It was a long week of Sectional basketball. The snow always seems to disrupt the girls basketball Sectional week and boy did it ever this season.
Thats why you read this column now, days after most of the Sectionals ended. Because, it actually took 8 days, from Tuesday to Tuesday to get all of the Sectionals in, concluding with Bellmont and Eastside winning titles a full week after the first games of the bracket were played.
So here are some thoughts from yours truly on the week gone by.
Opening Tuesday. Opening Tuesday was the surprise.
Look, anytime there is an upset in the postseason it’s going to be the big surprise. But nobody had Huntington North, Jay County and Woodlan all losing on opening night of Sectional play. The messed up part of that: we could have seen all of these game results coming.
Woodlan perhaps was the most expected but even that was a bit of a shocker. Angola is a very good team and have a tendency to make big plays inside. But so is Woodlan and the Warriors came in with the more experienced and comfortable guard play. In the end, it was Angola being able to establish pace that was the difference maker.
Jay County went to overtime and lost to the second best team in the Yorktown Sectional. It’s not too bad when you lose to the second best team, as Hamilton Heights was, but still the Patriots were heavy favorites and their loss ended hope of an area dominated Regional this coming weekend.
And Huntington North, it’s fair to say part of us should have seen it coming. This was a very good Vikings team, who was 6-2 against the SAC before this weeks overtime loss to South Side. They showed that they controlled tempo and therefore the score as one of the better defensive teams this season in Class 4A. They weren’t able to do that against South Side, who clearly learned a lot from a loss to the Vikings just a week before.
That also comes with the territory. South Side coach Juanita Goodwell isn’t new here. South Side star senior Olivia Smith hasn’t been given near enough attention this season because of the teams down year but she is absolutely one of the best in the state, let alone our area. So while Huntington North was probably the better team overall, should we be surprised that they lost to South? Probably not.
Despite the fact that we could have seen any of these three losses coming, they weren’t expected. And for all three of them to happen opening night set a crazy early tone for Sectional week.
Runner up for this: Bellmont’s win over Norwell on Saturday their Sectional semi final. Yeah, it was a surprise that Bellmont won over the heavily favored Norwell, but most surprising was the fact they held Norwell to just 9 second half points. I guess coach Andy Heim has learned a thing or two in his years long rivalry with Norwell.
Most deserving of attention
It is time to delve into the fact that top to bottom, Blackhawk Christian can lay claim to being potentially the best basketball school in the area.
The boys are well documented. But the girls deserve to be just as documented. Their win over Fremont on Saturday gave them their third straight Sectional title and helped make this group, especially leading scorer Hailee Kline, the most decorated Braves in program history. The Braves have now won 5 Sectionals titles ever and to have three of them come in the last three years is more than buzz worthy.
Make no mistake on a common denominator outside of this talented squad: their coach. Steph Gongaware has coached this team for four seasons, picked up 65 wins and has won 18or more games in each of the last three seasons. She has made a huge mark on this program that are winners of their last four and sit at 18-7 on the season. They have never won a Regional game, let alone title so next week could really propel Gongaware and the Braves into a new stratosphere.
Also, it should be mentioned that Gongaware coached the first half of the season pregnant and won the Sectional title as the mother of a newborn, who was in attendance Saturday for the title game. Talk about multi-tasking!
Most anticipated final that lived up to hype
Snider and Northrop were two SAC teams that didn’t get enough respect this season because of how dominant Homestead has returned to being. Because of that, their meeting in the Class 4A final played at Snider was highly anticipated.
Both teams threw big shots, but Snider proved to have just too good of a scoring tough and depth. Jyah LoVett has had a tremendous lone season as a Panther and capped it off with 35 points in the title game. This was just a fun, fast paced game that lived up to expectations.
Best part: while some key senior pieces will be lost by both teams, they are still very young and this probably isn’t the last time we will see them battle in an important Sectional game.
Most surprising champion
West Noble climbs to the top of the heap here. And lets face it, the aforementioned surprising Tuesday led to some surprise champions, but it has to be the Chargers that are at the top of this list. That is interesting too because in the preseason, I don’t know that we’d label West Noble as a surprise champion. Bounce really felt like they would be much better than they were.
So it is ok to say that this regular season was a massive letdown for a team that has a lot of talent.
Going just 5-17 in the regular season, the Chargers struggled to score outside of Jazmyn Smith who played a lot of the year injured. She was almost always a bright spot, but it didn’t help West Noble climb out of the bottom of the NECC. So what coach Jeff Burns and his squad did in the last week was great. They upset Lakeland, a team they lost to twice in four days in January, and then pulled off a huge upset in the finals against a Tippecanoe Valley team that had as many wins (17) as West Noble had losses.
Big winner from Sectional play
Garrett won and won a lot. While any champion has to be considered a big winner, Garrett won on a lot of fronts.
Probably the least of which was their Friday night semi final win against Angola. The 40-32 win propelled them to the Sectional final, but it did so against Garrett’s biggest rival. This was the third win over Angola this season and it helped erase some of the demons that 2020-21 put out when Angola stifled Garrett’s title hopes, beating them in 2 of 3 meetings. Garrett won the battles and the war this year and that means a lot to their program.
The second big win was how other Sectional shook out. The impending Bellmont Regional was really expected to be a juggernaut of a situation. And while coach Bob Lapadot and his crew know that nothing comes easy in the wildness of Regional Saturday, things looks much different and much more in Garrett’s favor without Norwell and Jay County present. Sure, they lost for a reason and it shows how powerful the winners of the Mississinewa and Yorktown Sectionals can be, but the lack of the ACAC champion Patriots or NE8 co-champ Knights is a big win for Garrett.
The biggest win of the week? Garrett has established the this is probably their best team ever. Bailey Kelham had a stellar week, scoring 22 points in the championship game and, earlier in the week, moving into 3rd all-time in Garrett girls basketball scoring. Their title game win on Saturday matched school records with 25 total wins and 23 consecutive wins this season, marks they hope to improve on with Regional Saturday around the corner.
Best player of Sectionals
This is Ayanna Patterson and it isn’t even close.
There were some other huge weeks and honestly for half of Saturday’s final, you’d have to question if Patterson was the best player of the week. But c’mon, this girl is a McDonald’s All-American for a reason nd she continues to prove it every time she touches the court.
Her week was met with teams throwing everything but the kitchen sink at her and she thrived. I really thought that Columbia City did a good job of defending her with a variety of ways they tried to work the post. And still, she ended with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks in a huge win.
On Saturday, South Side too did their homework and were ready for Patterson, limiting her to just two first half points. Important then to point out she finished with 32 points to go with 14 rebounds as she absolutely dominated the second half and ended any doubt in the outcome.
We all know what Patterson is capable of. But this week was a stern reminder that no matter what area teams throw at her, she can handle it with relative ease in propelling Homestead.
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