PLYMOUTH — Plymouth got off to a red-hot start, and while New Prairie stayed in it for three quarters, things quickly unraveled for the Cougars in the fourth.
The Pilgrims hit their first five shots while holding New Prairie scoreless for the first two and a half minutes to take a 12-0 lead at the 5:24 mark of the first quarter, then went an ultra-efficient 83 percent from the floor in the second half en route to a 56-37 rout of the Cougars in their Sectional 19 quarterfinal Wednesday at The Rock.
“You’re always curious when it comes to sectional how you’re going to start off, and credit our guys,” said Plymouth head basketball coach Kevin Stuckmeyer. “They had the mindset to have a good start and took New Prairie out of some things. We talked to them about how it would be a 32-minute game, no matter which way it would go, whether they start off well or if we did. You always like to be the team starting off well and hitting some shots, but you just have to be careful that you continue with it, and our guys did that.”
“All of our weaknesses reared their ugly heads tonight,” said New Prairie coach Chad Cripe. “All of the mental mistakes that we talked about came out tonight, and a very fundamentally sound basketball team is going to exploit them and they did.
“No excuses, they were better than us tonight. They shot the ball really well. It’s tough to beat Plymouth on their own floor.”
New Prairie answered back from its initial 12-0 deficit to leave the first period down 19-7, then pulled within seven with an 11-6 run spanning the first 6:39 of the second and remained down single digits at halftime at 27-18 when Plymouth point guard Houston Hodges hit Kyle Kaser on a backdoor lob for a layup and the final score of the first half.
Plymouth stretched its lead back to 15 points with its own 11-6 run capped off by a baseline drive and layup by Hodges at the 1:38 stop of the third, but the Cougars closed out the quarter with 5-for-5 shooting from the stripe, and a pair of quick steals on Pilgrims inbounds passes keyed a 4-0 mini-run within a little more than two-second span beginning with a traditional three-point play by George Stainko at the 54.7 mark and ending with a pair of freebies from Mike Wagner at the 52.5 stop that put the score at 39-31 with one frame to play.
But the Pilgrims effectively salted the game away with a 15-2 fourth quarter-opening run that included a pair of New Prairie technical fouls and four total fouls by the Cougars that stretched Plymouth’s lead to a commanding 21 points at 54-33 with 4:23 left to play.
“To be able to fight back and get within seven and then we’d make an error,” said Cripe. “We’ve got to find a way to get mentally tougher. That’s the next step for our program. We are mentally weak. I love my guys, they played hard, another year our record improved one more time, our program’s going in the right direction, but our next hurdle is getting mentally tougher.”
“Our guys were mentally tough and locked in, and they played together,” said Stuckmeyer. “They knew that they’d make a run, but you could just tell that our guys were wanting to win that next battle. They did a tremendous job of winning that next battle and doing it two, three, four times in a row.”
Wednesday’s game was a physical battle that featured 17 fouls from each team. In addition to New Prairie’s two fourth-quarter technicals, the Pilgrims drew a total of five charges from their Cougars counterparts.
“We told them taking charges, at least to start the game, would be a huge key for us,” Stuckmeyer said. “I think we had three in that first half and then maybe another one that we took that they didn’t call. You can tell... when they’re doing that, that they’re mentally prepared, they’re ready to go. That’s the Plymouth way, and I think those guys are starting to figure it out and this is the right time to do it.”
New Prairie was led at the game by Wagner’s 13 points and closes out the season at 10-12, bidding goodbye to a quartet of seniors in Wagner, Stainko, Josh Ruiz and Josh Klein.
“They’re my first group; they’ve improved every year,” said Cripe. “They’re part of it. We’ve got some guys coming back. We’re building a program. That’s not the way they wanted to end it but... I’m proud of our program.”
Plymouth’s offense was driven by seven assists from Hodges and paced by seniors Sean Smith and Brock Smith with 13 and 16 points, respectively. Brock tied his season-high with that 16-point tally, and it was Sean’s highest offensive output since scoring 14 in a Northern Lakes Conference contest at Wawasee on January 21.
The Pilgrims improve to 7-14 and will play South Bend St. Joseph’s — which beat Rochester in Wednesday’s other quarterfinal — in the late semifinal Friday following a game between Culver Military Academy and Mishawaka Marian.
“Business as usual,” Stuckmeyer said. “Continue with it. This is one game out of a sectional, and no team in Indiana says ‘Hey, let’s win that first game and not the next two,’ so it’ll be important for us to have a good prep tomorrow and keep our same mindset that we’ve had all week up to this first game.”
CLASS 3A SECTIONAL 19
• PLYMOUTH 56, NEW PRAIRIE 37
Score by quarters
New Prairie: 7 18 31 37
Plymouth: 19 27 39 56
NEW PRAIRIE (37): Kyle Brammer 2 1-3 5, Zach Rehlander 0 2-2 2, Josh Ruiz 2 1-1 5, George Stainko 2 0-2 4, Mike Wagner 5 2-2 13, Collin Kowalski 1 0-0 2, Mitch Mrozinski 3 0-3 6, Derek Scott 0 0-0 0, Austin Ginter 0 0-0 0, Matt Winter 0 0-0 0, Aaron Bladecki 0 0-0 0, Nathan Kujawa 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 15 6-13 37.
PLYMOUTH (56): Houston Hodges 3 1-2 7, Mitch Holloway 0 0-0 0, Kyle Kaser 2 0-0 5, Ike Kastner 0 0-0 0, Kyser McCrammer 0 0-0 0, Ryan McNeil 1 0-0 3, John Ruff 1 1-3 3, Mack Mercer 4 1-1 9, Gabe Vervynckt 0 0-1 0, Joe Knapp 0 0-0 0, Sean Smith 4 1-4 13, Brock Smith 5 4-4 16. TOTALS: 21 9-16 56.
3-point goals: New Prairie 1 (Wagner), Plymouth 5 (B. Smith 2, S. Smith, Kaser, McNeil). Total fouls (fouled out): New Prairie 17 (Mrozinski, Brammer), Plymouth 18; Rebounds: New Prairie 18 (Mrozinski 6), Plymouth 25 (S. Smith 7); Turnovers: New Prairie 19, Plymouth 16; Records: New Prairie 10-12 (final), Plymouth 7-14.