Boys basketball

There is an advantage to playing the boys basketball postseason on your home floor

2014-03-01T17:00:00Z 2014-03-02T01:35:06Z There is an advantage to playing the boys basketball postseason on your home floorSteve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com

Valparaiso is seventh on Indiana's list of boys basketball programs that have won the most sectional titles. The Vikings have won 51, with 35 coming on their home floor.

Valpo hopes to make it 52 when the 104th IHSAA boys basketball state tournament begins on Tuesday. And for the first time since 2002, 36.

It's been 12 years since the tradition-rich program has won a sectional title on its home court. After a long history of it happening like clockwork. Home could make all the difference.

"There's a lot of good things about it," first-year Vikings coach Matt Thomas said of playing host to sectionals. "You're playing in the gym that shoot in every day in practice. You don't have a bus ride. It could come down to a one- or two-point game. You would think being at home would factor in."

The schools with the most sectional titles in state history — Kokomo (73), Vincennes (70), Lafayette Jeff (68), Marion (66), Richmond (62), Muncie Central (58), New Castle (57), Connersville (56) and Logansport (56) — all had the same home cooking as Valpo.

IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox was in Schererville on Monday and he understands his association's relationship with who hosts a boys basketball sectional and Indiana's  infatuation with gargantuan gymnasiums.

Twelve of the 13 biggest high school gymnasiums in America are located in Indiana. The ground was broken, the concrete poured, the men did sweat, the steel was bolted in and a community celebrated all this for one reason — to win a sectional championship.

"Historically the biggest gyms got to host the sectional," Cox said. "That's why we have what we have. Remember, the member schools in each sectional divide up the gate, so you want to make as much money as you can at the sectional."

But competitive advantage is a big part of the picture, too. Hall of Fame E.C. Washington coach John Baratto got tired of losing to Hammond High in the sectional. The Wildcats played on their home floor, the Civic Center.

So in 1955 the city built a new gym with seats for 6,000 fans. The investment paid off for Washington, which became a state power by getting out of the sectional on a regular basis and won the 1960 state title.

A similar thing happened at Merrillville. The Pirates had always been a good program, but not a statewide head turner. But when they started hosting the sectional in 1992 everything changed. Merrillville won eight sectionals in nine years at home, and made it to the 1995 state championship game.

The Class 4A Sectional 1 tournament will return to East Chicago on Tuesday, in the aptly named John A. Baratto Athletic Center. E.C. Central has won 13 sectional titles since 1987. Eleven came at home.

And yes, in 2007, when E.C. won state, the Cards survived an overtime thriller against Munster at home.

"We're excited, it's our comfort zone," E.C. coach Abe Brown said. "It's what we're used to, the floor and the locker rooms. We don't have to carry bags everywhere. I think it will help us."

E.C. is 11-9 on the season, but the Cards are 7-1 at home, including two big wins against Lake Central and Bishop Noll.

"Next week is big, I'm excited to play it on our home floor," E.C. junior Hyron Edwards said. "Our fan support will be big. Loud. We're more comfortable there."

"That's the word right there, comfort," Cardinals sophomore Damien Jefferson chipped in. "We'll have home-court momentum. Our fans will be loud, keeping us together. It's a big word (comfort). We know the court because we're there every day in practice."

Munster coach Mike Hackett doesn't believe there's a big difference between last year's host, West Side, and this year's host. When Sectional 1 had satellite sites in the opening rounds, where some first-round games were played at a different place than E.C., the Mustangs won two white-knuckle games against West Side.

"They were close games so being at home probably helped us," Hackett said. "I think the home court was the edge."

Hackett did say that West Side has a "buffer zone" around the court and bench area so the fans were not right up on top of you. But the rest is pretty even.

The big gym hosting every sectional ended, in part, when class basketball was voted in and began in 1997-98. Some monster gyms lost their sectional.

Plus, the member schools in each sectional had a voice in who would host. That is why E.C. got the sectional away from West Side and why Valpo got the sectional away from Michigan City.

Sectional 2, where Valpo is, plans on moving the sectional around in the coming tournaments. This was the Vikings turn.

Being at home isn't everything. When Scott Martin and Robbie Hummel were wearing green, they won at Portage, Merrillville and Crown Point. Michigan City, which has hosted this field the last several years, has never won a sectional.

And the area's top team right now, Bowman Academy, has won four sectionals in five years of IHSAA play. The only sectional the Eagles lost, in 2011, was on their home floor.

"You still have to have the players coming together at the right time," Thomas said. "It's good to be at home but your gym doesn't win a sectional. You do."

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