BY DEAN HOCKNEY
For just the ninth time in the 103-year history of the IHSAA boys basketball sectional tourney format, and second time in three seasons, Howard County did not have a team hoist a championship trophy. Eastern and Western both earned title game berths but came up empty-handed as the underdog squads. In Tipton County, the Blue Devils earned a berth in the Marion Regional this coming Saturday.
Class 4A Sectional 7 at Lafayette Jefferson:
The Kokomo Wildkats had an uphill battle to add to its state-record 74 sectional titles as they played in the best win-loss bracket in the state (104-34). The six-team field had a winning percentage of .754, more than 100-points higher than the Crawford County Sectional of .647 (88-48) and Michigan City Sectional of .640 (105-59).
The Kats took care of business in its quarterfinal game at the Marion Crawley Center with a 56-51 win over the host Bronchos. In the semifinals, Kokomo faced the defending state runners-up and No. 5-ranked McCutcheon Mavericks – a squad that handed the Wildkats its worse loss of the season, a 77-53 thrashing in game four at Memorial Gymnasium. Unfortunately, round two against eventual-champ McCutcheon had the same results with the Mavs winning 78-56.
Kokomo got down early, trailing 16-8 after one quarter and 36-17 at the break. Anthony Barnard led the Wildkats with 25 points and Ty Sparling ended his career with 13 points. Brevin Beard grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. Kokomo finished the season 18-7, its best outing since a 22-3 season in 2012-2013.
Class 3A Sectional 20 at Maconaquah:
The Western Panthers started the season 0-16, but in the sectional championship game, they gave a favored West Lafayette Red Devils (16-9) a major scare before falling 51-37. Early in the fourth quarter, Western trailed WL 31-28 but missed a shot to tie the game. Luke Touloukian then connected on a pair of 3-pointers to put the game away and claim its 11th sectional title and first since 2013.
In the quarterfinals round, West Lafayette upset No. 13 Northwestern 64-50 and then defeated Maconaquah 55-49 to advance to the finals. Western drew a bye and upset Peru 63-50 to earn a title berth. The Panthers finished the season 4-19 while Northwestern ended its campaign 13-8.
Class 2A Sectional 39 at Taylor
One year ago, the Eastern Comets were celebrating its first sectional championship in 60 seasons. History was on the line in the Taylor Sectional, but a first-ever back-to-back sectional championship did not happen as the Comets went ice cold in the title game. Playing Madison-Grant, Eastern shot 30-percent from the floor in a 50-34 loss.
The championship game was close as Eastern trailed the Argylls 32-26 after three quarters, but the poor shooting continued as the squad hit just two fourth quarter baskets and were outscored 18-8 in the final eight minutes.
The Taylor Titans (7-19) defeated Elwood 47-41 in the quarterfinals before falling to Madison-Grant in a 49-46 thriller in the semifinals. Eastern (8-17), which drew a first round bye, defeated Eastbrook 47-38 in the semifinals.
TIPTON COUNTY SCHOOLS
Class 3A Sectional 24 at Marion
Tipton’s ride to a sectional championship was one of the most thrilling in the state with a pair of overtime wins. In the quarterfinals, the Blue Devils dismissed the defending state champion Marion Giants 67-66 in overtime. They followed that with an easy 42-17 win over Yorktown in the semifinals before defeating Hamilton Heights 46-37 in an overtime championship contest.
The win was the 25th sectional title in program history and first since 2014. The Blue Devils (16-8) will now battle for its seventh regional title when they play New Haven (19-7) in the second game of the Marion Regional on March 11. The 10 a.m. first game features Fairfield (13-12) against No. 13 Fort Wayne Luers (17-7) with the winners to play in the Elite Eight at 8 p.m.
Class 1A Sectional 54 at Tri-Central
The Tri-Central Trojans (2-19) ended its season with a 61-38 loss to Clinton Central in the sectional quarterfinals. No. 1 Lafayette Central Catholic defeated No. 4 Clinton Prairie 59-53 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.