• Nothing is ever given at the top of the SAC. It probably meant that nobody would ever feel comfortable on Friday night in a game that will end up going a long way in determining the SAC girls basketball champion. Carroll took home a senior night win, 74-50, over South Side. The Chargers now control the SAC and can win an outright title next week.
Carroll came out fast against South Side, raced to a double digit lead and it looked comfortable. But by the midway point of the second quarter, South Side’s pressure changed things up very quickly.
By that point, South Side was in the double bonus and paraded consistently to the free throw line, finding a mixed bag of success with nearly double digit scoring worth of free throws left at the stripe. With South Side down just five in the second, Jasmine Anderson rattled home a triple with 4:27 left in the half for Carroll that expanded the lead to eight, making things Carroll strong again. There was no solid footing for the rest of the half. Emily Parrett scores on a dribble drive for Carroll, South Side’s Annika Davis fights back with a move of her own, then Carroll’s Neveah Jackson buries a triple.
For every impactful score either team had in the second quarter, the other team had an answer and it was one that was just as loud.
Davis continues to be outstanding for the Archers, especially in Friday’s absence of Olivia Smith (contact tracing quarantine). She is incredibly smooth with how she plays at a frantic looking pace. There aren’t many players her age that can make chaotic pacing look so simple. She had 14 points in the first half and finished with a game high 27.
Carroll’s second half was not flawless, but the things they did were about as impactful as they would have been if it had been flawless. The Chargers matched any kind of pressure and physicality that South Side tried to push out. The Chargers forced the Archer ball handlers into a bevy of turnovers in the third that allowed them to extend their lead to 20 points midway through the quarter as Parrett reached 18 points; she finished with a team high 20. Carroll’s constant movement on offense allowed their dribble drive to be incredibly effective in first look scores and kick outs. As close as the second quarter got, the third was the exact opposite. And now Carroll has the fate of the SAC in their hands.
A big story in the second half for Carroll was the defense of freshman Lexi Castator, who altered a lot of what South Side wanted to do with her length, be it getting into passing lanes or blocking shots.
On Saturday, Carroll looked even better in traveling to surging Angola. The Hornets have been on a tear lately but were no match for the Chargers, who were led by Taylor Fordyce’s 18 points.
• I guess at this point, what do you even say about Homestead‘s boys basketball team that hasn’t been said?
I think the polls will do the talking this coming week. While the Spartans are already the top team in the area in OTH’s weekly Power Poll, expect to see the #1 next to their name in the IBCA and AP polls as well. Homestead is THE BEST TEAM IN THE STATE. I said it. Go ahead Twitter warriors, test me. Good luck after Homestead beat Lawrence North on Saturday convincing me otherwise.
With a record setting and dominant win over North Side on Friday night, Homestead got all warmed up for Saturday’s bit #1 versus #2 showdown. But kudos for keeping their eyes on the prize and their foot on the gas Friday. Luke Goode scored a career high 41 points while hitting Homestead record 10 three pointers against the Legends. The team’s 107 points is the most a Homestead team has scored in a single game since a 121 point outing in a February 27, 1996 win over Fort Wayne Keystone in the pre-Class basketball Sectional.
On Saturday, the game with the top two teams in the state came far from disappointing and strengthened Homestead’s argument about how top heavy they are while being deep at the same time. Fletcher Loyer had another star making performance with 27 points as the Spartans topped Lawrence North 55-50 in overtime. Loyer, Kaleb Kolpien and Quinn Harmon all hit clutch free throws and Grant Simmons added a timely three pointer in the win. Let’s be honest, on at the very surface if you said Andrew Leeper sees limited minutes hampered foul trouble and Luke Goode scores just eight points, does Homestead beat Lawrence North? On Friday you probably say no. Now? You say of course they do.
Saturday’s win over Lawrence North was a master class for the Spartans in poise, discipline and winning effort. The word impressed doesn’t even begin to touch my feelings right now.
• Don’t look now, but the Saints are marching strong at the right part of the season. It almost feels like the Bishop Dwenger boys basketball of old, even if they are not in the SAC title conversation.
Not too long ago, the book on Bishop Dwenger was that they start slow because of a heavy early schedule and a late start because of football season. Then around January, they pick up and start plowing through teams. They may not be overwhelming, but their win streak hit four, the second best in the conference on Friday by taking down defending SAC champion Bishop Luers. This is a Dwenger team that shouldn’t get overlooked moving forward.
They started the week with a classic battle with Norwell that saw a real breakout of Rocco Ciocca and what he can provide on the interior. This is a program that has almost always had a strong interior presence but that has wavered some in the past few seasons. Ciocca’s 16 point, 13 rebound affair opposite the Knights is a sign that interior play is coming back strong at Dwenger.
The win on Friday, their fourth in a row, was led by Brenden Lytle‘s second big game in the last two weeks as he scored 17 points and had five assists in beating Bishop Luers. While the Saints lost a conference game on Saturday to Carroll, they showed significant fight throughout and it took the SAC frontrunner Chargers until the fourth quarter to really walk away with a comfortable margin.
• Norwell will add another girls NE8 title to their trophy case after Saturday’s win over East Noble. The gold standard in the NE8 has come up short of outright winning the conference, if winning it at all, for far too long now. That all ended with another staggering week that saw them win three games in six days, two of which were in conference.
Mackinzie Toliver was brilliant shooting the ball against East Noble, connecting on six of her ten three point attempts to mark a co-game high 20 points. That mark was shared by Maiah Shelton, who also had 10 rebounds while Kaylee Fuelling added 14 points.
Norwell had started the week with an impressive win over Woodlan where both Shelton (30 points) and Fuelling (25 points) registered career highs. The biggest takeaway from the pair in the win was the ridiculously high shooting percentage they had with Shelton hitting 63.2 percent of her shots, which actually paled in comparison to Fuelling’s 78.6 percent from the field in the win.
On Friday, the Knights clinched a share of the conference with a win over a young, but surging New Haven team. Norwell shot 51.9 percent from the field as a team. Their defensive discipline was high as Norwell committed just five fouls, which allowed the Bulldogs to get to the free throw line for one single shot.
• The NE8 race on the boys side has gotten considerably more murky than expected. I’m not talking about you Leo, so you can sit this one out with your 11-0 mark overall. The Lions stay at the top of the pile with Saturday’s 16 point win at East Noble despite just two points from Blake Davison. Instead, Leo didn’t shy away from the inside presence of East Noble’s Chris Hood, instead attacking him with DJ Allen (19 points, 7 rebounds) and Zack Troyer (14 points, 7 rebounds).
Behind the Lions, it is Bellmont who sits in second place, also with a perfect 3-0 record in conference play after beating Huntington North on Saturday. While Huntington North shot flat, going 0-of-11 from three point range, Bellmont took advantage by extending possessions and hitting timely shots. It wasn’t a particularly great game from the Braves, they just made sure their tempo was followed, hitting just eight total shots from the field. Bellmont got to the free throw line 17 times and they were led by John Ulman‘s 13 points.
The Vikings and New Haven both sit with one loss and are still in the conversation, but it is becoming increasingly more clear that with few exceptions, anyone in this conference can win any night in this conference. Huntington North looked really good in their win earlier in the week over Columbia City, led by Will Hotchkiss‘ 19 points.
New Haven had some struggles with Norwell before putting them away with Jakar Williams‘ 19 point outing on Saturday. New Haven used their more aggressive attack to hamper Norwell, who got a combined eight made three pointers from Luke McBride and Lleyton Bailey. Columbia City spoiled some DeKalb hopes of competing for a title on the same day behind four double digit scorers and Elias Spelman‘s 17 points.
Things are murky indeed behind the Lions. Though if you are Leo, that is probably exactly what you want.
• So much effort or planning goes into the ACAC Tournament, it is the immediate aftermath that can sometimes suffer. After teams can relax following a title or are having to rise up from tough defeats, it isn’t always easy to rebound from the tournament.
Bluffton boys were one of those teams we really didn’t know what to expect from. They had a weird journey through the tournament, coming out of nowhere to erase a 13 point fourth quarter deficit, getting a win by default after Jay County’s withdrawal and then getting trounced in the final. So having to turn around two days after the final for a conference game Monday was going to be a challenge.
It only makes sense that Hayden Nern answered the bell. Consistently, Nern rises up when needed. He scored 30 points on Monday in the win over Southern Wells. You can’t rest this time of the year and Bluffton couldn’t afford another setback because the conference regular season is still very much up for grabs. Behind Nern, the Tigers need to achieve balance every night like they did against the Raiders.
Max Stoppenhagen scored seven points and Bluffton got six points each from Lukas Hunt, Harrison Schreiber and Reece Johnston. That type of consistency is something few, if any, in the ACAC race can replicate.
• C’mon was there any doubt that Woodlan/Heritage boys would produce a thrilling game on Friday? Think back two years, their battles were legendary.
I predicted another such game earlier this week and we all got just what I expected. In the end, it was Heritage overcoming a 17 point first half deficit for a 59-56 win in overtime that keeps them perfect in the ACAC and right there in the heart of the battle for a conference title.
I picked Woodlan to win this one, but was it an upset that Heritage got the W? Of course it wasn’t Kiel Eldridge, but thank you for your concern on Twitter. Eldridge helped the Patriot comeback that was led by Luke Saylor‘s 22 point night and 15 more points from Dalton Wasson. Heritage coach Adam Gray may have woken up on Saturday morning with a head full of gray hairs after the Patriots willed themselves back into this one. Granted, kudos to him for even having hair left after previous wars with Woodlan.
Woodlan’s Alex Miller was on fire early, hitting 3 of 4 three pointers in the opener quarter, a big catalyst for that early lead. Miller had 12 of Woodlan’s first 17 points in the game. Joe Reidy poured in 22 points with 11 rebounds in the loss. Anyone who ever even implies the ACAC doesn’t have big moment games should probably get themselves an advance ticket to the 2022 battle between these teams. I think it will be just as good.
• This time of year is all about postseason momentum for nearly every girls team in the area. Sure, some are still in the hunt in conference title conversations, but those teams are few and far between. For a team like Central Noble though, beating some of the better teams in the NECC is actually huge. The Cougars have had a really solid year but the depth of the NECC doesn’t really allow for solid teams to get a lot of attention.
Wins over Fairfield, Lakeland and Eastside this week should put some attention and respect on the Cougar name heading into the postseason though. These weren’t easy games, but at times the Cougars just ran through. Fairfield had shown they were capable of hanging with and/or beating the NECC best, but Central Noble downed them on Tuesday despite 23 points from Brea Garber. The Cougars once were the class of the conference with their own balance and when it shows in 2021, they are very tough to beat. Lydia Andrews had 18 points in the win over Fairfield, with Meghan Kiebel scoring 15 and Madi Vice adding 13 points.
The Cougars returned to the court on Thursday, seeing Vice’s 21 points lead the way as they soared by Lakeland 60-55. Bridgette Gray added 14 in that one while Kiebel and Andrews each scored 10. On Friday, Central Noble ran by Eastside 53-23 with 16 points from Andrews. 3-0 against some of the NECC’s best this week is about the best way to peak at the best time.
• It was a week of really polarizing ups and downs for Lakeland girls.
Bailey Hartsough will look back on the week as one to remember. On Wednesday, in a win over Churubusco, Hartsough’s 20 points made her just the 12th player in the history of LaGrange County to score 1,500 or more points. After another solid effort on Thursday, Hartsough became Lakeland’s all time leading scorer on Friday night in a conference win over Hamilton.
Hartsough’s 26 points on Friday pushed her by Abby Neff (Lakeland Class of 2008) into that top tier, standing alone in scoring and probably solidifying herself as the best athlete in Lakeland history. Sure, there may be some argument to that statement but it may not be a good one. Hartsough was already the program’s leader in rebounds and blocks before adding the all-time points and steals marks to her resume on Friday with 26 points and eight steals. As of now, Hartsough has 1,545 points, 702 rebounds, 317 stats and 128 blocks for her career on the basketball court and this isn’t even the sport she’s going to college to play on a Division I level. Needless to say, Hartsough can lay claim to that ‘best athlete in Lakeland history’ tag all she wants.
It wasn’t as good of a week for breakout sophomore Faith Riehl. She scored 25 in the win over Churubusco to start her week strong. It took a bad turn on Thursday though when Riehl left a loss to Central Noble with eight points and an injury. Lakeland coach Dale Gearheart told KPC reporter Brice Vance after the game that Riehl was done for the season due to a knee injury, ending one of the most understated yet quality sophomore campaigns in the area.
With one week left in the girls regular season, I find it pertinent to look at the conferences with area teams competing for titles and see how things stack up as to who has, will be or could be crowned champion.
• In the SAC, Carroll sits at 6-0 and would need to lose two of their last three conference games to not win the conference outright. If they were to lose one game and South Side wins out, both teams would have one conference loss but Carroll would own the head to head tiebreaker. All other teams in the conference have at least two losses.
Carroll will face 10th place North Side, 3rd place Snider and 9th place Wayne next week. Barring some upsets, the Chargers will be the 2021 SAC Champions.
• In the Northeast 8, it is already over. Norwell clinched a share of the title Friday in a win over New Haven but then secured an outright title on Saturday by beating East Noble. Norwell finishes their conference schedule at 7-0 and are the 2021 NE8 Champions.
• In the ACAC, Jay County is 5-0 in conference with Saturday night’s win over Southern Wells. That clinched them an outright ACAC title. The Patriots have just one conference game left, but everyone else in the ACAC has at least two losses in conference. Jay County are your 2021 ACAC champions.
As the icing on the cake for Jay County and their title, Renna Schwieterman continued to add to her lore. The sophomore is on a very easy track to become the program’s best player ever. She took control of the program’s single game scoring mark against Southern Wells with 43 points to surpass previous record holder Shelby Caldwell. Madison Dirksen also shined with a possible triple double; Dirksen scored 10 and pulled down (unofficially) 19 rebounds according to Jay County broadcaster Justin Mangold. Though the stat wasn’t kept at the time of the game being played, it is believed Dirksen may have surpassed 10 blocks as well.
• In the NECC, Garrett claimed at least a share of the conference title on Friday in a win at West Noble. The Railroaders are 8-0 in conference while everyone else sits with at least two losses.
The Railroaders can clinch an outright title on Tuesday as they host 10th place Fremont.
If Carroll and Garrett secure outright titles next week, all the area conferences will be won outright again as they were in 2019. If all of the champions go undefeated in conference play, that also happened last in just 2019.
Bishop Luers boys’ Nick Thompson posted a career high on Wednesday in a win over Lakewood Park. Thompson secured an 18 point/10 rebound double double to go along with six assists in the 75-37 win….Snider girls got scoring from 11 different players in their 81-45 win over Wayne on Wednesday, the most single game scorers for the Panthers this season. They were led by Destini Craig‘s 14 points….On Thursday, Chloe Jolloff joined former Lakewood Park boys scorers Keegan Fetters and and Tommy Strine as the only players in school history to scorer over 1,200 points for their career….Northrop‘s TiAuna White surpassed the 1,000 career point mark on Friday with a jumper as part of her 18 point, 10 rebound night; she then scored 28 points on Saturday in a loss to Elkhart….Homestead boys hit a school record 18 three pointers as a team on Friday night in a win over North Side….On Friday, Angola‘s Hanna Knoll surpassed Jeff Stackhouse as the school’s 2nd all-time leading scorer regardless of gender….Elijah Brown had a breakout game for Snider in their loss to Concordia on Friday. The sophomore scored a career high 20 points in the loss….Concordia Lutheran boys won back to back SAC games this weekend beating Snider and Bishop Luers. The last time they beat SAC opponents on back to back days was 2012’s SAC Holiday Tournament. On Saturday against Luers, freshman Ajani Washington scored 27 points.
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