still remembers last year’s loss to Northwood as well. The star players on both teams will have to come up big in this stage to get it done. Fairfield is 6-2 in the playoffs vs West Noble.

Prediction: 55-50 Fairfield 

 

Top 10 3A teams in Northern Indiana

  1.  Delta
  2. Culver Academies
  3. Mishawaka Marian
  4. Northwestern
  5. Griffith
  6. Marion
  7. New Castle
  8. Angola
  9. Fairfield
  10. Concordia

 

4A 7 @ Wayne

 

Sectional Titles

Muncie Central 59 (2014)

Columbia City 30 (2016)

FW South Side 29 (2007)

Huntington North 21 (2001)

Jay County 17 (2011)

Homestead 11 5-time reigning sectional champs

Wayne 4 (1994)

 

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4A #9 Homestead (21-2) vs Huntington North (19-4)

This should have been a sectional title game, but nevertheless it is still going to be the best matchup in this entire sectional that is ranked 2nd in the state. When we talk about Homestead, we always talk about depth, continuity, team culture, and fundamentals. This team is all business and all work even though there are people that just don’t like Homestead and they’re fine with that. This is a team that caught everyone by surprise with the breakout performances of Luke Goode, Zak Kruger, Brat Miller, Trent Loomis, etc, etc. Both teams play very solid defense and the Vikings are the team that probably has the best shot of taking down Homestead because of their size. depth, and physicality. I expect this game to be close, but Homestead has not lost in the opening round of sectionals since 2011. Both teams have won 9 games in playoffs against each other but it’s been a decacde since Huntington North beat Homestead in sectionals.

Prediction: 42-39 Homestead 

 

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Muncie Central (12-10) vs Columbia City (8-14)

Columbia City has had a nice season, but I don’t like their matchup with the Bearcats.

Prediction: 73-59 Muncie Central 

 

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Jay County (13-9) vs FW Wayne (13-9)

Jay County always has a lot of basketball tradition or grit, but the road stops here vs the host Wayne.

Prediction: 68-51 Wayne 

 

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FW South Side (11-8) vs 4A #9 Homestead 

South Side has a nice young group led by JT Langston Jr, Alex Jordan, and Kameron Mitchell, but I think some of their inexperience will haunt them against the always tough Spartans. If it’s Huntington North they face, it could be interesting. Homestead is 10-2 in the playoffs vs South Side.

Prediction: 62-53 Homestead 

 

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Muncie Central vs Wayne 

You like offense? You like star talent? Then this is the perfect game for you. Craig Young (16.4 points 7.8 boards 1.6 assists) has obvioulsy been as mentioned by the media as one of the best athletes in the city and that is why he is going to Ohio State for football. This is a very deep team with Micheal Redding, Darius Alexander, and Cameron Starks that rebounds like crazy because of their obvious athleticism. But, Muncie Central has a ton of offensive firepower with Victor Young, Reggie Bass, Dylan Stafford, and KJ Jackson (none of them are even seniors yet). Much like Wayne, they rebound a lot, but average over 4 blocks a game. Either way, expect a ton of fireworks in this one.

Prediction: 68-63 Wayne 

 

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Homestead vs Wayne 

So, there you have it. A possible 2nd best matchup in the entire sectional could wind up being Homestead and Wayne @ Wayne Manner. Homestead took care of them in the regular season 46-37, but with this being a possible championship game @ Wayne, I expect the Generals to come out much more prepared than their first meeting. Wayne has a lot of seniors and they’re going to want to win a title for their school. But, this is Homestead and you can’t go wrong picking the Spartans. Homestead is 6-4 in the playoffs vs the Generals, and Wayne hasn’t beaten them in 20 years in sectional play.

Prediction: 56-51 Homestead 

 

4A 5 @ DeKalb

 

Sectional Titles

FW North Side 27 2-time reigning sectional champs

DeKalb 20 (2005)

East Noble 13 (2001)

FW Northrop 12 (2012)

FW Bishop Dwenger 9 (2015)

Carroll 8 (2016)

FW Snider 6 (2009)

 

FW Northrop (13-8) vs Carroll FW (15-7)

Look, Northrop has had a strong season led by the big man that will be heading to the University of Miami (OH) Sydney Curry. But, they have lost 5 of their last 7 since beating Homestead in OT. Carroll is an excellent defensive team that was able to contain Curry and fairly dominated the Bruins 63-50. The Chargers are always battle-tested and I think Carroll is peaking at the right time. Northrop is 7-5 in playoffs vs Carroll.

Prediction: 58-42 Carroll

 

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FW Snider (14-8) vs FW Bishop Dwenger (11-10)

Bishop Dwenger is a scrappy ball club that fights to the final buzzer in every single game. But, this is a young, dynamic Snider team led by Micheal Eley and Dillon Duff who will be back next season. Enjoy this group Snider Nation! Both teams have won 4 games in the playoffs against each other.

Prediction: 53-45 Snider 

 

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4A #15 East Noble (19-3) vs FW North Side (2-19)

East Noble, you are very fortunate that your first opponent looks like a team that can barely beat a small academy school and a 2-win South Adams team. North Side has essentially went from being one stop/one triple from a state title in 2017 to a team that is decimated by transfers of star players like Keion Brooks Jr., graduation, and a coaching change, thus this team is bad. I can’t ever recall a SAC team falling so far down in a short period of time. Onward, my fellow Knights!

Prediction: 87-41 East Noble 

 

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DeKalb (6-16) vs Carroll FW

Whoever wins that Carroll/Northrop game is definitely going to the finals. DeKalb is a good defensive team, and they play hard, but they don’t have the talent or manpower to compete with either SAC school this year.

Prediction: 64-47 Carroll 

 

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FW Snider vs East Noble

Redemption. Vengeance. These are the two words that always seem to pop up during the playoffs. Snider is a run and gun team that showed on the first night of the season vs a veteran savvy East Noble team 62-60. The Knights on the other hand rely on their depth and defensive intensity in the rebounding department to go with Ali Ali (16.2 points 5 boards 5.5 assists and 1.7 blocks) and Hayden Jones’s (10.3 points and 5.7 assists) natural talents. Brent Cox (13.7 points 10.5 boards) has been a matchup nightmare in guarding him in the post and scoring on him, and boy has Nate Dickson and Micheal Bender been huge for EN. I think the Knights have learned a bunch since that game, and I think their defense will step up against a hungry Snider team. Snider is 4-1 in playoffs vs EN.

Prediction: 61-54 East Noble 

 

 

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Carroll FW vs East Noble 

De ja vu? I don’t think it would be a big surprise if these two would meet again in the sectional finals. Both teams match up with each other very well, and I expect this one to be one of if not the best title game in the entire area. Rebounding and discipline are going to be keys to this game and I expect these two teams to wear each other out. It will be a war at DeKalb if these two meet in the finals. My gut tells me Carroll, but my heart says East Noble. And you know what I think they have what it takes to win their first sectional in 18 years. But, Carroll is 4-0 vs East Noble in the playoffs.

Prediction: 53-50 2OT East Noble 

 

4A 4 @ Elkhart

 

Sectional Titles

Warsaw 40 (2017)

Elkhart Central 36 (2003)

Plymouth 35 (2013)

Concord 13 (2014)

Elkhart Memorial 10 (2015)

Goshen 9 (1992)

Northridge 8 (2015)

 

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4A #12 Warsaw (13-7) vs 4A #13 Elkhart Memorial (16-6)

This is a rematch from a game that Memorial won just a few days earlier 48-45. The Chargers have a very efficient offense led by Hank Smith and Trey Gallope. This is a team that can shoot from distance gather rebounds and spreads the floor well while averaging over 2 blocks a game. Warsaw like they have been for quite some time are a very stingy defensive team but is a very deep team with Nolan Groninger, Wyatt Amiss, and Trevor Rumple to name a few while spending most of this season without Brian Elliott their second leading scorer. They average 3.3 blocks a game even though they don’t rebound as well as the Chargers. Free throws could be key as Warsaw shoots 9% better than Memorial at 68%. Warsaw is 6-1 in playoffs vs Elkhart Memorial.

Prediction: 52-47 Elkhart Memorial

 

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Concord (7-15) vs Northridge (15-8)

Concord has to feel real good about themselves after upsetting Westview just last night 49-47 on senior night. But, Northridge has won 9 straight and should take care of business vs the inexperienced Minutemen.

Prediction: 57-48 Northridge 

 

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Plymouth (14-8) vs Gosehn (8-14) 

Both teams enter sectionals on a cold stretch. Plymouth has lost 5 of their last 7 and Goshen has lost 7 of their last 10. Goshen’s inexperienced has shown this season, but they’ve been in a lot of games this season. 12 games have been decided by 10 points or less with their record of 5-7 in those games. I expect this game to be a low-scoring one but I see Plymouth prevailing here.

Prediction: 51-47 Plymouth 

 

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4A #20 Elkhart Central (5-16) vs 4A #13 Elkhart Memorial

Who’s ready for this rivalry to go? Hopefully you’re answer will be no because North Side gym will never be the same when Central and Memorial consolidate in 2 years. Could this be the last boys basketball sectional meeting of this Elkhart rivalry? Regardless how good or bad each team is, you better expect a tight one every time. Central has been battle tested all year despite the record and youth. I think the Blazers will push their neighboring rivals to the limit.

Prediction: 64-62 OT Memorial 

 

 

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Northridge vs Plymouth

This could wind up being one of the better games out there. Northridge has seen its ups and downs but they are catching fire at the right time. Their offense is one of the more lethal ones at there with 3 players in double digits in scoring and a team that shoots nearly 40% from downtown. But, my biggest concern will be on defense where they only generate 20 boards a game and Plymouth can play that is for sure. In fact, neither team rebounds well so to me this is more of a up-tempo style game in the making for these two. Plymouth also has offensive depth led by Clay Hillard who’s averaging 19 a game.  Their first meeting was 62-59 Northridge win and I’m expecting something similar to that this week.

Prediction: 57-55 Northridge 

 

ELITE SCORER

4A #13 Elkhart Memorial vs Northridge 

While this has the makings of a quality title game, I could see this being a matchup problem for Northridge due to some size in the interior. Memorial rebounds the ball really well and I think their depth and experience could be too much for the Raiders.

Prediction: 64-50 Elkhart Memorial 

 

 

Top 10 4A teams in Northern Indiana

  1. Carmel
  2.  Zionsville
  3. Valparaiso
  4. Homestead
  5. Hamilton Southeastern
  6. Penn
  7. Fishers
  8. East Noble
  9. Carroll FW
  10. Huntington North