Archive for March 13, 2012

THE DEAN’S LIST: NOW THAT PEYTON IS GONE, WHERE IS MY ALLEGIANCE?

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

SPORTS JOURNAL PUBLISHER

Forty-four years ago, I was born at St. Joseph Hospital long before St. Vincent attached its name to the letterhead. I was born when Kokomo was known as Stop Light City and Indianapolis was called Naptown. I was born when The Golden Arm of the Colts was Johnny Unitas, not Peyton Manning, and the Horseshoe was located in Baltimore, not Lucas Oil Stadium. I was born in a region that was split between rooting for teams in Chicago or Cincinnati because Indy was not considered a major league town. Like my father, I was born a fan of the Reds and Bengals.

I grew up with Kenny Anderson as my football hero, and cheered loudly when they made the Super Bowl in 1981 – the same year Anderson was the NFL most valuable player and long before the Colts even considered renting Mayflower. And I am sure I cried when Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers beat the Bengals 26-21. I was excited again as Boomer Esiason led the Bengals to the 1988 Super Bowl, only to be downed by the dreaded 49ers in another nail-biter, 20-16.

So, why the history lesson? As you might have noticed in the last week, the Colts released Peyton Manning and much of the core of the team after a dismal 2011 season (and salary cap issues). They sent Manning packing with the high hopes of Andrew Luck coming in and reviving a program that has as much history as any other in the NFL. And that got me thinking about the Colts, Manning and where my allegiance stands.

You see, when the Colts arrived in 1984, I was halfway through high school and still a diehard Bengals fan. I had Bengals clothing, Bengals pennants, had family in Cincinnati, traveled there to watch games (and go to Kings Island) and listened to sports on 700 WLW. Manning was still a distant memory, and the Dolts, as some called them, didn’t exactly light the world on fire when they arrived in Naptown.

But a funny thing happened along the way – the Dolts started winning and the Bengals were referred to as the Bungals. And slowly, as local news covered the Colts relentlessly, I became a fan of the Horseshoe. Granted, it was not with the same diehard tenacity that I had with the Bengals, but I started to follow the Blue Crew and wore Colts clothing while still following the Bengal Stripes. While Jim Harbaugh was leading the Colts to the AFC Championship game in 1995, the Bengals were losing – a lot – and I wasn’t even living in Indiana (thanks to Uncle Sam).

Then in 1998, the year before I returned to Kokomo, the Colts drafted Peyton Manning and I became a diehard fan. But what was I a fan of? Had I totally changed allegiances. Was I rooting for the Colts, or for Peyton Manning, or both?

When Jim Irsay released Peyton Manning last week, like most Hoosiers, I was disappointed. I was even more disappointed when Black Friday occurred and Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett and others were no longer Colts players. It seems that the team that I loved was no longer.

So where does that leave me? I had jumped on the Colts bandwagon with the arrival of Peyton Manning, but still kept an eye on my Bengals. I was excited when Carson Palmer led the Stripes to the playoffs in 2005 for the first time in 15 years.

I guess I am a torn fan. Unlike today’s youth who only know the Colts, I am just old enough to remember the days before the Hoosier Dome was built. I remember the Mayflower vans arriving. I remember the advent of Colts-mania in Indianapolis and the end of Naptown. I grew up a Bengals fan, became a Colts fan, and I guess now I am a true fan of both. If the Colts had come a decade earlier, I probably wouldn’t remember much about the Bengals. And if they would have come a decade later, I would have been too far engrained with the Bengals. I guess I am what you would call a tweener – a fan of both with an allegiance to Mr. Manning. Boy, it sure will be weird wearing a No. 18 jersey in a different color next football season.

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

NOT THIS TIME: KATS, PANTHERS BOW OUT IN SWEET SIXTEEN

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

MARION – For the second consecutive year, the Kokomo Wildkats and the Western Panthers played in the Sweet Sixteen round of the annual IHSAA tournament. Last year, both Kokomo and Western won the morning game of their respective regionals to advance to the Elite Eight. But that was last year and 2012 did not produce the same results as the Kats lost to Carmel and Western came up short against Andrean.

For No. 7-ranked Kokomo (20-5), the 52-48 loss to No. 4 Carmel (21-4) was a disappointing ending to a great season that saw the Kats win 20 games for the second straight year. During the post-game interview, one could see the frustration in the face of Kokomo head coach Brian McCauley, who led Kokomo to the state championship game a year ago.

“First of all, I am really proud of the guys,” said McCauley following the loss in the Marion Regional at the high school’s Bill Green Arena. “Obviously, it is a very tough loss. Carmel is a very good team and we thought we were right there. We got off to such a good start offensively, but defensively we lost a little. We just couldn’t stretch the early lead.”

Kokomo grabbed an early 10-3 lead and looked like they might stretch it even further, but Sam Curts developed a hot first quarter shooting touch, hitting four 3-pointers en route to a 16-16 tie after one. But then the scoring stopped as the teams combined for 11 second quarter points and the Kats led 22-21 at the break. Curts hit his sixth and final 3-pointer in the third stanza as Carmel opened a 35-31 lead going into the fourth period.

“Our offense got stagnant and our shot selection wasn’t the greatest,” said McCauley. “Then they went inside and got (Shawn) Heffern open for some easy baskets. He is a strong Division I football player (Indiana University). And then we got the lead in the fourth quarter with 2:41 to go on Tayler (Persons) free throw, but they came back with a layup.”

Fundamentals can win basketball games, and those fundamentals hurt the Kats. When Persons hit his two free throws, it snapped a streak of three consecutive fourth quarter charity stripe misses for Kokomo. Instead of a one-point lead, the Kats might have had a two-possession lead.

“We got the lead with 2:41, but we also had a stretch where we missed three straight free throws, and close games always come down to one or two possessions and they come down to free throws,” said McCauley. “We were 6 of 11 (including 2-5 in the fourth quarter from the charity stripe) and they were 11 of 14 for the game (9 of 13 in fourth quarter).”

Kokomo’s Indiana All-Star candidate D.J. Balentine finished his spectacular Wildkat career with 12 points. During the game, he passed Tim McFarland for third place on the Kats all-time scoring list with 1,280 career points. Tayler Persons led Kokomo with 15 points. Curts finished with 22 points for Carmel.

Carmel topped Homestead 48-39 in the nightcap to claim the regional trophy and advance to Saturday’s semi-state competition.

WESTERN FALLS TO ANDREAN

The No. 12-ranked Western Panthers (19-6) traveled to the Plymouth Regional knowing that they would have to play its best basketball against No. 3 Andrean if the squad wanted to return to the Elite Eight. It didn’t happen as Western fell 65-38.

“Let’s get one thing out there; Andrean is a very good basketball team,” said Western head coach Andy Weaver. “They are (21-3 after the regional final game), and to beat a basketball team like that, you are going to have to play outstanding and execute beyond you’re A game. Unfortunately for us, we were not on our A game.”

The Panthers needed to come out on all cylinders against Andrean, but trailed by three after one quarter (11-8). The Fighting 59ers strength and size advantage started to prove a problem in the second stanza, and Andrean led 32-22 at the half. With Western knowing they were still in the game, the 59ers squashed any thoughts of a Panther comeback by scoring the first six points after the break and had a 14-6 run over the first 4:20 of the stanza.

“I thought we battled in the first quarter but we didn’t shoot the ball well,” said Weaver following the loss. “We only had four turnovers in the first half, which we will take, but at the same time we gave up 21 points. But it was only 10 at halftime. And then in the third quarter we came out and we missed two layups. You can’t start the quarter by missing two inside shots. So any type of momentum to cut into that 10 point lead is squandered right there.”

The shooting woes were the tale for Western as they hit just 14 of 49 shots (29-percent) while Andrean hit a respectable 22 of 43 (51-percent). John Capps led the way for Western with 17 points and was the only Panther in double digits.

Andrean lost to No. 7 Mishawaka Marian 82-62 in the regional championship game.

TIPTON ADVANCES TO FINAL FOUR

For the second consecutive season, the No. 7-ranked Tipton Blue Devils are regional champions and will return to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four – this time with a trip to the North Semi-State at Lafayette Jefferson High School this Saturday at 3:15 p.m. Tipton (24-3) downed Northfield 53-38 for the right to battle Gary’s No. 5-ranked Thea Bowman Leadership Academy (16-8). The winner  will earn a trip to the 2A state finals a week from Saturday at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (see page 8 for a semi-state preview).

In the Tipton Regional finals, the Blue Devils never trailed as they grabbed an early 11-9 lead and 23-20 halftime advantage.  Tipton then held Northfield (22-4) scoreless for the nearly the first six minutes of the second half as the Norsemen saw a 20-game winning streak snapped in the loss.

The Blue Devils were led by junior Mike Crawford’s 18 points on 9 for 12 shooting.

The Blue Devils advanced to the regional final thanks to a 75-56 win over Fountain Central in the regional semi-final.

(Douglas Hockney contributed to this story)

RETURN TRIPS: KATS, PANTHERS REPEAT AS SECTIONAL CHAMPS

The Western Panthers celebrate its second consecutive sectional championship. (Photo by WILLIAM GIBSON)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

For the second consecutive year, the Kokomo Wildkats and the Western Panthers have captured sectional championships and will advance to the Sweet Sixteen regional round of the IHSAA boys basketball tournament. Class 4A No. 7 and tourney host Kokomo (20-4) moves on thanks to a dominating 83-59 victory over Logansport, and Class 3A No. 12 Western (19-5) advances after holding-off a stubborn host Twin Lakes squad, 54-52.

For the Panthers, it marks the sixth sectional title for head coach Andy Weaver and the third time his squad has pulled a repeat championship (2003-2004 and 2006-2007). But it was not an easy route to the trophy as the host Indians (15-9) proved a handful in the finale.

“I knew before the draw that whoever had to play Twin Lakes on this floor, they were going to be tough,” said Weaver. “They are gritty and they are tough – they never make a basketball game pretty.”

Weaver said that after the Panthers cruised through Peru (64-39) and West Lafayette (58-43), he knew the championship was not going to be as easy. Twin Lakes is known for defending its home floor, having a good student section, and playing tough basketball.

“I knew this was not going to be one of those types of game. Our total emphasis was going to be rebound, rebound, rebound and interior defense,” said Weaver. “Our guys persevered and found a way; it was a total team effort.”

The Panthers jumped to an early 18-14 lead and led at the half 29-28. They outscored Twin Lakes 14-9 in the third stanza to take a six point lead into the final quarter and outlasted an Indian rally for the win.

“I said here they come, and then they got the lead on us at 49-48 and 52-51,” said Weaver of the TL rally, in which the Indians scored seven straight points. Evan Warden then hit a basket at the 2:30-mark to give the Panthers a 53-52 lead. Western held Twin Lakes scoreless for the final three minutes to secure the victory and hoist the trophy.

“We knew it was going to be tough but we pulled the plays out when we needed to,” said Western senior John Capps.

Matt Orr led the Panthers with 14 points, followed by Warden and Ben Constable with 12.

Western will play No. 3 Andrean Saturday in the Plymouth Regional. See page 10 for a preview of the game.

KATS WIN TITLE FOR THE 72ND TIME

To no one’s surprise, the defending Class 4A state runners-up Kokomo Wildkats rolled through its own sectional to claim the school’s IHSAA record 72nd boys basketball sectional championship. Kokomo won its two sectional games by a whopping 54 points while securing the program’s second straight 20-win season and 23rd overall. Kokomo has recorded back-to-back 20-win seasons six times in 109 years, including five in a row from 1958-1962.

“It is great to win it here in front of the fans,” said Kokomo’s Indiana All-Star candidate D.J. Balentine, who is three shy of becoming the third greatest scorer in Kokomo history behind legends Jim “Goose” Ligon and Jimmy Rayl. “It is the most sectional wins (in state history) and it is a great honor.”

Sophomore Tayler Persons, who scored 20 points in Kokomo’s semi-final win over McCutcheon (64-34), echoed Balentine’s comments.

“It is so awesome; 72 championships is just so awesome,” said Persons. “My freshman year we go to state, and now we are here (in the Sweet Sixteen); it is just an amazing feeling.”

Kokomo head coach Brian McCauley, who is leading the Kats to its second consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance, talked about the pressure his team was under.

“All of the pressure was on us in this tournament,” he said. “We are at home after playing a tough season, a phenomenal season. But they know it is a one game series in the sectionals, and they came out and played hard. They played smart and played together.”

The coach said he was pleased with aspects of Kokomo’s game that did not include scoring field goals.

“We have rebounded well the past two games, and we have defended well,” he said. “We are playing together offensively and we are getting to the free throw line. We got to the line 22 times (against McCutcheon) and 34 times tonight (against Logansport). Hopefully we can keep making improvements.”

Kokomo will play No. 4 Carmel in the opening game of the Marion Regional. See page 10 for a preview of the game.

BLUE DEVILS TAKE DOWN COMETS

For eight minutes, it appeared the miracle run of the Eastern Comets in the Class 2A Tipton Sectional might continue. Fresh off a 78-70 overtime upset win against Taylor, the Comets (5-17) trailed No. 7 Tipton by a single point, 12-11. But that is where the run ended as Mike Crawford scored eight points in a 24-0 second quarter Tipton run as the Blue Devils (22-3) earned a berth in its own regional with a 66-38 victory.

Tipton plays Fountain Central (8-14) in game two of the Tipton Regional, following the 10 a.m. Northfield (21-3) versus Frankton (14-10) contest. The championship is set for 8 p.m.

Interesting Tipton Regional note: Frankton will play in its first-ever regional after defeating Muncie Burris 53-45 for the school’s first boys basketball sectional championship in 90 years of IHSAA membership.

(Douglas Hockney contributed to this story)