LAFAYETTE — A funny thing sometimes happens to basketball teams with the approach of March.
Seniors, sensing their time is nearly up, start to pick up the intensity. That in turn helps develop younger players, who are able to make increasingly bigger contributions.
It doesn’t always happens, but when it does, it can make for some great postseason runs.
Such has been the case for Triton at least, as the No. 10 Trojans first knocked off No. 8 Michigan City Marquette for their sixth straight sectional championship, then advanced through defending regional champion Fort Wayne Canterbury in a reprisal for last year’s double-overtime championship loss before handing No. 4 Pioneer a convincing 53-41 loss to put Triton back on top at Regional 13 Saturday.
Triton is looking good and hoping the best is yet to come as the Trojans (19-5) travel to the Lafayette Jefferson Semistate Saturday to take on Lafayette Central Catholic (18-8) in a 4 p.m. tipoff.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot about our team,” said Triton head coach Jason Groves. “If you would have told me we’d have been here in November, I’d have thought you were crazy, but give credit to our kids. They’ve changed the way they’ve gone about things, they’ve changed the way they’ve gone about practice and really gotten better as the season went along.”
“This is a group of seniors that don’t want to lose, and you can see that not just in the games, but I saw it in practice,” he continued. “I don’t know how to teach that where they’re competing and wanting to compete so hard that they’re not going to lose in practice, but I recognize it, and I recognized it towards the end of the year. It’s nice to see. I really wanted to advance in the playoffs because I felt like we were really playing well and really wanting to compete.”
Triton enters this Saturday’s semistate riding an 11-game win streak. The last time the Trojans lost was in a Bi-County Tournament semifinal with LaVille back on Feb. 2. It was around that time that Groves started to see a change in his players.
“It was sometime after Bi-County. I can’t put a finger on exactly what day it was, but we hadn’t won Bi-County for the first time since we’ve been in the Bi-County, and that disappointed our kids,” said the Triton boss. “We had lost five games to that point, which was probably the most games we’d lost up to that point in the last five or six years. I basically told them ‘We can go one of two ways: You guys can keep doing what you’re doing, and I’ll coach you, I’ll do my best, but we’re not going to go very far in the postseason. Or we can learn to change things and, seniors, you can realize that this is it for you guys and start doing things the right way.’ That’s kind of when our seniors started to realize. And you see that sometimes, the seniors when you get towards the end of the year, they realize ‘Oh man, my time’s up.’ I think they just recognized that towards the end of the season, and they didn’t want to be done so credit them.”
One senior in particular deserves much of the credit for Triton’s success.
Clay Yeo is already the most decorated ballplayer in program history with single game, single season and career scoring records. In fact, he’s only 29 points shy of Plymouth grad Kyle Benge’s Marshall County scoring record 1,979, set in 2005. But as the supporting cast around him has developed, it’s allowed the 6’6” Valparaiso recruit to find new levels to his own game.
Sophomores Skyler Reichert and Joey Corder have begun knocking down big shots, and Corder is now intermittently running the point. Senior Seth Glingle has become a bigger contributor on the offensive end, and junior Tanner Shepherd, always an offensive producer, has stepped up his defensive effort. The combination has taken some of the pressure off Yeo and allowed him to let the game come to him as teams throw anything and everything at him.
“At the beginning of the season I was definitely coming in thinking I had to do a lot, and I think I was doing it the wrong way,” said Yeo. “I was trying to go one-on-one too many times. I think late in the season I’ve really let the offense work and I’ve gotten into the game by working with the sway of the offense. These younger guys, like Joey Corder being a sophomore and running the point guard position for us, that’s definitely not an easy position, he’s stepped up big, and everyone’s just played very well the last half of the season.
“Coach always tells me to trust my teammates. You’ve got to when teams are running two guys at you and running different defenses like box-and-one, triangle-and-two, you’ve definitely got to trust guys to step up, and so far they’ve done a great job.”
The trip to Lafayette Jefferson is nothing new for Triton’s seniors, although it’s been two years since their last semistate berth.
Yeo, Glingle, Drew Mosson and Bryson Mosier can all remember that 2011 run that ended at state and junior starting forward Cody Shively was also along for the ride as a freshman, but this time feels a little bit different.
“My sophomore year when we went I felt like I was there in the backseat,” said Yeo, whose free throws in overtime lifted the Trojans to the championship. “I was doing good things for the team and I felt like I was probably a role player, but I had people like Griffyn (Carpenter) and those guys in that senior class, it was kind of their time. Now being a senior I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat, these guys are feeding off me, and I’m the guy that has to set the tone for the start of the game and what we do the week before in practice. That’s what those past guys taught me, so I’m just trying to do what they did.”
“I think our roles are a lot more important this time around, definitely, because we’re actually out there doing it,” said Shively. “We’ve seen other kids do the same things that we have to do. We’ve seen what needs to get done, we just have to go out there and get it done.”
A bigger role means more pressure, but Triton’s upperclassmen say they relish the feeling.
“It’s obviously different. Last time we went I hardly played at all. It was a lot of fun just being a part of the team,” said Glingle. “But just knowing I’m a big part of why we’re here now, it’s an amazing feeling to actually be contributing this year. It’s a blast.”
“I feel more comfortable just because now it’s in our hands,” said Mosson. “We have control over what’s going to happen in the game; we’re not just sitting there watching the other kids do it. So that if something bad happens, we can correct our mistakes and try and build from that during the game.”
Triton’s last three runs to semistate have all ended at the state championship — with runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2009 and the program’s lone state championship in 2008. The last two times the Trojans have met Central Catholic at this level, the match-up has been favorable to Triton, which is 2-0 in the series with wins in both the ‘08 and ‘09 campaigns.
But it’s a brand new day, and the Trojans say they’ll have their work cut out for them this weekend.
“I think that’s insignificant. This is a totally different team for them and a totally different team for us,” said Groves. “That’s just something that these kids maybe remember being there at the game, but that’s not going to factor in. It’s a new team, a new year, and we’re just going to go with that approach. I told our kids it’s going to be a war, it’s going to be a battle, and we’ve got to play excellent basketball for 32 minutes.”
“We’re going to have to play really hard,” Mosier said. “They’re really fast and they work hard. We’re going to have to match that, just play really good defense against them and stop their penetration. Just work harder than them.”