NORTH JUDSON — Three down, four to go.
With sectionals out of the way, North Judson-San Pierre basketball coach Ryan Bales said if you’re not already thinking about a state championship, you’re just not trying very hard.
“Our goal is to get down to state eventually,” said the fifth-year Bluejays skipper. “We’d love to be playing at Conseco some day, and our guys believe it. I told them last night they were four wins away from winning the state title. We have three down, four to go, and any program, any team at this point when you make it to regionals, it’s crazy if you’re not looking to that.”
On the other hand, the Bluejays aren’t looking past anyone at this weekend’s regional either. Nor can they or anyone else in the 2A North Judson Regional field afford to.
Judson plays host Saturday to a stacked regional field as the No. 6-ranked Jays (22-1) take on No. 7 Westview (21-2) in the afternoon game following the opener between undefeated No. 2 Hammond Bishop Noll (23-0) and Prairie Heights (17-8) at 11 a.m. EST.
“The field, looking around, I’d say is one of the stronger fields in 2A” said Bales. “At this point, the 16 teams remaining in each class, there aren’t many weak ones out there. Each game is going to be tough; teams all feel that they have the right to be there, and they’re going to do whatever they can to prove that they belong.”
The Bluejays are hoping they can capitalize on their home court advantage at Saturday’s tourney.
They’ve done so already in fully half of their 22 wins so far this season, and in the state tournament, the familiarity home court allows can be a decisive factor. The Jays are also expecting to see plenty of blue in the stands this weekend as well.
“Our home court has been very good to us this year,” said Bales. “We went undefeated at home in the regular season. Our guys play with a lot of confidence here, and not that they haven’t done that on the road, it’s just when you’re on the road you sometimes have to win a little bit differently. At home, you can sometimes outshoot teams, and it’s the nice little comforts, things you kind of overlook — what the locker room is like, having a normal routine, being familiar with the gym, knowing where everything is going to be at.”
“I think more important than that is also the home crowd,” he added. “I expect Westview to bring a large group of people — I expect it to be a packed house — but our Bluejay crowd, community, our school have just been tremendous all season long, and they’ve been behind these guys. There have been a lot of games where we’ve gone on the road and we’ve had a bigger crowd than the opposing team.”
Judson hosts a balanced cast with four players averaging double digits in 6-foot-7 forward John Eckert (18.48 ppg), 6-1 guard Winston Yergler (13.91), 5-10 guard Andrew Frasure (13) and 5-11 junior Kendall Hochstedler (12.14) and has another capable of producing double-digit numbers on any given night in 6-4 Mitch Fingerhut.
The Bluejays also boast a depth of tournament experience with three of those four playing on the 2008-09 squad that won their regional, also at North Judson.
“A couple of our players got a taste of it as freshmen and one of our players was a sophomore, Mitch Fingerhut. They were part of that semistate team,” Bales said. “Last year we slipped up a little bit, and the team we played just played better than us that night. but what I think it showed all of us is that you can’t take anything for granted, it’s not just going to get handed to you... I do know that that’s something that’s been in the backs of their heads; they don’t want to experience that again. They want to get back to that level.”