Every single team returns in the Class 2A Regional at Winamac this season. Last year, it was Central Noble beating Bluffton and Hammond Bishop Noll for the title. This year, there will be different morning matchups but all four teams get to return to Winamac.
This is the second Regional we will break down on OutsideTheHuddle.net that features the defending state champion of that class.
CENTRAL NOBLE (25-0)
This is a pretty loaded Regional because the North is pretty loaded in Class 2A. But to be the team, you have to beat the team and any road to a state title runs through the defending champion, especially when they are one of the state’s last four unbeaten teams. Because players like Bridgette Gray have stepped up so severely in enhanced roles this season, there probably has not been enough credit or praise heaped onto Sydney Freeman, who is just the school’s all-time leading scorer and one of the best players, regardless of gender or school, to ever play in Noble County. Freeman provides a real problem as a shot creator, a shot maker and to shut down any opposing player’s ability to shoot.
‘Miss 1,000’ Meleah Leatherman is playing phenomenal basketball during the second half and teams will have to stop her from being the catalyst inside for the Cougars, which they just weren’t able to do in spots in the postseason last year. Averaging 16.5 points and 10.4 rebounds, she is shooting 64 percent from two point range and is a guaranteed bucket if she gets to the block and lower. Central Noble will feed off the experience that Freeman, Leatherman, Gray, Lydia Andrews and Sam Brumbaugh have and that is a monumental advantage on paper.
This run through Regionals will be tougher for Central Noble than it was last year; the opposing teams are just better. But so are the Cougars as they start the journey at 1 p.m. against Hammond Bishop Noll. The big difference now is the gigantic target on Central Noble’s back. They are going to get every team’s very best shot from here on out.
NORTH JUDSON-SAN PIERRE (21-3)
At 11 a.m., the team with the shortest trip will square off against Bluffton with two nearly 20-point per game scorers at their disposal. Sophomore Lilliann Frasure and senior Madeline Schumacher both shoot the ball well. Frasure is the one who could be important not only against Bluffton, but in a potential game against Central Noble. At 5-foot-10, she averages team highs in points (19.4), assists (5.7), steals (4.9) and rebounds (9.2). When you have two of the best players in the state in Class 2A on your team, you are consistently going to be a major threat no matter who sits across from you.
They have lost to a pair of Class 4A teams and Class 1A’s Marquette Catholic so far this season. Their schedule actually ranks better at 147th overall than Central Noble’s in the recent Sagarin ratings but are just 2-3 against top 25 teams. They are very good at limiting turnovers and both Bluffton and a potential final opponent will have to be good at getting in passing lanes and disrupting the Blue Jays’ flow.
The Tigers have made history as the only back to back Sectional champion in program history and they showed a lot of tenacity on Monday to stave off Adams Central throwing their best game at them. A balanced effort was key in topping their Sectional, but it is likely that they will need a star to shine in order to make waves in this Regional, which could be Emme Boots, Olivia King or Grace Miller. Can they compete without one player breaking out? Perhaps. They will have to rebound the ball well and Jamie Myers and Allison Powers will be expected to step up on the interior on Saturday morning to throw off a well rebounding North Judson-San Pierre. Bluffton has talent, they have heart and they are well coached. They aren’t the favorites by any means on Saturday, but it is far too early to count them out either.
HAMMOND BISHOP NOLL (21-6)
This is, by no means, a bad team. Their exclusion from contendership just means I don’t see them getting to the finals because of the mismatches that Central Noble will likely try to exploit against them in the 1 p.m. game. All six of their losses have come in 2019 with four of them against Class 4A schools, one to an out of state team and the other to defending Class 1A champion Marquette Catholic. Courtney Blake and Eris Harris both play nearly the entirety of every game and are the heart of this team. Blake, a sophomore, is the go to girl. Everything about her numbers scream superstar from her 20.4 points to her 3 steals per game. Hammond Noll’s biggest deficiency against Central Noble is a lack of height. Their one six footer plays limited minutes and their leading rebounder is just 5-foot-9 versus the height of Leatherman inside.
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