While the ACAC Tournament takes center stage in parts of Northeast Indiana this time of year due to its history, the Northeast Corner Conference is going to have its fair share of quality games and players for the 2019 edition.
The girls side is host to the area’s last unbeaten team of any gender in Central Noble and the boys side is headed up by Westview, a serious contender for the Class 2A state title. But with plenty of evenly distributed talent on both sides, the tournaments will be fun to watch.
We here at Outside the Huddle pride ourselves on giving the best coverage we can of area high school hoops, but we also like to give credit where credit is due. With the NECC basically making up the border of our coverage area, we may not have the most in depth preview for this tournament. After reading what we have to say, we encourage you to check out our friend Sam Frick, the guru of NECC sports knowledge and his full previews:
TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE (Girls games at 6 p.m. followed by boys games, home court after round one is determined by the top girls winner. I.E ‘Game 1’ girls winner will host January 9 for girls and boys)
Game 1: Garrett at Churubusco
Game 2: Fairfield at Angola
Game 3: Central Noble at Hamilton (boys only)
Game 4: Westview at Eastside
Game 1 Winner versus Game 2 winner
Game 3 Winner versus Game 4 winner (Central Noble girls play automatically as the ‘Game 3’ winner)
Fremont at Prairie Heights
West Noble at Lakeland
Consolation games TBD
Semi final games
Championship games at Lakeland High School
TOP BOYS TOURNAMENT CONTENDERS
Westview has a 1-4 record in their last five and that can be deceiving as they battled against four quality Class 4A opponents in that time. The Warriors are still considered a favorite in the state in Class 2A with Charlie Yoder and Elijah Hales leading the way, as well as the recent breakout play of Josh Hostetler.
Fairfield is quietly 8-2 and would love to play spoiler to Westview. Cordell Hofer leads his team with 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest. But what Fairfield does best is play defense, giving up just 41.5 points per game.
Central Noble has a diverse scoring lineup, but their game with Hamilton on Tuesday will be their attempt to win three straight games for the first time all season. While players like Sawyer Yoder, Connor Essegian and Ridley Zolman have taken turns getting hot, it would be a tough draw for any team if all three of them are playing their best ball together.
Prairie Heights doesn’t get a ton of attention, but have the capability of shooting the ball very well in spurts. Their side of the bracket is interesting and juniors Elijah Malone and Mike Perkins may surprise some people.
5 BOYS PLAYERS TO WATCH
Elijah Hales of Westview has been on a tear as of late. He is coming off a 23 points, 11 assist double-double in a win over Hamilton last Friday. The night before, he essentially scored at will in the closing stretch of a loss at East Noble.
Trevor Franklin of West Noble has the chance to be the top scorer of this tournament. From his 26 point outing against South Side in November to his 22 points in their most recent game, a loss to Eastside, the Chargers offense starts with Franklin.
Sawyer Yoder of Central Noble is a constant in a lineup that has really flexed their muscles in offensive diversity. Yoder has adapted to what the Cougars need of him on any given night.
Ethan Marten of Fremont has an edge to his game that perfectly compliments team leading scorer Tanner Behnfeldt. The senior fights well in the paint and is good at getting Fremont second and third shot attempts.
Blake Pocock of Angola is a threat to get hot from long range and could take opposing teams right out of games if he gets the chance to.
TOP GIRLS TOURNAMENT CONTENDERS
Central Noble is the cream of the crop until someone proves otherwise. They have won 25 straight dating back to last year at this time when Angola beat them in the NECC Tournament and then they lost to Fairfield. While everyone know Sydney Freeman and Meleah Leatherman’s worth, it is the players around them, like Sam Brumbaugh and Bridgette Gray that have been big lately.
Angola knows how to win. They are winners. After a sluggish (to them) start to the season, they have now won seven games in a row. Only one game in that stretch has been within 15 points and that win, in overtime against West Noble, was a statement of its own. The Hornets seem to be on a collision course with Central Noble and that has always been fun.
Lakeland will rematch West Noble after beating them last week and they have to feel good about that win. Bailey Hartsough’s 29 points was huge in that game, that drew area wide attention. Defensively, their run against West Noble in the second half last week makes them a big threat to be able to stop any hot shooting team.
West Noble has the players in place to provide big upsets in the tournament if they made the right adjustments heading into a Lakeland rematch just a handful of days after losing to the Lakers. Lillian Mast and Megan Godfrey have played so well that people forget that Madison Schermerhorn still is one of the longtime elite NECC talents when she gets going.
5 GIRLS PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sydney Freeman of Central Noble is due for a big game after one of her worst games in a win at Garrett. Freeman has been made for big moments in the past and she will get every team’s best defensive effort. If she shines through, it will be bright.
Hanna Knoll of Angola surely doesn’t want to give back this tournament title just yet. She can be an offensive star, but will be huge on the defensive end where she is averaging around four steals per contest. Knoll knows how to stop opposing players and she is one of the best in the NECC at it.
Bailey Hartsough of Lakeland has developed as arguably the best scorer in the NECC. She has six 20-plus point games under her belt and is shooting at 41 percent from the field.
Faith Owen of Garrett has shown some real promise for the 10 win Railroaders. She is one of the better freshman in the entire area offensively when she takes her shot. She has only scored in single digits six times this year, and three of those times she has put up less than five shots.
Alexis German of Prairie Heights can be extremely disruptive defensively, giving Prairie Heights hope on their side of the bracket. She is good for at least two to three steals a game, but her ability to get into passing lanes always gives PH opponents some pause.