At 4 p.m. on Saturday in Logansport, the defending Class 2A state champion Central Noble Cougars will meet the Oak Hill Eagles for the right to represent the north half of the state in the state championship game opposite either Evansville Mater Dei or Winchester.

RELATED STORY: Central Noble has matured heading into third straight semistate appearance

The two teams have a combined record of 50-3 with all of those few losses coming out of Oak Hill this season. While Central Noble has plowed through opponents like Triton Central, the Eagles have only lost to Northwestern and Marion (who will meet in the Class 3A semistate at Logansport after this game) and Class 4A’s Fort Wayne South Side.

On paper, these two teams are very similar. In reality, you can say the same thing. Power versus power. Speed versus speed. Quality coaching versus quality coaching. There isn’t much more you could ask for in the semistate round. So Outside the Huddle will break down the game as our Game of the Weekend, complete with thoughts from Central Noble head coach Josh Treesh along the way.

THREE STORYLINES

1. FAMILIARITY

There is a certain comfort zone with doing similar things and being similar places. While Oak Hill has been here before, this is becoming a common place for Central Noble. They once again won a regional title at Winmac and will now go play at Logansport in the semistate round for the third straight season.

“I think anytime you can be comfortable and not have to adapt to any type of change is great,” Treesh said. “Last year, even though I said that, we had that rough first quarter against Frankton until we finally settled down. With any big game, there is nervousness and fears just like Oak Hill is going to have. We will work through that the first three or four minutes and I think both teams will settle down and it will be a really good basketball game.”

Logansport and the “Berry Bowl” is a much different environment, especially in the postseason, than most teams are accustomed to. Being there the first time can be a bit overwhelming as the sound of the crowd booms through the arena. But being there the third time has to feel a little like a home away from home for the Cougars.

2. DON’T DISCOUNT 27-0

Treesh says that his team doesn’t talk much about their perfect record and rightfully so. The 27 doesn’t mean much if something happens to the zero on the other side.

“We don’t even discuss that at all. For us, it is just taking one game at a time. The biggest thing right now is trying to get back to that state championship game. For 32 minutes, we’ve got probably one of the toughest teams on our schedule this year, I think it is going to be a flat out war,” Treesh said.

Some have pointed at the Cougars’ NECC schedule and not playing more city centered teams in the Fort Wayne area as why they couldn’t be considered the area’s top team.Yet, Central Noble’s 20th place sagarin rating and even 141st strength of schedule ranking show that to be a lie. The Cougars have faced some stiff challenges and passed every single one of them. For comparison, Oak Hill’s sagarin rating is 26th and their strength of schedule ranks 194th of the state’s 403 teams.

The NECC itself was incredibly strong this season with four different NECC teams winning Sectional titles out of the five sectionals the conference was represented in. Seven teams in the conference finished with winning records. Their 27-0 is true and earned.

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Oak Hill poses after last weekend’s Regional title game win.

3. STATE TITLE GAME HISTORY

For the third straight season, one of these teams will represent the north in the Class 2A state championship game. And the North has a proud history in that game putting on great performances, while not always winning in the process. For Oak Hill, they want the chance to get back to the game they lost in 2017. Central Noble wants to join the likes of Heritage Christian and Evansville Mater Dei in not only getting back to the 2A title game, but winning it back to back years. This is legacy versus payback and bragging rights to play in what is always what is one of the best state title games means a lot.

FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. MELEAH LEATHERMAN, CENTRAL NOBLE

Treesh has said that a lot of this game will flow through Leatherman and while he is not going to give up his full game plan to the media, there has to be some truth to it. There is a lot of talent at Central Noble, but it is fair to say that when Leatherman gets hot, the Cougars play at their best. Leatherman is a big catalyst for making defenses collapse and it opens up everything else for this team to tinker with.

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Central Noble’s Meleah Leatherman defends the post during a February 13 practice.

2. TAYLOR WESTGATE, OAK HILL

It can be said again, and not for the last time, that these two teams are very similar. Everything said about Leatherman can basically be copy and pasted for Westgate. She has an innate ability to dominate down low and change the course of any game. What could really benefit Oak Hill, because of their offensive ball movement, is if Westgate can become successful on the offensive glass. If she can end a long Oak Hill possession with a rebound and a reset of the offense, then the Eagles can hold on to the ball for long stretches and keep the Cougars from getting out in transition.

Westgate is a handful and scored the first 12 points of the second half in Oak Hill’s regional final win. She finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds in that one, a 56-36 win over Tipton.

3. BRIDGETTE GRAY, CENTRAL NOBLE

When you talk about catalysts for Central Noble’s return to this level, you have to mention the development of Gray. She is averaging over 5 points per game than she did last season as a freshman and she looks so much more comfortable in the process.

“Bridgette has gotten so much better. She can shoot it outside, she can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, she can hit that midrange shot,” Treesh said. “So you can’t take all three of them away. I’m not sure you can take both of them away. But a lot of teams have been trying to take Meleah away, which has left Syd and Bridgette to do some damage and they’ve done a nice job.”

4. BRITTANY MCCORKLE, OAK HILL

She is a quality shooter, who could get going if Central Noble puts a lot of emphasis on defending the post. She has hurt teams in the past, including a really nice sectional finals performance, because teams concentrate on the depth of height inside for Oak Hill. If McCorkle gets the chance to get rolling and takes advantage, she is one of the main guards who could impact this game for the Eagles.

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Central Noble’s Jocelyn Winebrenner is defended by a pair of Bishop Luers players during a November 3 game.

KEYS TO VICTORY — CENTRAL NOBLE

1. LEAN ON FREEMAN AND LEATHERMAN

It is ok to let Freeman and Leatherman, two of the best seniors in the state, do their thing. Central Noble’s program has been built for years around a variety of people, but this duo represents arguably the two best players in program history. And any argument against that isn’t much of an argument. When the going gets tough, it is Freeman and Leatherman who will be this team’s rock, and Treesh knows it.

“It comes down to this: when the game is on the line, Syd and Meleah are going to take shots, they are going to make things happen,” Treesh said. “Against North Judson, you saw them in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter, I think Syd and Meleah scored 20 out of our 23 points. That is what your seniors do, that is what your superstars do.”

There will come times that Gray, Lydia Andrews and Sam Brumbaugh will make important plays. That is almost a guarantee. But at the end of the day, there is a pretty dynamic duo up from for Central Noble to lean on.

2. THE BOUNCE BACK

With as quality as Oak Hill is, there is always a viable chance that Central Noble will get behind in this game, be it early or late. But the Cougars have always been good bouncing back from adversity, as seen a year ago at Logansport when Frankton went after them early. While Treesh and company will hope that it doesn’t come to this, they will have to remember that they have always been good at fighting back against struggles.

KEYS TO VICTORY — OAK HILL

1. MAKE LEATHERMAN WORK

With Westgate and Adrianna Trexler inside, Leatherman is going to have her hands full and she will have to power through. That is all that Oak Hill can ask for is to make Leatherman expend a lot of energy offensively in hopes that some exhaustion will make her make defensive mistakes and maybe even get sloppy enough to get into foul trouble.

Treesh has said that keeping Leatherman out of foul trouble is important and that he expects Oak Hill to throw everything that have at her in the post.

“Most programs that have any type of success, they don’t change a lot; they keep the same things that have made them what they are,” Treesh said of Oak Hill’s switching match up zone that they deploy often and have even since Central Noble’s 2017 semistate meeting with the Eagles.

“I would anticipate that anytime Meleah catches the ball, they are going to take two or three people at her to make her give it up.”

2. LIMIT POOR PASSES

Central Noble will make the Eagles pay if they aren’t careful with the ball. Luckily for Oak Hill, this group is so in sync that they rarely make big mistakes when moving the ball around. This would not be the time to let that lapse as it will play right into Central Noble’s hand.

“If we can get our in transition and do some things and make Oak Hill play up and down, I think we can wear them down,” Treesh said.

Freeman averages nearly five steals a game with Gray, Andrews, Brumbaugh and Jocelyn Winebrenner all very good about being aggressive getting in passing lanes.

BOUNCE’S PREDICTION

Hey, let Bounce say himself what has already said above: there are tons of similarities between the two teams that play at Logansport for the north semistate title. Treesh believes this is going to be a war and Bounce has no reason to doubt his word. What I like about Central Noble now, more so than a year ago, is how loose they are with the experience.

They have a lot going on and have all week leading up to this game. But they seem to be taking it all in stride, with smiles on their faces and a jovial nature in practice. They are loose and if they find the right balance of loose and serious on Saturday, Bounce isn’t sure it will matter much what Oak Hill will do and it will be more about what Central Noble does.

And I want to go to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.

Bounce picks Central Noble

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