HILLARY SMITH: Hoisting the trophy not as easy as it looks

2013-02-10T20:00:00Z HILLARY SMITH: Hoisting the trophy not as easy as it looksHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
February 10, 2013 8:00 pm  • 

Sunday's newspaper ran names of seven local schools whose girls basketball season will run another week: Lake Central, Merrillville, Rensselaer, Griffith, Whiting, Boone Grove and Morgan Township.

The 399 teams that started the tournament on Tuesday are down to 16 in each class.

After his team won its second consecutive Northwest Crossroads Conference title two weeks ago, Lowell coach Matt Welsh lamented that it will be remembered more for its postseason accomplishments.

"A lot of pressure is put to win a sectional, that your team isn't successful unless you've done that," Welsh said, "but this team made it this far only losing three games. That's impressive. That's worth celebrating."

On Saturday, the Red Devils played in their first sectional title game since 2007, falling 53-49 to Lake Central. It doesn't mean their season was a bust, only that they lost to a team that has been there six consecutive times.

Which brings us to the Indians. Lake Central has been to the sectional title game each of the last six years, winning its second championship during that span.

The Indians have lost in double overtime, lost by a bucket and not lost by less than 10 points in the four games they didn't win. To get there, they'd had to beat some of the best teams in the bracket and some they'd already topped in the regular season. Last year was the only time L.C. didn't face West Side.

Six chances, two wins — that shows how hard it is to wrap your hands around the Indiana-shaped trophy. 

Unless you have five of them, that is. Griffith's fifth consecutive title came in the form of a 40-16 win against Gavit.

In all, the last couple have been more of a cake walk for the Panthers, who are ranked 181 in the state by their Sagarin Rating with 333 (Lew Wallace) the next closest team. Griffith's sectional consists of three teams with sub-.500 records.

The Panthers are always expected to do well, but the five in a row haven't all been in the easy sectional. Two years ago, Griffith had to win in overtime against Andrean, and the first one — in 2009 — was an overtime win against Calumet. The streak may be easier to maintain as long as Griffith remains in Sectional 17, but the road to start it had a few bumps.

Whiting's title is the first in Class 2A and the first since 2004. It came beating a Bishop Noll team that had already defeated the Oilers twice in the regular season. Morgan Township won for the second straight year, playing all three sectional games within 10 points.

Boone Grove's championship was the first for the team since 2008, showing the difficulty of success despite winning conference title after conference title over the last five seasons.

Which lands on Merrillville. The Pirates have lost just 37 games in the last eight years (an average of 4.6 games per year) and won their second sectional title during the same span. Their regular-season record of 39-1 over the last two years is unmatched in the region in the last decade.

Of their two titles, both have come in the last four years.

"It's very tough," Pirates senior Dariyan Morris said. "You have to be ready to win it in practice; you have to be ready to go when you step out on the court every time. You don't know who could be injured, who could be in foul trouble. You have to be ready for anything in a sectional."

Morris cried after her team beat Michigan City, the tears of joy from knowing that records mean nothing, and it's not as easy as it looks.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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