Archive for February 25, 2014


Kokomo HS Wildkat


It is difficult to believe it has been nearly four months since the start of the basketball season. I have no idea how many basketball games I have attended at all levels of play, but at this point it is well over 100 – and counting. The boys head into the final week of its regular season and the girls have one Howard County team left as Western plays in the Class 3A Final Four for the second time in three years. Add in great girls runs for Tipton and Logansport – both of which are close-by and still alive and kicking in the Final Four – and local fans have had a banner year for hoops.

But the season hasn’t always been smooth, especially with the crazy winter Indiana has had. Local athletic directors have had to reschedule and sometimes re-reschedule games almost weekly since the 17-inch snow storm Howard County received in early January. Kokomo Athletic Director Jason Snyder even looked outside of the box to secure a Senior Night competitor for the Wildkats.

After Tipton canceled a game at Memorial Gym last week due to its no-school-means-no-sports-that-night rule, Kokomo found itself without a way to honor its graduating male senior class. The Lady Wildkats also lost Senior Night, but were honored before a boys game. Snyder made several calls to athletic directors around the state and finally found a team willing to travel to Memorial Gymnasium. In its 2,603rd all-time game over the course of 111 basketball seasons, the Wildkats will play a first-time opponent as Class 3A No. 2-ranked Thea Bowman Leadership Academy (15-3) from Gary pays the historic gym a visit.

Bowman is one of the newer schools in Indiana, having opened its doors in 2003. It played its first basketball season in 2007-2008, finishing 7-7. The following year it won a sectional and captured the schools first state championship with a 1A title in 2010. They reached the state championship game again in 2012, losing the 2A title game. The Eagles and head coach Marvin Rea grabbed its second state championship last year. Now, having moved up to Class 3A due to the IHSAA Success Factor, Bowman is in the hunt for its third state title – with each coming in a different class.

Thus, Memorial Gymnasium should be rocking for Senior Night as the up-and-coming defending 2A state champion Bowman Academy battles the established Kokomo Wildkats, which holds the IHSAA record for most sectional titles with 73. It will be new versus old, private school versus public school on Feb. 27 at the historic gym on the corner of Apperson and Superior – it will be THE place to be if you are a basketball fan.

Then, one week later, the Wildkats are hosting the Class 4A Sectional 7 and are in prime position for a second must-see game – Tayler Persons versus James Blackmon Jr. If Marion (15-4) gets past Logansport (10-6) in its sectional opener, the Giants and Kats would pit themselves in a rematch of a Dec. 20 North Central Conference game at Mem Gym in which Marion won 75-51. Blackmon, an Indiana recruit, scorched the Kats for 37 points on 12-17 shooting (9 of 9 inside the arc) and nine rebounds. But Kokomo did not have the services of Indiana All-Star candidate Persons, a Northern Kentucky recruit. With Persons back from knee surgery, Kokomo fans should get to see the match-up of the year and a second can’t-miss game in eight days at the Home of the Wildkats. You might want to get to the gym early for this one.

Irony No. 1: Kokomo battles Bowman Academy Thursday night in a game that was originally supposed to be Kokomo versus Tipton. Ironically, Bowman Academy has knocked Tipton out of the Final Four the last two seasons, and now replaces the Blue Devils on the Kokomo schedule due to the winter weather.

Irony No. 2: No. 6 Western battles No. 11 Norwell in the North Class 3A Semi-State at Wabash while No. 14 Indianapolis Chatard (21-5) clashes with No. 2 Evansville Mater Dei (25-1) in the South Semi-State at Bedford. If Western and Mater Dei hold its rankings and win, they would play for the Class 3A state championship. Flash back one year and it was Mater Dei who defeated our Eastern Lady Comets in the Class 2A state championship game. Could two-time defending 2A state champion Mater Dei have to face a Howard County team two years in a row for a state title after moving up a class due to the IHSAA Success Factor?

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

Dean Hockney is the owner/publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana and sports editor of the Kokomo Herald. His column can be found each week on the last page of the Sports Journal. You can follow Hockney on Twitter (@Sports_Journal).


Basketball with Wings


ROCHESTER, Ind. – Known as a defensive team, the sixth-ranked Western Lady Panthers put its reputation to good use with a low-scoring 46-35 win over Kankakee Valley to capture the IHSAA Class 3A Rochester Regional – earning the Panthers its second trip to the Final Four in three years.

“This means a lot,” said Lady Panthers senior Carley O’Neal, a Davis and Elkins College recruit. “I am so happy; it is such a great feeling. We take pride in (our defense). We work hard on it. Defense wins championships.”

While Kiersten Durbin was leading the offense with 17 points, Sierra Daniel had a breakout game with eight rebounds and at least four blocked shots.

“This is crazy and I am happy to have these amazing teammates,” said Daniel, who was the only key member of this year’s squad who wasn’t a part of the last regional championship team.

Durbin, who is known more as a defensive specialist rather than a scorer, tossed in 11 points in the Panthers 47-43 win over South Bend St. Joseph earlier in the day.

“We work hard together and now we get to go to the semi-state again,” said Durbin, who added she worked on her quick release all summer. “One of my previous coaches said I had to do that (get her shot off quicker), so I worked on it so the defender does not get there.”

O’Neal said that the 2012 Final Four run helped this team prepare for this year’s tournament.

“We all knew coming in what it was like,” she said. “We knew we had to take it one game at a time and keep our composure. We had to keep playing and leave everything on the court.”

O’Neal finished the championship game with 12 points while Raven Black added 10. Jessica Givens grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. In the opening game win, Black led the squad with 14 points


No. 5-ranked Tipton defeated No. 4 Wabash 48-37 to capture its first regional title since 2001 and only the second in school history. But it was not an easy win by any means as the Lady Blue Devils trailed early in the game before gaining control in the second half.

With a heavy defensive presence surrounding Indiana All-Star candidate Kacie Juday, Macie Lively and Lela Crawford picked up the Blue Devils scoring in a team effort victory. Lively hit 7 of 9 shots for 20 points and Crawford scored 14 while grabbing seven rebounds. Juday finished with seven points and nine boards.

In the regional opener, Tipton defeated Shenandoah 67-39 as Juday dropped in 34 points. Lively added 16 and Crawford scored 13.


In one of the most dominating performances in IHSAA girls tournament history, Logansport senior Whitney Jennings demonstrated to the state why she should be crowned Indiana’s Miss Basketball, and in the process helped lead the Lady Berries to its first-ever berth in a girls basketball Final Four. No. 11 Logansport defeated No. 14 Fishers 77-61 to capture the IHSAA Class 4A Kokomo Regional – the programs first regional title.

In front of approximately 3,000 fans at Memorial Gymnasium, Jennings hit 13 of 18 shots for 41 points – the 18th best single-game performance in tournament history and only the 28th 40-plus point game in post-season play. Add in the 27-point game from junior Nakeya Penny and the Berries were no match down the stretch for the Tigers. No, that is not a misprint – Jennings and Penny combined for 68 points while the Berries shot 65 percent from the field.

Late in the fourth quarter, Jennings passed Abby Conklin of Charlestown (1993) for fifth on the IHSAA all-time scoring list with 2,618 career points. She is also fourth in assists (694) and seventh in steals (403).

Penny is also in the Lady Berries 1,000 Point Club, making the duo one of the deadliest scoring tandems in the state.

In the regional opener, Logansport defeated Carroll 64-58 with Jennings scoring 29 points and grabbing seven steals.

(Douglas Hockney and Chris Lowry/WIOU contributed to this story)


Western Champs


RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. – Tough losses can linger in a player’s memory and motivate a sports team. For the Western Lady Panthers, that is exactly what happened after losing the 2013 sectional title game to Benton Central on the Lady Bisons home floor. One year later, in the friendly confines of Richard Rea Gymnasium, the No. 6-ranked Panthers avenged the loss and defeated No. 8 Benton Central 43-33 to claim the 2014 IHSAA Class 3A Sectional 20 championship. The win sends the Lady Panthers to the Sweet Sixteen and regional competition for the second time in three seasons.

“This was a great win, especially on our home floor. They beat us on their floor, now we beat them on ours,” said senior Kiersten Durbin. “For us seniors, we weren’t ready for this to be over.”

Two years removed from a Final Four appearance in which the Panther seniors were a key part as sophomores, the squad found itself on the ropes in the third quarter after going more than eight minutes without scoring in the first half. Down 17-14 at the break, four minutes into the second half the Panthers looked out of sync and were struggling. But then, out of the blue after shooting 26 percent in the first half, Jessica Givens hit a 3-pointer. As did Caitlyn O’Neal. Then Carly O’Neal hits one. And Caitlyn hit her second of the quarter. By the end of the third quarter, the Lady Panthers regained the lead and looked in charge – thanks in part to a full-court defense that forced nine Bison turnovers in the stanza.

“(Our defense) was the key,” said Durbin. “Going into the third quarter we were out of foul trouble so we could go back to our Monster 13, which is our full-court press, and we got back at it.”

She said the defensive pressure was a definite catalyst for the offense that started clicking in the third period.

“Our defense is our offense,” said Durbin. The Panthers forced an amazing 88 turnovers in three sectional contests. “We were on fire – our shooting really sparked us.”

Western head coach Chris Keisling said when the 3-pointers started falling, he knew, “we would be in tall cotton after that.”

Aside from the defense, which forced 28 Benton Central turnovers, Keisling pointed to the home crowd as being a huge factor in the victory. He credited the Panthers student-section with being loud and vocal when needed.

“Great crowd support – it was a great gym to be in,” he said. “Those kids over there on the bleachers were a great bunch and the crowd behind our bench was all over it. That was fun when you know you have that kind of crowd support.”

Carley O’Neal led a balanced scoring attack with 13 points and five steals, while Caitlyn dropped in 10 while grabbing five rebounds. Durbin had eight points and four steals, Raven Black had six points and five rebounds and Givens had four points and four boards. All but two points were scored by senior starters – sophomore Sarah Connolly had Western’s other bucket.

Earlier in the week, Western knocked off Northwestern in the semi-finals. Western’s defense forced 30 Purple Tigers turnovers. Durbin led the way with 14 points while Carley O’Neal added 12. Givens grabbed eight rebounds. Sophia Beachy led Northwestern with nine points while Brooke Treadway grabbed eight boards.

Class 3A Rochester Regional on Saturday: 10:30 a.m., Kankakee Valley (15-6) vs. Griffith (12-10); 12:30 p.m., No. 13 South Bend St. Joseph (16-4) vs. No. 6 Western (19-3); winners meet in the championship game at 8 p.m. Sports Journal prediction: Western over Kankakee Valley.


In the Class 2A Sectional 39, it took a heroic effort from Kacie Juday to propel No. 5 Tipton to a 65-61 sectional championship victory over No. 14 Elwood. Juday, who is the two-time defending IBCA/Subway District 2 Player of the Week, might earn a third after pouring in a school-record 38 points in the title bout. The Stony Brook recruit had 26 points in the second half after her squad trailed 27-24 at halftime. Down the stretch, the Lady Blue Devils hit 10 of 14 free throw attempts to seal its third sectional title in four seasons.

Earlier in the tournament, Tipton topped Eastern 61-32 in the opening round while Elwood ousted Taylor 62-45.

Class 2A Lapel Regional on Saturday: 10 a.m., Shenandoah (16-4) vs. No. 5 Tipton (16-4); noon, Southmont (14-9) vs. No. 4 Wabash (19-3); winners meet in the championship game at 8 p.m. Sports Journal prediction: Tipton over Wabash.


In the Class 4A Sectional 7 at Logansport, the host Lady Berries topped Marion 66-52 to repeat as sectional champions and advance to Memorial Gymnasium for the Kokomo Regional. Miss Basketball candidate Whitney Jennings closed out her Berry Bowl career with a 28 point, nine assist, eight rebound performance. Junior Nakeya Penny added 21 points and seven rebounds while Sydney Bullard dropped in 10 points.

After receiving a bye, Kokomo fell to Marion 52-46 in a Friday night semi-final contest. The Lady Giants jumped to a 15-7 first quarter lead and held off several Kokomo rallies to end the Lady Kats season. Alanis Jones scored 15 points to lead Kokomo, while Jasmine Love dropped in 10. Allie Lowe grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.

Class 4A Kokomo Regional on Saturday: 10 a.m., No. 4 Homestead (23-1) vs. No. 14 Fishers (20-4); noon, Fort Wayne Carroll (10-12) vs. No. 11 Logansport (22-2); winners meet in the championship game at 8 p.m. Sports Journal prediction: Homestead over Logansport.