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INDIANA UNIVERSITY KOKOMO NAMES TOM CHURCH AS MEN’S BASKETBALL COACH

BY DEAN HOCKNEY KOKOMO, Ind. - The cloud that has hovered over the Indiana University Kokomo basketball team has been lifted as school administrators announced Tom Church was hired as the new head coach of the Cougars men’s basketball program. Church replaces interim head coach Alex Birge. Church is currently ending his four-year reign at NCAA Division II Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, which recently announced it is ceasing operations.   (Editor’s note: Neither Church or IUK administrators were available for comment prior to the Sports Journal deadline.)   Church will be the third coach in IUK history and second on a full-time basis. While he replaces Birge, Jace Thompson coached the first five-plus seasons before suddenly resigning midway through the 2016-2017 campaign. Church takes over a team that was 10-20 this season – it marked the first double-digit win mark in the short six-year history of the Cougars program.   Church was the 18th coach at St. Joseph’s and led the team to a 31-82 mark in his four seasons, but had improved the Pumas record each year. He followed a 4-24 inaugural season with records of 6-22, 9-19 and 12-17 this year while playing in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.   Prior to his time at St. Joseph’s, Church spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Florida Southern College (2010-2013) and St. Joe (2007-2010).   During his time as the top assistant coach for Florida Southern, the Moccasins were 70-25 with two Sunshine State Conference Tournament championships (2012 and 2013). The program made three NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, winning the South Regional in 2013 for an Elite Eight appearance.   He had similar success during his time as an assistant at St. Joseph’s - the Pumas held a 53-37 record with two NCAA Division II Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2010.  In 2010 the Pumas won the Great Lakes Valley Conference North Division and won three straight games as the eighth seed in the Midwest Regional to advance to the Elite Eight.   According to his official SJC bio, Church attended Ashland University for four years, where he was twice named to the Academic All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Team and was a team captain as a senior in 2003. He started all but one game that year, averaging 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds, and was second on the team in both three-pointers and three-point shooting percentage (40 for 105). In his collegiate career, Church made 104 three-point field goals and shot 38 percent from behind the arc.   He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Education in 2003, and later earned his Master's of Education in Administration from Ashland in 2006. Church and his wife Jennifer welcomed their first child, Harrison, into the world over the summer of 2015 and have a second child on the way.   IU Kokomo is still working on filling its vacant women’s basketball coaching position.

FAMILY TRADITION: NORTHWESTERN’S SOPHIA BEACHY SIGNS TO PLAY SOFTBALL AT HUNTINGTON UNIVERSITY

Sophia Beachy Signing 2

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. - If there is one thing the Beachy family is known for in Howard County, it is throwing a ball around the diamond. Led by Major League Baseball pitcher Brandon, the Beachy’s are well-known in the baseball world. But that is slightly changing as younger sister Sophia has made a name for herself on the Northwestern High School softball diamond, and her hard work paid off when she signed a letter of intent to continue her career at Huntington University.

For the Beachy family, playing a college sport has become a family tradition.

“I have six siblings and four have played college baseball. I am happy to carry on the (college) legacy,” said Beachy. “I am thankful for my family and their encouragement – I could not have done this without them.”

Beachy said she enjoyed the Huntington campus as soon as she set foot on it.

“Huntington is a great school and I like the campus” said Beachy, who is undecided on her college major. “Coach (Doug) Gower is a great guy and I am excited to play for him. I am really happy (to sign before the season) because it takes some weight off my shoulders – I can just play my game.”

The four-year varsity performer said she has enjoyed her Tiger career.

“I love being around the girls and the coaches,” said the multi-positional player. “I hit a home run last year, and that was a big highlight. I like third base the most, but I will play where they want me to play.”

Northwestern head softball coach Chris Walker said his squad will miss Beachy after she graduates.

“She means a lot to the program,” he said. “She is a good leader and I can put her anywhere on the field. You can count on her getting a hit and she knows how to get the girls fired up.”

For his part, Gower said he took Beachy sight-unseen – he has yet to see her play an actual game. But her personality, athleticism and family history played a huge part in his decision to sign the Lady Tiger standout prior to her senior season.

“I have not seen her play a lot in softball, but I did see her compete in basketball,” said Gower, who has coached the Foresters for 12 years. “I have only seen her play in a couple of camps. I like her spirit – I just knew I had to have her come to Huntington. And her family’s athletic pedigree helped.”

Gower said he first met Beachy at a camp in Indianapolis and had not previously been recruiting her.

“I first met her at a camp and just happened to see her. We made a connection and I felt comfortable with her right away,” he explained. “As I got to know the Sophia and her family, it was just one of those things that I knew would work. She is very athletic and a multiple-sport athlete. Once she concentrates on softball, her growth and ceiling will be pretty high. I am looking forward to seeing her playing.”

Interestingly, Beachy could have gone to college to play softball or basketball. She was an integral part of the 2017 sectional champion Lady Tigers that advanced to the Elite Eight. She said she loved playing basketball.

“I chose softball over basketball a while ago – I don’t know why; it just came to me. I like softball a lot,” she said. “I started varsity (basketball) as a freshman. It was a big change going from middle school to varsity, and now it is over. It went by so fast – but I had fun.”

Northwestern finished the basketball season 22-4, falling in the regional championship game to eventual Class 3A state champion South Bend St. Joseph.

“It was a fun season,” she said. “The freshmen really helped and were a big part of the team. I was excited (to win sectional) to go far, but I would have loved to have gone farther.”

But basketball is now in the rear-view mirror and it is softball full-time moving forward. And that suits Sophia Beachy just fine; after all, tossing a ball is a family tradition.

HOWARD COUNTY IS FIVE AND OUT IN BOYS BASKETBALL SECTIONALS, TIPTON HEADS TO MARION REGIONAL

Eastern's Nolan Smalley plays in championship game of the Class 2A Taylor Sectional against Madison-Grant. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

Eastern's Nolan Smalley plays in championship game of the Class 2A Taylor Sectional against Madison-Grant. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

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.