INDY BOUND: NO. 1 NORTHWESTERN DOMINATES FAIRFIELD TO EARN PROGRAM’S FIRST SEMI-STATE TITLE

Northwestern’s Madison Layden, Kora Loer, Sarah Vas and Klair Merrell are all smiles after earning a trip to the Class 3A state finals. (SJ photo/Douglas Hockney)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

LOGANSPORT, Ind. – From the opening tip of the IHSAA Class 3A Logansport Semi-State, it was apparent that the best team on the floor was the team that had steamrolled its previous five tournament opponents. By the time the Berry Bowl horn sounded to end the game, the No. 1-ranked Northwestern Lady Tigers were celebrating another lopsided victory – this time a 70-43 win over No. 3 Fairfield.

And it was not even that close.

“It is just amazing,” said senior Morgan Mercer after the Lady Tigers claimed the programs first-ever berth in an IHSAA state finals. “I can’t think of a better way to go out; and thank God it is not over yet. This is awesome.”

Senior Sarah Vas, a defensive specialist who also handles the ball on offense, was all smiles after the game. She credits the fact the squad is more of a family than a team.

“I am ecstatic and I am so happy,” she said. “We work so hard day in and day out. I love playing with them. We love each other so much and that is what makes the difference. Other teams may be good, but they don’t have the chemistry that we have.”

Unlike the regional championship game last weekend that saw a sluggish Lady Tigers start, Northwestern started strong in its first-ever Final Four contest. Taylor Boruff started the scoring by getting loose inside the paint. Fairfield countered on the other end for a 2-2 game – and that is as close as it would be the rest of the way. Kendall Bostic scored and Madison Layden stole a pass and dropped in a bucket. Layden then grabbed a rebound and found Bostic open, and before the Lady Falcons knew what hit them, it was an 8-2 lead for Northwestern and 19-12 after eight minutes.

“This is incredible – what a fun atmosphere,” said head coach Kathie Layden, noting the entire south side of the gym was dressed in purple. “I told the girls before the game that this would be the most fun game they have played in. Now they have one more.”

Midway through the second stanza, the purple machine – which has now outscored its tournament opponents by an amazing combined margin of 444-165 – shifted into high gear. Boruff wowed the crowd by going behind her back on a fast-break and then zipping a pass to Bostic for two points. Boruff then hit a shot of her own and Bostic hit back-to-back shots on nice passes from Katie Neher and Layden to open a 31-16 lead. The 16-2 run led the team to a 39-20 halftime margin.

“I am honestly excited for these kids,” said Layden. “We have worked hard and we deserve to be here. Now, to be rewarded by going to the state finals is what they have worked for.”

Layden said a main component to the squads winning ways – they are 50-5 in the last two seasons – is that they have bought into her system. Layden is no stranger to championships – she led Tri-Central to three Class 1A state titles and is already a member of the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame.

“It is obvious when you watch us that all they care about is winning,” she said. “They have bought into our system – our defense, how they unselfishly pass the ball, just the way they play.”

Vas added, “Our main thing is winning, no matter what it takes.”

Madison Layden led the team with a 28-point performance that included nine fouls drawn, six rebounds, six assists and four steals – all team highs. During the game she passed the 900-point career mark and increased her school record single-season scoring record to 549.

Bostic hit her first six shots, finishing with 18 points on 9 for 11 shooting. She also grabbed five rebounds, had two assists, one block and one steal. Boruff scored 12 points and had two assists and two steals. Vas added six points on 3 for 4 shooting. Neher, Sarah Heaver and Stephanie Burns rounded out the scoring with two points each.

The Lady Tigers job continues this Saturday as top-ranked Northwestern (28-1) will play No. 2 Greensburg (23-3) in the IHSAA Class 3A state championship game at 6 p.m. in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tickets are on sale in the Northwestern athletic office from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily until the Tigers ticket allotment runs out; the cost is $15 and includes the 4A contest which follows.

The other state championship games include: Class 1A, Vincennes Rivet (26-2) vs. Marquette Catholic (26-2); 2A, Winchester (26-2) vs. Central Noble (22-5); and 4A, Warren Central (19-7) vs. Zionsville (22-5).

Class 1A Valparaiso Semi-State: The Tri-Central Lady Trojans underdog run came to an end with a 58-18 loss to No. 1 Marquette Catholic in the Class 1A North Final Four game in Valparaiso.

Under first year coach Jason Bales, the Lady Trojans had upset No. 7 Northfield in the sectional and No. 8 Tri in the regional. Tri-Central ends the season 16-11.

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KOKOMO FOOTBALL HEAD COACH BRETT COLBY ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – For the first time in more than a decade, the Kokomo Wildkat football team is leaderless. In a surprise development, head coach Brett Colby announced he was retiring, effective immediately. Colby took the football program to a level of competitiveness not seen in the class era.

“All I ever wanted to be was a head football coach,” Colby stated in his resignation letter. “I have been able to live my dream for the past 28 years, the past eleven here at KHS. With a heavy, but full heart, I am giving my notice to resign as the head football coach of Kokomo High School as of February 12, 2018.”

Colby took over the Wildkat program in 2007 after Wayne Lance Jr. had won just nine games during his three-year tenure. The Kats had not won a North Central Conference title since 1996 and had just one sectional championship trophy in the display case (1985). But Colby had an immediate impact on the Kats program, bringing a run-first mentality that was nearly impossible to stop. In year one, Colby led Kokomo to an 8-2 record with a perfect run through the NCC to capture the first of five consecutive conference titles.

Despite the dominance of the Kats in the NCC, tournament success eluded Colby until 2015 when Kokomo defeated Muncie Central and Huntington North to claim the programs second-ever sectional championship. One week later, after a 21-19 win over Westfield, the Kats earned its first regional title before losing to Fort Wayne Snider in the Class 5A Final Four. Kokomo made it two consecutive sectional titles in 2016 and the 2017 was the best-ever for Kokomo with a third straight sectional and second regional championship. Then, on a rainy November evening, the Kats defeated Michigan City in the semi-state to earn a berth in the Class 5A state championship game. Despite a 42-28 loss to Columbus East, Colby’s Kats showed they belonged on the state stage.

But restoring the Kats to glory took its toll on the 1981 Western High School graduate. He said he had a feeling he had coached his last practice just prior to the state championship game.

“My days as a head coach are over,” said Colby, the 2017 Sports Journal Coach of the Year. “I am honestly worn down. The honor I have to go out on my own terms as a head coach is an unbelievable feeling of satisfaction. The feeling of coaching my last game as a head coach for Kokomo High School, at the state championship level, will stay with me until the day I pass from this earth.”

Colby, a six-time NCC Football Coach of the Year and the 2016-2017 NCC Boys Coach of the Year, departs Kokomo with a 90-31 record – his 90 wins are second best in Kokomo history behind Bob Hamilton (147) and his .747 winning percentage is unmatched. He posted a 66-10 (.868) record in NCC competition, finishing with seven conference titles in his 11 years. While at Kokomo, Colby coached more than three dozen All-State performers, six Indiana All-Stars and one IHSAA Mental Attitude Award recipient. In addition, Colby – who has an overall 205-98 record in 28 seasons – has been selected as the head coach of the North squad in the annual Indiana North-South All-Star Game to be held on July 13 at North Central High School.

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NORTHWESTERN’S LADY TIGERS ARE GOING TO THE CLASS 3A FINAL FOUR AFTER WINNING PROGRAM’S FIRST REGIONAL TITLE

The Northwestern Lady Tigers celebrate the programs first regional championship and a berth in the Class 3A Final Four. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

MONTICELLO, Ind. – For eight minutes, the typically-dominant Northwestern Lady Tigers looked mortal. In fact, for the first time in recent memory, they were losing a basketball game. But in an instant, everything changed, and Northwestern found itself in the IHSAA Class 3A Final Four after capturing its first ever regional championship with a 61-23 win over Gary West.

“I am so proud of these girls; this is awesome to be a part of,” said Northwestern head coach Kathie Layden. “This has been a goal since they were young. In the summers when they work out on their own, this is why they do it.”

“This is what we wanted to do,” said sophomore center Kendall Bostic. “We knew they would be tough. I think we were a little tired, but we regrouped and finished.”

The win was not easy – at least for the first quarter. The Lady Tigers hit the floor ice cold as they missed shots, made poor passes and trailed 10-6 after one quarter of the Twin Lakes Regional championship game. In the first stanza, Northwestern hit just 3 of 14 shots and made five turnovers. Layden, a three-time state champion at Tri-Central, saw the problem and addressed it at the first break.

“That was an ugly start,” she admitted. “The problem was we were taking the first open shot we had, and that is not us. With a team that was so athletic as them, we were one-and-done if we missed. In our defense, we usually knock down those shots, but we got off to a slow start – but they got themselves out of it.”

The second quarter seemed to be a new start for the No. 1 team in Class 3A. For the next 16 minutes of action, Northwestern outscored a shell-shocked Gary West 43-11. The rally started when Taylor Boruff got inside to trim the lead to 11-8. Ninety seconds later, she again scored to cut the West lead to 13-12.

Madison Layden stole a pass and was fouled, hitting both free throws to give the Tigers a 14-13 lead – a lead they would not relinquish. Layden stole another pass and went the length of the court for a bucket and Boruff got inside for another two points. By the time Boruff and Katie Neher drained 3-point shots to close the second quarter, the Redskins did not know what hit them as Northwestern took a 29-17 lead into the locker room.

“We have a trust in each other,” said Bostic of the way the team plays together. “We know what each other is going to do with the ball, and that is important.”

Once Northwestern found its characteristic groove, they clicked on all cylinders. And that included the defense which forced Gary West into eight second quarter and nine third quarter turnovers. The pressure was so great that the Lady Tigers held the Redskins to six second half points and only two in the final 10 minutes.

“In the first half, we extended our defense to put pressure on them,” said Layden. “But they like to penetrate, and they scored. As we started to get the lead, we could pack it in since we knew they were poor outside shooters. Their game is to penetrate, and we could stop that.”

Layden led the charge for Northwestern with 18 points, six assists and four steals. Boruff scored 16 points, including nine as she led the second quarter comeback. Bostic dominated the middle with 14 points and six rebounds despite getting into first-half foul trouble. Klair Merrell had six rebounds and Sarah Vas added four points and four assists.

“It is such a great feeling, but it is just one-step in the journey we want to take,” said Bostic, whose Tigers fell in the regional finals a year ago and finished with a 22-4 record. “We are taking this game-by-game and this is a huge step for us. After we fell last year, this is one-more step to where we want to be.”

In the regional semifinal game, Northwestern defeated No. 14 Mishawaka Marian 69-35. Bostic had 16 first half points and scored 24 for the contest. Layden – who now owns the single-season school record with 521 points – scored 14 while Neher added 12 and Boruff 10.

“This is a low-key group and they are very business-like,” added Coach Layden. “It is great when they are happy and they will celebrate this win right here; but they want to get the job done.”

The Lady Tigers job continues this Saturday as No. 1 Northwestern (27-1) will play in the Logansport Semi-State where they will face No. 3 Fairfield (24-2) in the 7 p.m. game at the famed Berry Bowl. Tickets for the game are on sale in the Northwestern athletic office from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily until the Tigers ticket allotment runs out; the cost is $8.

In the South Final Four, No. 2 Greensburg (22-3) will battle No. 7 Danville (25-4) in the 3 p.m. game of the Jeffersonville Semi-State. The winners will meet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. in the Class 3A state finals.

Class 1A Tipton Regional: The Tri-Central Lady Trojans, under the leadership of first-year head coach Jason Bales, shocked the field by winning its second regional title in three seasons. In the semifinal contest, Tri-Central upset No. 8 Tri 43-41. In the finals, the Lady Trojans punched its ticket to the next round by knocking off Rockville 39-35 after draining 13 of 14 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter.

Tri-Central (16-10) advances to the Class 1A Final Four and will play No. 1 Marquette Catholic (25-2) in the 2 p.m. game of the Valparaiso Semi-State. In the Jasper Semi-State, No. 2 Vincennes Rivet (25-2) battles No. 3 Indianapolis Tindley (25-3) at 4 p.m.

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