Tonight, the final four teams will take the court in each of the NECC semi final rounds. Eight teams remain total on the boys and girls side and there are some really interesting matchups to prepare for as we have had a busy week to narrow this field from 12 teams on each side to four.
As we prepare for these games, let’s take a look at five players in the NECC that you should probably be keeping an extra eye on tonight and/or in Saturday’s title games.
CONNOR ESSEGIAN, CENTRAL NOBLE
With all due respect to others, there is nowhere else to start but here. Tasked with another meeting with rival Churubusco in the quarterfinal round, the Cougars surged to Friday behind Connor Essegian’s school record 44 point outing. There have been a lot of talented girls and boys players to come through Central Noble, but Essegian certified himself as the biggest bucket getter among them in the win.
Central Noble has a real chance to defend their NECC Tournament title because of how clutch Essegian is. The previous two programs to win the NECC title did each go back to back with Angola and Westview crowns leading into Central Noble’s 2020 win.
FAITH RIEHL, LAKELAND
After Bailey Hartsough opened the tournament with a big game, she of course got heavy attention on Wednesday, but there is always big fight in Riehl and she continued to solidify her major presence in the NECC stepping up again in a win over Prairie Heights.
Riehl’s 16 points is all nice and good, but her big emphasis comes in how fluidly she can play the game night in and night out. She plays with confidence and really can get her team going against the toughest opponents because of it. Friday’s semi final isn’t a lock, nothing is, but it looks like Lakeland could be in Saturday’s final for the first time since 2008 and Riehl is a major reason why.
BROCKTON MILLER, WEST NOBLE
Miller is certainly a workhorse for the Chargers as they head into a semi final game opposite Angola. His experience is critical for what is still a relatively young West Noble team where he is the only senior consistently in the lineup. The team will go somewhat how he does and his energy can be contagious.
In the quarterfinal win over Fairfield, Miller did a little bit of everything outside of his 10 points. His four assists, one steal and five deflections are hallmarks of his game in doing the intangible things to make West Noble’s motor go. The Chargers have now won three straight games heading into Friday’s semi final.
BREA GARBER, FAIRFIELD
Those who focused on four teams at the forefront of the NECC have grossly underestimated Fairfield’s fight and their relatively good experience in the tournament setting. This team made it to the finals last year as a very young group and now will face Angola in the rematch of that game.
Garber came into the tournament fresh off a Division I offer to play at Cincinnati; she scored 13 points in the win over West Noble to pace a balanced bunch. Garber is going to hit timely shots no matter where she gets to take them and expect for her to be a thorn in the side of the Hornets.
JOEL KNOX, ANGOLA
The focus on the Hornets lately has been about Brian Parrish, but Knox’s contribution in the quarterfinal was a big reminder of how important he is to this program. Knox had 18 points and eight rebounds in the win over Fremont. It was a game to showcase the range that Knox has as a guard, but one that has the presence and physicality to make differences on all three levels.
This program won back to back tournament title in 2016 and 2017, but more importantly, coach Brandon Appleton won it last year on the girls side. With Knox as a big senior presence, this Hornets team is very much in the running this weekend.