WESTERN CAPTURES FINAL HOWARD COUNTY BOYS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP

Western Champs

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. – In the end, no one could knock off the champions. In the final rendition of the Howard County Boys Basketball Tournament, the Western Panthers grabbed its third consecutive – and final – county tourney trophy with a 73-63 upset win over Northwestern. Playing on its home court, the Panthers surged to a second quarter lead courtesy of the hot shooting of Des Balentine and never looked back.

“This was a great team win,” said Western coach Bart Miller. “Balentine and (Austin) Weaver showed great senior leadership and got us in the position to win. I am really proud of our six seniors. They have put in a lot of hard work over the years and it has paid off.”

Western won the tourney for the second consecutive year, but third consecutive time. The tourney was interrupted in 2012 and 2013 for the Coca-Cola Old School Sectional Tourney at Memorial Gym.

Northwestern (9-2) entered the contest with an 8-game win streak and the No. 19 ranking in Class 3A. It also had defeated the Panthers 57-51 on Dec. 5. But Western (6-7), which had played for a month without Balentine due to an injury, welcomed his return and controlled the tempo for much of the final three stanzas.

“When Des was out of the lineup, our guys took the challenge to step up – and now that is helping our depth,” said Miller. “Guys like (Brodee) Lipinski have been phenomenal for us coming off the bench and he scored seven points for us; he gave Des time to rest. And Josh Beeler is a sophomore and guarding (Blake) Oakley and a lot of teams best players. And now that Des is back, I am glad our younger guys are not backing down just because of his return. They are not slacking us, and Des is embracing them – it is a great complement to them and this team.”

Northwestern jumped to an early 14-10 lead after the first quarter. The Tigers maintained that pace, leading 20-15 when the wheels fell off. Lipinski netted a 3-pointer and Austin Weaver tied the game with a pair of free throws. The Tigers regained the lead 22-20, but Balentine scored a bucket on a fast break, hit a 3-pointer and capped a 13-2 Panthers run with a steal and layup for a 27-22 lead. The senior sharp-shooter hit another 3-pointer in the final minute of the half to give the Panthers a 31-23 halftime lead.

“Des looked like the Des of old,” said Miller. “We will see how he feels. But what can you say with his 21 points.”

Balentine said he was not rushing to get back in and accepted the slow approach that Miller and his physical therapists recommended.

I have been doing a lot of therapy at Accelerated – they have done a great job of getting me ready physically and mentally,” said Balentine after helping to cut down the nets. “I feel pretty good.”

Western started the second half with an 8-1 run, and after withstanding a small Tigers run, they put the game out of reach with a 12-2 run to end the third and start the fourth quarter. Balentine finished with a game-high 21 points in his second game back from the knee injury. He missed six games and played limited minutes in his HCT opening round comeback game. Western is 5-2 with Balentine in the lineup and 1-5 without him.

“This is a big win for us, especially after they beat us earlier this year,” said Balentine. “It was huge for the guys to play without me. We have good chemistry and I think we can make a run in the state tourney.”

Weaver finished with 16 points, Gabe Harp 11 and Shahan had nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds. For Northwestern, Austin Miller dropped in 17 points. Blake Oakley finished with eight points after dropping 24 on the Panthers in its Mid-Indiana Conference victory.

After the game, Miller reflected on the final Howard County Tourney. Miller has been around the tourney his whole life – as a child watching when his father coached and was Western’s athletic director, as a Western player and now as head coach. The county athletic director’s decided to end the annual event due to the breakup of the MIC following this school year.

“There is some nostalgia with this win,” said Miller, who has won both county tourney’s in which  he has coached. “I hate to see it go and it is a great thing in the community. All of the players know each other, but they compete and are still friends at the end of the weekend. It is just a fun atmosphere, and it is unfortunate that this is the last one. I am proud of our guys and glad they were able to win the last one.”

Eastern tops Taylor in consolation game

Much like Western, the Eastern Comets trailed in the second quarter before going on a 14-0 run to take a 22-15 lead into halftime before cruising to a 55-42 victory. Noah Cope led Eastern (6-7) with 19 points while Braden Evans added 16. Marlin Vazquez scored 12 points to lead Taylor (4-7) while Darian Stone had 11 points.

In the opening round of the tournament, Northwestern defeated Eastern 51-36 and Western took care of Taylor 53-42.

DEAN’S LIST: STILL NOT TIME TO PANIC ON KOKOMO MUNICIPAL STADIUM, BUT…

Kokomo Jackrabbits 2

THE DEAN’S LIST

BY DEAN HOCKNEY, PUBLISHER

Four weeks ago, I said that it was not time to panic concerning the construction of Kokomo Municipal Stadium. I wrote that after the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Indiana Department of Homeland Security sent letters to the city demanding work be halted on construction due to the potential of breaching federal grant rules for the state. My exact words in my Dec. 16, 2014, column were:

So to the local baseball community, I say “hold your horses” and let this process play out. As with any major government building project, politics will be played and opposition will be heard. Yes, dealing with a federal entity can be cause for alarm due to a slow process, but the city administration is working on the situation and already has our Washington, D.C., elected officials involved. And rest assured, the Sports Journal will stay on top of the issue and report whatever outcome there is – I just do not think it is time for panic.

The process is now playing out, and on Jan. 6, Indiana State Senator David Long (R-Fort Wayne) authored Senate Bill 100, which after a committee report, Senator Jim Buck (R-Kokomo) took over as first author. In a nutshell, the emergency legislation – which is aimed at the local baseball project but could impact any project in the state – would allow IDHS to issue a cease and desist order to the construction project.

Indiana Senate Bill 100 synopsis: Authorizes the executive director of the department of homeland security to issue a cease and desist order when a political subdivision is taking an action that: (1) constitutes a violation of any state or federal statute or local ordinance, any state administrative rule or federal regulation, or any contract provision or condition of the receipt of any form of federal governmental assistance; and (2) creates an immediate risk that the state will lose grant funds under the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) mitigation grant program or that property owners in any part of Indiana will become ineligible to purchase insurance  through the federal flood insurance program. Allows the order to be issued on an expedited basis. Provides that the order may be issued against and be binding upon the political subdivision, the executive of the political subdivision, the members of the executive, and a contractor or subcontractor. Provides that the attorney general may enforce the order by bringing an action in circuit or superior court. Provides for the imposition of a monetary penalty against a political subdivision that violates an order, and makes a violation of the order by an executive of a political subdivision or a contractor or subcontractor a Class A infraction.

The city, through a statement from the corporation counsel of the City of Kokomo, believes it is still in the right on the construction issue and stands behind its original statements that they are within the guidelines of the Hazard Mitigation Grant it received.

“The City of Kokomo questions the necessity of SB100 and believes that the provisions, regulations and protections implemented and controlled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency sufficiently address the concerns raised in the proposed bill and prohibit a political subdivision from unilaterally acting in such a way to jeopardize the State,” said Beth Garrison in the statement. “The City of Kokomo further questions whether the bill could potentially undermine or diminish a political subdivision’s due process rights, given the vagueness of the language set forth in SB100. As such, the City believes such legislation is superfluous and trusts the General Assembly will act accordingly.”

So what does this all mean? I will be honest, I have no idea. The bill still needs to go through the Environmental Affairs Committee, be voted on by the senate and house, and then be signed by the governor. Then, IDHS would actually have to file the order against the city, which the city would probably fight. Yes, this is not sounding good. If construction is stopped for any length of time, I don’t see how the stadium will be finished in time for the Jackrabbits inaugural season this summer in the City of Firsts.

But is it time for panic? I still contend it is not; but we are a step closer. Buck stated he hopes the legislation is signed into law by the end of January. If he gets his bill through the legislative process, then we will have something serious to talk about. Until then, I will continue to drive down Apperson Way every day and marvel at Kokomo Municipal Stadium going skyward.

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

Dean Hockney is the publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana and sports editor of the Kokomo Herald. You can follow him on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and game reports.

KOKOMO LADY WILDKATS TOP CARROLL (ALLEN COUNTY), PREPARE FOR CHICAGO TRIP

Kokomo's Allie Lowe battles for a rebound. (Photo by William Gibson)

Kokomo’s Allie Lowe battles for a rebound. (Photo by William Gibson)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – For the third straight season, the Kokomo Lady Wildkats have reached the double-digit win plateau after a nail-biting 53-50 victory over Carroll of Allen County. Leading by 11 points going into the final stanza, the Kats withstood a fierce comeback to record win No. 10 on the season.

“We hadn’t played in a week and the girls were excited to get on the floor,” said Kokomo head coach Heather Mygrant, who noted its game against Noblesville was postponed due to weather. “We play well at home, got up by 13, and then they trapped us and they got themselves back in the game. But when it counted, we finished the game and came out with a win.”

Kokomo led 35-24 after three quarters only to see Carroll’s Madison Peterson get hot. With only four points in the first three quarters, Peterson scored 14 points to lead a 16-3 run by the Lady Chargers. Despite overall poor free throw shooting (10 for 20 for the game, lower than the its season average of 55 percent), Kokomo closed strong on the back of Quaynika Merriweather hitting 7 of 9 free throws in the final stanza.

Merriweather led Kokomo with 14 points and five steals. Jayda Andrews added 11 points and Olivia Wilson scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Gabrielle Smith had a nice all-around game with seven points, six rebounds and four assists.

Next up for the Lady Kats is a home North Central Conference game with Harrison and then a road trip to the Chicagoland Classic – an annual voyage for the squad. This year, Kokomo will spend the weekend and play in two games – Chicago McAuley at 6 p.m. on Jan. 17 and Batavia (Ill.) at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 19.

“We still have Harrison, Muncie Central and McCutcheon – those are three tough conference teams,” said Mygrant. “This month of January will go by quick. Chicago is a great opportunity to do some team building. We won’t know anything about these Illinois teams, so we can treat it like a tournament. The Classic is in its 25th year, and they are going to honor some of those from the inaugural game during our first game. That is neat, and I am glad our girls will get to see that because we have played in this tournament many times. I think this will make us a stronger team.”

Kokomo enters its stretch run at 10-4 and 3-1 in conference play.