New Haven will enter Saturday chasing their first ever Regional title. It is a lofty goal, but not as lofty as it once appeared to be. The Bulldogs have spent the entire season fighting off misconceptions about what their season would be like.
A move up to Class 4A? That was going to be hard in the Sectional they were headed to. Competing in the Northeast 8? With the power that Norwell was going to be, that was going to be difficult too. Yet, on March 14, New Haven will stand as just one of six area teams still playing basketball. For senior Donovynn Lewis, who has seen a body of changes in high school career, passing by those mistaken beliefs about he and his New Haven teammates is something to thrive on.
They used that to drive them through Homestead last weekend in the Sectional final after losing to them 75-59 earlier in the season. That game opened many a closed eye when it came to New Haven.
“It more than proved a point in my eyes. We showed people that we don’t back down from any challenges and that we’re going to play hard no matter what,” Lewis said. “Everyone counted us out going into that game but all week long our coaches preached to us that this is our revenge tour and that we have something to prove to everyone who doubted us since we got moved up to 4A.”
For Lewis, battling misconceptions starts at an individual level. While New Haven has competed well in recent years and Lewis has always been an important part of the lineup, people looked at him as single dimensional. If you have attended a New Haven game before this year, you probably heard Lewis talked about or shouted about by the opposing team. Did you know his name or did you just here the phrase “shooter” any time he got halfway open on the court?
That is what he became known for. Lewis could, and still can, shoot the lights out. In his senior season, Lewis has hit a team best 43 triples, hitting at a 35 percent clip. But his hunger to be thought of as more than single skilled specialist has really helped the Bulldogs thrive.
“I’ve ended that by driving to the bucket more and living off mid range pull ups this season. Plus I’m facilitating more this season so it’s showing my all around complete game,” Lewis said.
Not only has he shot the ball more from inside the arc than outside of it, Lewis is hitting 53 percent of his two pointers. He is also averaging a team second best 3.2 assists per contest right behind the team’s pass first point guard Jamarr Hutchins’ 3.8 per game.
“The biggest changes for me during my high school career have been getting stronger and building my stamina each year and trying to be known for more than just a shooter,” Lewis said. “Also learning how to study film and pick apart the defenses during film sessions.”
Lewis’ enhanced skill set has been evident all season long and those around him have grown and flourished too. They will face Carmel on Saturday morning for just the second time in the last 35 years, but will do so as winners of 9 of their last 10 games and with a better record that the Greyhounds. This with a lot of returners from a team that was just 10-15 a year ago; New Haven has hit the 18 win mark for the fourth time in the last 20 seasons this year.
Along the way, the Bulldogs lost just once in the Northeast 8 Conference to eventual champion Norwell. While the SAC gets significant more attention in the Fort Wayne centric area and the NECC was kind of the darling of the area with their enhanced set of teams, there are still three NE8 teams left playing in the Regional round.
One could make the argument that the SAC and NECC didn’t have contender schools spread out across three Sectionals the same was the NE8, but that is just being nit-picky for the NE8 fans. Lewis agrees that all season, and especially in the postseason, the NE8 should have been getting plenty of their own attention along the way.
“It says we have way more talent that what people think. The NE8 has always gotten overlooked because most people think our conference is weak but it’s just as tough and maybe even tougher than the SAC,” Lewis said. “Some may just think that it’s us and Norwell that are the only good teams but there’s tons of talent in our conference like Mitchell Wilson and the Columbia City squad, Blake Davidson and Leo, etc.”
While Leo and Norwell will fight it out in Class 3A on, New Haven will tip off their Class 4A Regional round at Noon on Saturday. Led by Lewis’ 15.5 points per game, the Bulldogs will face Carmel with the chance to play either Snider or Marion at night for a Regional title.