As the 102nd Annual IHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament opens this week, Plymouth is hoping it can carry over some of its regular season home court magic into the Class 3A Sectional 19 tilt at The Rock, while Triton is looking to keep its four-peat sectional championship streak alive at home at The Trojan Trench in Class A Sectional 51 play, and Northern State Conference competitors LaVille and Bremen head to Westview to vie for the Class 2A Sectional 35 crown.
Class 3A Sectional 19
The Pilgrims (15-5) are riding high on a five-game win streak, and after going a perfect 10-0 at home during regular season play, they’re hoping that strong home court play will continue to serve them as they open with Culver Military Academy (0-22) in the late game Wednesday at 8 p.m. following another quarterfinal between St. Joseph’s (7-13) and Mishawaka Marian (17-3) at 6 p.m.
“I’ve been having fun with this group all year. Sometimes change isn’t easy. Not only for me adjusting to everyone and getting to know the kids, but it’s not easy on the kids either,” said first-year Plymouth head coach Ryan Bales. “They bought in, I think they were hungry for something new, and they’ve come out and they’ve worked their tails off all season long. What we’ve done this season I’m sure that most people didn’t expect us to do, but as a coaching staff we see things and felt like we had the guys to get it done.
“Hopefully we’re not done yet. We’ve got a long ways to go. We’re playing at home, we’ve got some great teams in sectional, we should have some great ball games, some great battles, and that’s what makes it fun. Hopefully we see a big red machine behind us in the stands.”
While Plymouth opens with a winless CMA squad it already beat by a convincing 53-36 margin back on Feb. 14, the Pilgrims aren’t overlooking the defending sectional champs. And with area rivals Mishawaka Marian and St. Joe battling it out in the other quarterfinal in the bracket, Plymouth’s road to restore itself to the championship for the first time since 2007-08 is anything but easy.
“CMA, we just played them here and forget about the records at this point, they’re going to be hungry,” said Bales. “They’ve been close, had a couple double overtime games here as of late. We cannot look ahead, no one can look ahead. You’ve got Glenn-New Prairie Tuesday that’s going to be a battle. Marian-St. Joe’s a rivalry game, us and CMA, we’re expecting a battle out of that game. It’s just one game at a time at this point. We want to just be playing our best basketball, we want to play well, we want to play hard, and hopefully we can come out of there with a Wednesday night win.”
The Pilgrims used a strong second half to hand Glenn a 74-60 regular-season-ending defeat last Tuesday, but the Falcons (9-11) are looking to bounce back against a team they know well in NSC foe New Prairie (13-8) in the sectional opener Tuesday at 7 p.m. Glenn already owns a win over both the Cougars, who they topped 66-54 on the road Feb. 14 and Jimtown (4-16) — which waits for the winner of the Glenn-New Prairie match-up in Friday’s early semifinal at Plymouth — but like Plymouth, the Falcons are cautiously optimistic at tournament time.
“I like the way we’re playing. I think we’re playing extremely well right now,” said Glenn head coach Travis Hannah. “I just told our guys if we can find a way to get to that championship next week, who knows? And I think we’re good enough to do it, it’s just a matter of staying hot right now.
“New Prairie’s a scary basketball team and they’re a good basketball team. Playing us the other night, they just caught us on a night where we shot the ball extremely well, and they’ve played a little bit more poorly than I’ve seen them play in the past. That’s going to be a tight one on Tuesday night. That’s a tough one to open up with. Then Jimtown they’re scary because they’ve got a couple kids that can shoot from the perimeter. We took care of them at home, but you never know in a tournament atmosphere.”
Class A Sectional 51
With a string of four straight sectional titles and berths at the state championship game three of the last four years, Triton is the favorite to win its home tournament. The Trojans (16-5) open tourney play with Oregon-Davis (4-16) Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., a team they opened the season with a lopsided 89-33 win against, but the Bobcats have won three of their last five and are upset-minded against their hosts.
“We have to come out with focus, effort, and intensity for four quarters. We’ve had it for a quarter or half, but we’ve struggled to have it for four quarters,” said Triton head coach Jason Groves. “That focus, intensity, and effort is going to be key, especially on the defensive end since our defense often leads to our offense. If we come out with that focus, with that effort, with that intensity, we’ll be a tough team to play.”
“You always want to be playing your best basketball coming into the end of the year, and I think we’re doing that,” said first-year OD head coach Matt Crawford. “It takes awhile with new terminology and a new teaching style and new people to get used to. I credit the kids for that. They’ve been coachable, they’ve been willing to listen, they’ve been working hard. We had a tough streak at the beginning of the season where some people may have packed it in, but these kids didn’t; they persevered.”
Argos (2-18) takes on Westville (10-10) Wednesday at 6 p.m. with the winner advancing to play the victor of Wednesday’s late quarterfinal between Michigan City Marquette (11-9) and South Central (10-10) Friday at 7:30 p.m., while Culver Community (11-9) is hoping to use the bye to its advantage as it waits to play the winner of OD-Triton at 6 p.m. Friday.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to win the sectional, but yet we’re not that far,” said Culver head coach Kyle Elliott. “If we come out and shoot the ball the way we’re capable of on Friday night, who knows in that semifinal? With the bye we’ll get a good look at Triton. Obviously it’s a team we know pretty well, and if they play the way they’re capable of they’ll advance to that Friday night match-up. The nice thing is in that bye bracket you do have a little bit of time to focus on who you think you’re going to play. Hopefully we can make some adjustments and turn that around a little bit.
“They’ve got a nice ball club, playing on their home floor, obviously a favorite to win the sectional, but our kids will hit it hard Monday, and we’ll start breaking more tape down and see what we can do on the game plan and hopefully get on top and get a win on Friday night.”
Class 2A Sectional 35
It’s been a banner year for LaVille, which tied with Triton for a first-place finish in the NSC and is cruising on a record-breaking 10-game win streak headed into tournament play. The Lancers (15-5) are looking to keep the good times rolling against defending sectional champion Westview (17-5) — which seems to be headed the other direction on a three-game losing streak — in the Sectional 35 opener at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
At 6-14 Bremen’s season has been a rocky one, meanwhile, but while the Lions have lost their last five, they’ve been competitive in many of those contests. Bremen opens tournament play against Prairie Heights (5-17) Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and first-year head coach Ryan Eakins thinks if his players show up, they’ve got the same chance as anyone to take home the crown.
“We’ve got a great opportunity in our opinion. We think we can go up there and do some damage in the sectional,” he said. “In my opinion five of the six teams could win the thing. We think that we’re in a really nice position to do some damage, but we simply have to show up from a mental standpoint on Tuesday night. Prairie Heights is a good team, and they’ve got one really good player. That’s going to be our focus for the next few days. We’ve got to take it one step at a time, one game at a time, and the fun thing about tournaments is if you come to play one night you get to move on, if you don’t, you don’t. If these guys decide they want to play a little longer we could do some damage up there.”