Archive for Tournament

STATE CHAMPIONS: WESTERN LAYS CLAIM TO FIRST BASEBALL TITLE

WESTERN PANTHERS - IHSAA CLASS 3A STATE BASEBALL CHAMPIONS

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

(EDITOR’S NOTE: For complete coverage of Western’s state championship, see the June 19 issue of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana. If you don’t receive the Sports Journal, request your free subscription today.)

INDIANAPOLIS – One week ago, Western head coach Ty Calloway explained the Panthers team motto of “never give up” came from a famous Winston Churchill commencement speech. He said after the team got off to a 6-7 start to the season, they needed to regroup and not give up on the year. Calloway will need to change the wording to “never gave up” as his squad dominated the Brebeuf Jesuit Braves 8-1 at Victory Field to win the school’s first-ever IHSAA Class 3A state baseball championship.

“What can I say, we are elated,” said a smiling Calloway after the game. “I give credit to these kids because they really battled. We got off to a rocky start this year, but we battled back and we are now playing as a team.”

The Panthers wasted little time in flexing their muscle, scoring four runs in the top of the first inning off Notre Dame recruit Connor Hale. Marcus Pingleton led the game off with a walk, Adam Bolen singled and Evan Warden ripped a double down the third base line to give the Black Attack a quick 2-0 lead. After Dakota LaMott was hit by a pitch, Austin LaFollette doubled down the right field line and it was a 4-0 Panther lead.

“We got some good hits there, like we did against Bellmont,” said Calloway, who picked up his first state title after 640 career wins. “We came out a little bit hot, and when you do that, you take some pressure off your pitcher – and that is what we wanted to do.”

And the lack of pressure was appreciated by starting pitcher Ronnie Smith, who threw five innings of two-hit, one-run baseball. The Braves did not score its run until the fifth inning and Smith struck out four and walked three as he picked up his tenth – and most important – win of the season. He left the game after five innings, throwing 52 of his 85 pitches for strikes.

“I felt good coming into the game,” said the 6-foot-6 junior righty. “I struggled in getting strikes the last game, but I adjusted tonight. Coming into here (Victory Field) – you can’t even find the catcher’s glove with the crowd behind him. But you get in your zone and just play the game and I felt like I was able to get in a groove.”

Calloway was happy with the way his pitcher responded to the atmosphere.

Ronnie did a nice job,” said the hall of fame coach. “We talked (before the game) about Ronnie needing to get us at least four (innings) and then bring Evan (Warden) in. But he got us five innings tonight.”

Warden agreed with Smith about the way the team felt before the game. The young sophomore – who pitched the final two innings and had a double, triple and two RBIs at the plate – said the team was relaxed and ready to play.

“I can’t explain this feeling I am so happy,” he said. “We were relaxed before the game. Even before we got to the game we knew we would be up to speed – we knew we would be ready to play. I mean getting here is one thing, but we wanted to win.”

Calloway added about the pre-game mood: “I wasn’t really nervous at all tonight – I felt good vibes before the game.”

Longtime assist coach Dwight Singer has paced hundreds of coaching boxes, waiting for the chance to have an IHSAA medal draped around his neck.

“This is for all of the boys in the past who have come close and couldn’t get the brass ring,” he said. “This fulfills a lot of dreams and was a long-time coming.

LaFollette, whose first inning double may have spelled the end for Brebeuf, was nearly speechless after the trophy presentation.

“It is so surreal; I can’t believe this happened,” he said. “Last year, we were projected to go and didn’t. But we fought through adversary this year and won it. I am so happy for Ronnie and Evan; they threw a great game. We just hit the ball when we needed it and it felt good.”

Indiana high school state champions! Yep, that should feel good.

(This story is just the beginning. See the June 19 issue of the Sports Journal for stories on catcher Kyle Ennis, head coach Ty Calloway, the complete championship box score and nearly two dozen full-color photos.)

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)

LADY PANTHER’S SEASON ENDS IN FINAL FOUR LOSS

Allison Lindley

Western's Allison Lindley guards the inbounds pass from Concordia's Annalissa Kammeyer in the IHSAA Class 3A North Semi-State at Warsaw.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

WARSAW – Some things just aren’t meant to be. Last Saturday in the Tiger Den at Warsaw Community High School was one of those days for the Western Lady Panthers basketball team. Playing in its first Final Four and the Class 3A North Semi-State, Western dug a first half hole it could not overcome en route to a 46-35 loss to No. 7-ranked Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School.

“We knew coming in that we had a very good opponent,” said first-year Western coach Chris Keisling. “They have a very nice club and hit shots early against our zone, so we got ourselves down.”

Western started strong as they took a 2-0 lead on an Amber Fernung basket on an assist from Nicole Rogers. Unfortunately, it would be the Panthers only lead of the game. While the Panthers held the Cadets to seven points below its scoring average, a nine minute scoring outage in the first half was too much to overcome. Western’s only other first quarter basket came from Rogers five minutes into the game as the Panthers trailed 12-5 after one. By the time Western scored at the 2:34 mark of the second, Concordia was on a 15-0 run and seemed to have the game in hand. The intermission scoreboard read Concordia 25, Western 10.

“A lot of it was Fort Wayne’s (man-to-man defense), but some of it was our first semi-state appearance,” said Keisling of Western’s nervous-looking start. “We had some unforced errors that caused us some problems. It was a new experience for our kids and it showed. I told them at half time to get their heads up, we are not out of this game, and we have a few things up our sleeve.”

What was up the sleeve was Rogers, who should have sealed her spot on the Indiana All-Star team with a 17 point third quarter that put the Panthers back in the hunt. In the middle of a Rogers 17-4 run on Concordia, she became the second leading scorer in girls Howard County hoops history. In what will go down as one of the best single-quarter individual efforts in Western basketball history, the IUPUI recruit hit four 3-pointers, a driving basket and a three-point play. She single-handedly cut the large Concordia lead to 29-27 before the Cadets called a pair of timeouts to adjust with three minutes left in the third stanza.

“We switched to a man defense and dialed up Nicole’s numbers,” said Keisling. “We ran her off a lot of screens to get her open; and she answered the bell. Wow, did she answer the bell. I told her after the game, ‘Kiddo, if there is an Indiana All-Star, I have to be looking at her.’ She put us on her back with 23 of our 35 points.”

Keisling was quick to point out that Rogers does not have that type of effort if not for her teammates picking up their game as well.

“And our guards came out in the second half and did a tremendous job,” he said. “They handled the ball, moved the ball and found Nicole coming off the screens. (The team had) great timing on the passes, and in so doing, penetrated the defense to get her open. Finally at the end, the legs started going and we couldn’t finish it out. What a phenomenal effort by our kids.”

Unfortunately, the rally drained an already low tank for Western, and they could not get past the seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter as the Cadets hit 9 of 11 free throws in the second half to seal the victory.

Western only hit 12 of 38 shots in the game. But there were silver-linings as they won the turnover battle (16-12) and had more steals (11 to 5) as they held the Cadets to 46 points – the squads fourth-lowest in a win.

Rogers finished her Western career with a 23 point, six rebound performance for a total of 1,593 career points – second only to Kokomo legend Tiffany Longworth in county history. Caitlyn O’Neal scored seven off the bench and twin sister Carley led the team in assists (4) and steals (3).

Despite the loss, Keisling was thrilled with the way his first season went, and he said he was very proud of the team.

“I am proud of my kids, all the way around,” he said. “These kids really bought in to what we were doing. I couldn’t have asked any more of these kids – they gave me everything. To see the effort they gave, knowing the adversity they had (five coaches in five years), it really moved me as a coach. I am just so proud and we achieved some really neat things. And we have a houseful of juniors and sophomores who had a chance to see this experience – what an advantage they have that they can take with them this summer and set some high goals.”

Western finishes its season with a school record tying 19 wins (19-6) and memories that will last a lifetime. Concordia (20-5) was led by the 14 points of Lauren Marinko and now advances to the state finals in Terre Haute next Saturday. They will play the south semi-state winner and second-ranked Mount Vernon of Fortville (23-5).