RSSGirls Basketball

There's no strict handbook for finding the right coach

As Lowell athletic director Patti McCormack started looking for the Red Devils' third basketball coach in four years, she had a list of what she hopes to find in the best candidate.

She also has a few challenges.

With five girls basketball coaching openings in the area, McCormack isn't the only athletic director trying to find the best candidate from an ever-shrinking pool.

"We're looking for the obvious," McCormack said. "We want someone to get us to the next level, with experience and confidence and the ability to teach our kids to get to the next level. We also want to create depth within our program."

The catch?

"We're jumping into New Tech (school) next year, so the way kids take classes is altered," she said. "Even if you know who is retiring right now, we don't know what kind of open (teaching) positions we'll have. It used to be you could calculate three years in advance. Right now, we don't know where we'll have teaching spots."

At Wheeler, athletic director Randy Stelter is in the same boat, trying to attract an effective coach without the promise of a teaching job. He said that he knew in January that Dustin Nelson would resign after taking the assistant principal position at Griffith. Nelson stayed with the Bearcats through the season, and in March announced he was leaving.

Stelter had a list of 10 good candidates, but no open teaching positions.

"(Candidates) understand coming in that we don't have a teaching position," Stelter said. "They know how we do business and want to be a part of our program, a part of educating kids in the classroom and on the court or field, and that's what we're looking for in coaches. They might have to get a teaching position in another district and coach while we hope that something opens up."

Valparaiso athletic director Herb Hofer isn't worrying about teaching openings. He's just as happy to replace Joe Otis with a coach already on the staff.

"We have great internal candidates," Hofer said. "We're very fortunate in that respect."

Finding an internal candidate could be a boon for LaPorte athletic director Ed Gilliland. Outgoing coach Skeeter Heath resigned after the March school board meeting. So Gilliland can't post the position until Heath's resignation is officially approved Monday. By then, many external candidates have submitted resumes to other schools.

"We're going to look at getting the very best person," Gilliland said. "Is it an advantage to look internally? It's possible, just because of the teaching openings, that may limit who we can hire, and we have to see which teaching openings we have available."

Though the School City of Hammond has openings across the city, Morton athletic director Roydon Richards isn't necessarily opposed to finding a lay-coach, as long as the candidate fits into the athletic program. Richards is replacing Tom Haluska, who was with the Governors for three seasons.

"I think our situation is different than in years past because our previous coach did such a good job of building the program back up, so we're probably a pretty decent job to take over," Richards said. "We're trying to find someone who can fit in to our athletic program ... someone that can be the middle chain, so to speak, from volleyball and soccer to basketball to tennis; someone that can receive the baton and pass it on."

With 47 programs in the region, and 412 IHSAA schools across the state, there are multiple assistant coaches waiting for the right opportunity. If they see one of the five openings right now as their next, best spot, they'll have to tick off a few boxes on the ADs' wish lists.

"There is a Catch 22," McCormack said. "You're going to have a slew of assistants who worked under great head coaches who are waiting for their opportunity to build their own program. There's a degree of decorum for taking a head coach from someone else, who is also developing an assistant to be a head coach. So who do you look for?"

While there is a lot of gut instinct and evaluation to hiring coaches, there's no specific manual, athletic directors say.

"It isn't an exact science," Gilliland said. "It's going to vary from school to school and what your needs and preferences are."

April 12, 2014 11:00 pm

Times Indiana girls basketball coach of the year: Rod Fisher, West Side

Times Indiana girls basketball coach of the year: Rod Fisher, West Side

GARY | West Side's Rod Fisher said that there have been years in his 37 seasons when he's had to work harder as a coach than he did this year.

For instance, when the Class of 2015 entered West Side as freshmen, Fisher had to work harder.

"The talent was there, the maturity wasn’t there (two years ago)," Fisher said. "Instead of being 14 years old, they’re 16 or 17 years old now. They’re just more mature now."

But preparing this year's juniors when they were freshmen helped set up the 2013-14 team that won a sectional and reached a regional final. It also helped set the stage for the chemistry that kept the Cougars together through a rocky postseason.

On the Monday before the sectional, a fight during practice forced the suspension of several key players. While the Cougars could have imploded, instead, they rallied and remembered the message Fisher had given them before the season: united we stand, divided we fall.

"It wasn’t so much what I did, after that incident, it was what the kids did. I was just, I was devastated," said Fisher, who was named by The Times as the girls basketball coach of the year. "I remember walking into the gym Tuesday, after that was over, ‘Oh my God, we have eight kids out there practicing.’

"After practice, I was sitting in the chair, just staring, and they came over and apologized for what had happened the night before. They’re the ones that rallied me to get inspiration for the next day. It was more what they did for me than it was what I did for them. I felt very proud of them the way they played Wednesday and it just sort of snowballed."

As part of his coaching plan this season, Fisher had to convince the junior class — that had propelled West Side to a 34-9 record as freshmen and sophomores — away from leading the team offensively and into key role players.

While freshman phenom Dana Evans, who started the year with Division I offers, led her team with 20.4 points, the former offensive leaders gave up their points for the greater good.

"At the beginning of the season, I thought there’d be a problem, that’s basically why we came up with the ‘United we stand, Divided we fall,’ because there’d been some friction in earlier years," Fisher said. "That was the least of my worries during the season. They got along fine."

The Cougars, who handed Logansport one of only two losses in the regular season and its first of the year, closed to within three points of Penn with more than three minutes remaining in the regional final game. Penn went on to play in the Class 4A state final.

The loss in the regional was greater emotionally for the team than any previous sectional loss. The Class of 2015 was expected to win sectionals in their freshman and sophomore years, but in both seasons lost to the eventual sectional champ.

After losing to Penn, the team quickly wanted back into the gym.

"They’ve already called a week after, saying, 'When can we get in the gym? Can we get in the gym?'" Fisher said. "Not for an official practice, you know, but they’re not satisfied. Maybe last year, it’s a whole lot different when you’re a senior, going to be a senior and this is your last hurrah, instead of ‘I’ve got a few more years and I can be satisfied,’ we’ve got five seniors that don’t want to end the season the way they did this year."

The Cougars expect to lose no starters from the postseason roster come October, with a trip to the state finals — the first since 2005 — on their minds.

Their coach is ready to make the return, too.

"It was very rewarding to see how they performed during the postseason," Fisher said. "They’re hungry, that’s the best I can describe it."

March 20, 2014 10:00 pm Photos


Scouting the 2013-14 Times All-Area Girls Basketball Team

Scouting the 2013-14 Times All-Area Girls Basketball Team


Dana Evans | West Side

Position: Guard

Year: Freshman

Height: 5-9

Stats: 20.4 ppg (21 3s), 2.5 rpg, 3.9 apg, 3.5 spg

Analysis: The freshman phenom is going to keep West Side on everyone's radar for the next three years. Evans proved this season that she deserved to be watched by every college team that entered a gym. She scored 30 or more points three different times, including a season-best 35 in the regional semifinal. She carried her team through the postseason, and that's just the appetizer for the player who will only improve until her 2017 graduation.

Quote: "(She) is the reason Purdue and Ohio State are here watching her." — Lake Central coach Marc Urban, after Evans scored 22 points in the sectional semifinal.

Victoria Gaines | Merrillville

Position: Guard/Forward

Year: Junior

Height: 6-1

Stats: 15.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.0 spg, 2.4 bpg, 4.0 apg

Analysis: Gaines grabbed area attention two years ago as a freshman, and with a young team around her this year worked harder for her points. Before the season started she committed to Michigan State.

Quote: "I heard from just about every Big Ten school, Nebraska was the only one I didn't hear from. ... This is awesome for her, it shows how much her hard work has paid off." — Merrillville coach Amy Govert, when Gaines committed to MSU

Jaclyn Heath | LaPorte

Position: Guard

Year: Senior

Height: 5-4

Stats: 13.1 ppg, 7.1 apg, 4.1 rpg, 2.8 spg, 4.3-1 assist/turnover ratio.

Analysis: The North Alabama recruit spearheaded the Slicers' undefeated Duneland Athletic Conference regular-season run. She was also named the DAC MVP. The four-year starter finished her career first in assists (632) 3-pointers (161) plus second in points (1,019) and steals (268).

Quote: "Heath would make you pay for any defensive mistake. She did a great job of spreading the floor and finding the open person. Many times her teammates had wide-open looks because of the attention she would receive from the defense. Her passes were spot on for her teammates to catch and shoot in rhythm." — Merrillivlle coach Amy Govert.

Naomi House | Bishop Noll

Position: Guard

Year: Sophomore

Height: 5-9

Stats: 14.8 ppg, 64 percent free-throw shooter

Analysis: On her way to 1,000 points in a Warriors uniform, House has 699 already through two seasons at Bishop Noll. She helped her team to its first sectional title in 17 years and even though she's no longer a secret, she's still difficult to defend.

Quote: "Naomi did exactly what we need her to do in the postseason: to keep the energy high and make shots for us." — Bishop Noll coach Vanita Gary after House scored 20 points in the sectional opener.

Nicole Konieczny | LaPorte

Position: Guard

Year: Freshman

Height: 5-8

Stats: 14.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.4 spg

Analysis: Konieczny became the team's leading scorer. She gives LaPorte fans something to look forward to in the future.

Quote: "We wouldn't be where we're at without the year she had. She feels the way she does because of how dedicated she is. I know she'll use this in the offseason to get better and I know she will." —LaPorte coach Skeeter Heath after the sectional final loss to Merrillville.

Abby Kvachkoff | Crown Point

Position: Guard/Forward

Year: Senior

Height: 6-1

Stats: 12.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.6 apg

Analysis: In addition to scoring 55 3-pointers for the Bulldogs, Kvackoff had the fewest personal fouls and fewest turnovers of any player with significant minutes on her team. At 6-1, it's tough to expect she'd shoot like a guard, but the forward was talented inside and outside. She's done with basketball, taking her tennis talents to Purdue Calumet.

Quote: "A lot of good teams will put a really quick person on her so she doesn't get a shot off. Abby's really good at catching and sees an offer and firing." — Crown Point coach Anne Equihua

Michal Miller | Michigan City

Position: Guard

Year: Junior

Height: 5-7

Stats: 20.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.5 spg, 2.1 apg.

Analysis: Had to pick up the slack due to graduation losses, and the junior picked up her play. She scored 30-plus points three times this season.

Quote: "She is the complete package. She can shoot the three, pull up, drive and finish. She can create her own shot anytime. She is a phenomenal player." — Merrillville coach Amy Govert

Caroline Puntillo | Chesterton

Position: Guard

Year: Senior

Height: 5-9

Stats: 20.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 3 spg, Top 100 and top 60 workout. Fourth leading scorer in school history.

Analysis: Even though she was the No. 1 scoring option from the season's first game, defenses still found a hard time limiting her offensive output.

Quote: "She’s what I would call a true scorer. She finds many different ways of scoring points. She’s not just a standing shooter; she can take it to the basket it, she can dribble (into a) jump shot, she’ll post up. She can score about any way that you give her an opportunity to score.” -- Chesterton coach Jack Campbell

Riley Popplewell | South Central

Position: Forward

Year: Sophomore

Height: 5-10

Stats: 13.1 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 2.8 spg, 2.0 apg

Analysis: Became the school's second player to be named PCC MVP. She's very active around the glass, with 18 double-doubles this season.

Quote: “Stats don’t mean anything to her; it’s how hard she works on the floor." — South Central coach Rick Budka after Popplewell's 24-point, 11-rebound effort in a season-ending loss to Class A No. 1 Oregon-Davis.

Grayce Roach | Hobart

Position: Guard

Year: Senior

Height: 5-8

Stats: 14.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.9 spg.

Analysis: The Hobart guard played out of her natural position and was still difficult to defend. Her athletic talent makes her among the more prolific guards in the area, and she wanted to make sure that her teammates scored as many points as she did.

Quote: "Going back to middle school, she was always the player you wanted to look for her shot more, but she's always been a facilitator. She's passed up a lot of good looks to get her teammates involved." — Hobart coach Mike Hamacher

Gina Rubino | Lake Central

Position: Guard

Year: Junior

Height: 5-5

Stats: 13.3 ppg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 2.0 rpg

Analysis: Outside the arc, Rubino was almost impossible to guard. Tenacious, athletic and determined, Rubino hit 65 3s, good for 43 percent. Another year of pestering opponents is all right with Rubino, who doesn't back down from competition of any size.

Quote: "I think the key is that she has identified what her weaknesses were right after the season last year and then did everything she could to work so that her overall game has improved." —Lake Central coach Marc Urban

Tara Zlotkowski | Lake Central

Position: Guard

Year: Junior

Height: 5-6

Stats: 12.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.3 spg

Analysis: A hard-working guard, Zlotkowski was quick and a spark plug. Unafraid to battle for every possession made her difficult to defend, and her quick first step made her difficult to catch. A leader in the making, Zlotkowski's outside shot gives the Indians more fire power at nearly every position.

Quote: "She is a fearless kid that loves challenges and loves to compete. She shoots the ball really well when her feet are set and she is quick enough to get by people which makes her really hard to guard." —Lake Central coach Marc Urban



Brianna Blackwell | Whiting | Sr. | G/F

Stats: 15.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 5.0 apg

Analysis: The senior was hampered by injury this season, but it didn't stop her from contributing in every game. Her mark on the Whiting program will be long lasting, as will her leadership and athleticism.

Trina Coleman | Morgan Twp. | Sr. | G

Stats: 12.9 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.5 spg, 3.7 rpg

Analysis: A key reason behind three straight Class A regional trips. Finished third on school's all-time scoring list with 1,182 points. Between points and assists, she accounted for 48 percent of the team's offensive output this year.

AJ Downs | Merrillville | Sr. | G

Stats: 11.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.4 spg

Analysis: Asked to take over a tough role as a point guard for the Pirates, Downs didn't back away. She made sure her younger teammates were involved and kept the pressure on opponents, reminding them that Merrillville is still guard-oriented.

Amari Ferguson | West Side | Jr. | G

Stats: 6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.6 spg

Analysis: A former star became a role player with aplomb and a quick laugh. Without the junior who had huge games for the Cougars in the postseason, West Side's postseason could have been short.

Bethany Jansma | Kankakee Valley | Sr. | G

Stats: 14.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.3 spg, 3.9 apg

Analysis: Leading the team with a second half of her season that anyone would envy, Jansma helped the Kougars to the success that fans had waited for.

Hunter Jusevitch | Lowell | Jr. | G

Stats: 14.5 ppg, 1.9 spg, 1.4 apg

Analysis: The multi-sport guard doesn't let size slow her. She's quick and athletic, full of tenacity and heart and is hard to defend. She's a big reason that the Red Devils earned their share of the Northwest Crossroads Conference title.

Lindsay Kusbel | Lake Central | Jr. | F

Stats: 10.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg

Analysis: The post player was an inside option that opponents couldn't ignore. As much as she fought for points and rebounds inside, she wasn't afraid to step out and shoot the 3.

Kyleigh Kubik | LaPorte | So. | G

Stats: 13.8 ppg, 3 apg, 2..9 rpg, 1 spg.

Analysis: Missed most of last season due to injury. Responded this season, and was one of the team's main scoring options.

Citlali Lopez | Whiting | Sr. | G

Stats: 16.0 ppg, 5.2 spg, 6.5 apg, 6.5 rpg

Analysis: The guard improved all of her numbers — and her leadership — in her senior season. Asked to take the team and put it on her back for several games, Lopez didn't flinch.

Jill Rosenbaum | South Central | Sr. | F

Stats: 15.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.0 spg

Analysis: A Top 60 Workout invitee, she is the program's first player to be all-conference all four years. The IU-Northwest recruit was a key component on the floor all four seasons for the Satellites. She's one reason the team won its first PCC tourney title.

Lauren Stokes | Kankakee Valley | Sr. | G

Stats: 13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.3 spg, 3.3 apg

Analysis: An athletic leader, Stokes was a key element to the Kougars' success. Every time she stepped on the court, her calm and presence made her team better.

Katija Tarailo | Crown Point | Sr. | F

Stats: 13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg,

Analysis: The senior forward exerted her presence offensively and defensively for the Bulldogs. Her 6-1 frame made her tough in the post.


Duneland Athletic Conference

CROWN POINT: Hannah Albrecht. LAKE CENTRAL: Rolanda Curington, Megan Krol. MERRILLVILLE: Jaz Talley, Riana Todd. PORTAGE: Kaitlin Doud, Kaitlyn Steers. VALPARAISO: Grace Withrow.

Great Lakes Athletic Conference

CLARK: Dulce Garcia. GAVIT: Shanika Thornton. HAMMOND: Diamond Fields. MORTON: Timiya Ray.

Greater South Shore Conference

BISHOP NOLL: Brenda Pennington, Elena Sobilo, Asya Hobbs. CALUMET: Jaireh Ratliff. HANOVER CENTRAL: Brooke Sterkowitz, Kristen Roper. LAKE STATION: Joanna Dwyer, Desiree Parrillo. MARQUETTE CATHOLIC -- Colleen Falk. NORTH NEWTON: Skyler Belt. RIVER FOREST: Colleen Cary. WHEELER: Shannon Eden, Allie Stevenson.

Northwest Crossroads Conference

ANDREAN: Haley Hrosik, Lauren Stazinski. GRIFFITH: Courtney Bell. HIGHLAND: Alyssa Kikalos, Aleysha Slaven. HOBART: Morgan Flaharty, Zoe Wilson. KANKAKEE VALLEY: Breanna Toppen. LOWELL: Nicole Sharkey. MUNSTER: Jordan Cole, Megan Zabrecky.

Northwestern Conference

LEW WALLACE: Ashanti Mays. ROOSEVELT: Iyanna Turner. WEST SIDE: DeJah Joshua, Lexus Fox, Tinon Hunter.

Porter County Conference

BOONE GROVE: Rachel Cantwell. HEBRON: Madison Bell, Katie Clemens. KOUTS: Jayla Crump, Megan Heinold, Bella Wireman. LACROSSE: Katie Vance. MORGAN TWP.: Brianna Leuck. WASHINGTON TWP.: Heather Burton, Sammie Higgins.


21ST CENTURY: Ophelia Palmer. BOWMAN ACADEMY: Joshlynn King, Kailynn Steele. COVENANT CHRISTIAN: Calli Beezhold, Jennifer Heerema. E.C. CENTRAL: Tiajaney Hawkins, Cheyenne White. LIGHTHOUSE: Kennesha Trambles. RENSSELAER: Aimee Mattocks.

March 20, 2014 10:00 pm Photos


Times Indiana Girls Basketball Player of the Year: LaPorte's Jaclyn Heath

Times Indiana Girls Basketball Player of the Year: LaPorte's Jaclyn Heath

Winning a softball national championship couldn't sway Jaclyn Heath's thoughts about her favorite sport, basketball.

As a 10-year-old, Heath was part of an ASA title squad. Less than a year later, she decided on one athletic endeavor.

"I talked with my parents, and we decided that I needed to pick one," she said. "My dad (Skeeter) being a basketball coach and playing travel basketball helped me decide.

"I think I made the right decision. I feel very blessed that everything worked out. I couldn't ask for much more."

From fifth grade on, hoops has been Heath's main focus. The Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year finished her prep career on a strong note.

As a senior, she helped LaPorte go 7-0 in the Duneland Athletic Conference. The Slicers (20-3) were in the top 10 of the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association's Poll since mid-December, reaching as high as No. 5.

The Division II North Alabama recruit finished her LaPorte career first in assists (632) and 3-pointers (161). She's second in points (1,019) and steals (268). In her final season, she averaged 13.1 points, 7.4 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 steals. She had an assist/turnover ratio of 4.3 to 1. She also led the team in charges taken, most defensive helps, fewest defensive errors and post feeds.

In high school, she did this under the direction of her dad. Slicers coach Skeeter Heath noticed his daughter's desire for basketball from a young age.

"She just had a different drive for basketball," he said. "If she wanted to get somewhere, she was going to do what she could to get there.

"She's largely responsible for the evolution of our program."

The Slicers were 33-32 in Jaclyn's first three seasons. She was North representative for the Indiana Junior All-Stars team last season. With a veteran group back, the healthy status of sophomore Kyleigh Kubik and incoming freshman Nicole Konieczny in the fold, point guard Heath had plenty of offensive options.

"Early on, I didn't have to score as much because we were great contributions from Kubik and Konieczny," said Jaclyn, the DAC MVP. "As we played more games, teams started to cover them more. I realized that I had to do more for the team."

Despite her height limitations (5-foot-3 1/2 inches), Heath still stood tall.

"She's right-handed as far as shooting, but she's better with the ball moving to the left," Skeeter Heath said. "That can be a hard thing for a defense to grasp.

"In the last two years, her range increased. If they played off her, she had more space to get by. She wasn't afraid to get knocked down if she drove. She'd get right back up."

She also kept the team afloat with her leadership skills.

"I was kind of expected to be the leader, since I'm a coach's daughter," she said. "It wasn't always easy."

Coach Heath, who resigned after the season to spend more time with his family, admitted that he wasn't always pleasant in practice.

"It's not easy being a coach's daughter; I just knew what she was trying to achieve and I wanted to help her get there," he said. "She handled it great. I don't know if I would've done that if a coach was dealing with me like that."

Jaclyn Heath achieved goals of winning a DAC crown and having a chance to play college basketball. One thing slipped her grasp, a sectional title for her dad.

"It was one of the worst days of my life," Heath said of the 56-48 sectional final loss to Merrillville. "It's obviously very disappointing."

Merrillville coach Amy Govert didn't fault Heath's effort.

"Heath put LaPorte on her back; she was the reason they made the comeback," Govert said of the guard, who had team highs of 17 points and five rebounds. "She made big 3s in the second half and played her heart out. She left everything she had on the floor."

She gained even higher praise from her father.

"She wasn't afraid to make plays; she showed how much she has grown," he said. "She's always put the team ahead of herself.

"It's the moment I'm most proud of."

March 20, 2014 7:00 pm Photos


Morton opens girls basketball position

Morton opens girls basketball position

Morton posted an opening for a new girls basketball coach after Tom Haluska was asked to resign last week.

Haluska, who won three conference championships in three years with the Governors, confirmed he was told last week that he would be replaced as the head of the basketball program.

Morton was 11-12 this season and lost 37-36 in the sectional semifinal to Lowell. A win over E.C. Central in the sectional quarterfinal was the first postseason win for the Govs since 2009.

"I honestly believe that next year they'll be even better," Haluska said. "There's talent coming in, and the talent that we've had in the past has gotten better. I feel a little saddened I won't be there for that."

Haluska took over a team that was 2-17 in 2010-11, and lost to Griffith 70-6. This season, the Govs beat the Panthers in the Hanover Central Tournament.

Morton athletic director Roy Richards said that he is looking for a coach that has some of the same qualities that Haluska brought to the job.

"We want someone with his work ethic, his passion and his knowledge," Richards said. "We also need someone that fits into our system and works well with the teachers, coaches and other staff at Morton."

March 12, 2014 7:24 pm

Heath, Haluska resign girls basketball coaching positions

Heath, Haluska resign girls basketball coaching positions

Two more Northwest Indiana high school girls basketball coaches have resigned their positions this week.

Less than a month removed from its winningest season in program history, LaPorte is looking for a new coach after Skeeter Heath resigned after 12 years on the bench. He led the Slicers to a 20-3 finish and a Duneland Athletic Conference title this season.

"I want to see Jaclyn play in college," said Heath, whose daughter, Jaclyn Heath, will attend North Alabama. "It's not easy to get there and when the opportunity arises, I want to be able to go. We've also had some trouble with numbers the last few years so maybe some new blood will reinvigorate that. Those things kind of go hand in hand. It's a good time."

Meanwhile, Morton posted an opening for a girls basketball coach after Tom Haluska confirmed that was told last week that he would be replaced.*

Morton athletic director Roy Richards said that he is looking for a coach that has some of the same qualities that Haluska brought to the job.

"We want someone with his work ethic, his passion and his knowledge," Richards said. "We also need someone that fits into our system and works well with the teachers, coaches and other staff at Morton."

Haluska won three conference championships in three years with the Governors.

Morton was 11-12 this season and lost 37-36 in the sectional semifinal to Lowell. A win over E.C. Central in the sectional quarterfinal was the first postseason win for the Govs since 2009.

"I honestly believe that next year they'll be even better," Haluska said. "There's talent coming in and the talent that we've had in the past has gotten better. I feel a little saddened I won't be there for that."

Haluska took over a team that was 2-17 in 2010-11, and lost to Griffith 70-6. This season, the Govs beat the Panthers in the Hanover Central Tournament.

The resignations follow that of Joe Otis, who stepped down Tuesday as girls basketball coach at Valparaiso.

A Valpo High and Valpo University graduate, Otis coached boys basketball at LaPorte from 1981 into the 2001-2002 season, amassing 296 wins with eight sectional and three regional titles and a state finals trip in 1997. He came to Valpo in 2010, going 65-27 over four seasons as boys coach before resigning to take the girls job. The Vikings went 9-11 this season.

Heath, once an assistant coach at Merrillville, led LaPorte to three straight winning seasons, building around Jaclyn's class from their freshman year. After consecutive one-win finishes in 2008-9 and 2009-10, the Slicers posted seven victories in 2010-11, followed by 13 in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

"That group got us back on the right track," he said. "With my daughter being in the group and coaching them since they were in sixth grade, we got really close. The end was a little disappointing, but it was a great year. I have a lot of good memories. It's certainly been a fun ride, the last three, four years especially."

Despite the departure of the talented senior class, the Slicers have a strong starting point to build from with freshman Nicole Konieczny and sophomore Kyleigh Kubik.

"Somebody just needs to be a little more involved at the middle school level than I've been," Heath said. "Cassie Cepeda has done a lot down there. Things are picking up as far as involvement, so I feel good about that."

*This reflects a change to an earlier version of the story. The Times regrets the error.

March 12, 2014 5:00 pm Photos


Region puts two on Junior All-Star team

Region puts two on Junior All-Star team

Victoria Gaines learned through Twitter that she'd been named to the Junior All-Star team.

As happy as she was to see her name on the list, the second piece of information was coming.

"I was surprised to see I made the core team," Gaines said. "It was a shock. I'm very happy about it."

Gaines will be joined by Duneland Athletic Conference opponent Michal Miller from Michigan City when the juniors play the seniors in the north game. Miller, who averaged 20.5 points with 6.5 rebounds for the Wolves, was named to the north team.

"I'm really proud for the area to put two players on the team," Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. "I think that says a lot about how good the competition is up here."

Gaines, who committed to Michigan State before the season began, averaged 15.0 points with 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game this season.

Gaines is the first local player to join the core roster since 2011, when her cousin, Raveen Murray, was a member of the core team.

"I wanted to be on the team since my cousin made it," Gaines said. "When my junior year started, I said 'hey, I get to see if I'm a nominee.'"

Coaches for the junior team haven't yet been announced. The juniors will start their June games against the Kentucky Junior All-Stars on June 6 and 7. The juniors will then play the Indiana All-Stars on June 9 and 11 in sites in the northern and southern parts of the state.

Members of the core team will play in all four games, while north members will play twice, once against Kentucky and at the northern exhibition site.

In addition to knowing Miller, whom Gaines has played against seven times in the last three seasons, three of Gaines' AAU teammates are also on the Junior All-Star team.

"It really helped that (Gaines) plays AAU in Indy," Govert said, "because there were two local coaches on the selection committee, but she is seen all over the state."

March 12, 2014 1:35 pm Photos


Otis resigns after one year as Valpo girls basketball coach; Wilson next in line?

Otis resigns after one year as Valpo girls basketball coach; Wilson next in line?

When Joe Otis took over as Valparaiso girls basketball coach and Candy Wilson came on as the junior varsity coach last year, it only figured to be a matter of time before Wilson ascended to the first chair.

That time just might be coming sooner than expected.

Otis announced his resignation Tuesday morning, seemingly paving the way for Wilson to become head coach.

"I didn't think it would be (one year) either," Otis said. "I really intended to stay three, four years, then I'd be 65. That was kind of the plan. Then when you start thinking about it, it's time. I have two grandchildren I haven't seen since last summer. They live in Las Vegas, so it's not like I can drive to LaPorte where my son lives to see them. I got to the point where I realized family was pretty important to me."

A Valpo High and Valpo University graduate, Otis coached boys basketball at LaPorte from 1981 into the 2001-2002 season, amassing 296 wins with eight sectional and three regional titles and a state finals trip in 1997. He came to Valpo in 2010, going 65-27 over four seasons as boys coach before resigning to take the girls job. The Vikings went 9-11 this season.

"I'm proud of what we accomplished," Otis said. "We turned it around, not as much as we wanted to, but our conference is pretty darn good and will be again next year."

Valpo Athletic Director Herb Hofer said via email that the position will be posted per school policy once the school board acts upon Otis' letter. All signs, though, point to Wilson. She guided the Vikings' JV to a 14-3 mark this season after leaving Boone Grove, where, Otis noted, her 245 career wins rank second all-time in the state among female coaches.

"I've got this rock star JV coach who's one of those charismatic figures," Otis said. "Most school corporations don't have a lot of ability to (hire) outside. We were lucky enough to get Candy last year. It's been a great situation. She's pretty popular with the girls. I've always let my assistant coaches coach, so it would make an easy transition. It wouldn't be like having a third coach in three years."

March 11, 2014 5:00 pm

Porter County-area prep basketball notes


Chesterton (12-10): The Trojans defeated Valparaiso 45-37 in the opening round of the Class 4A Valparaiso Sectional last week, marking only the second time in the last 23 years that they have beaten the Vikings twice in the same season. Senior Cole Teal scored a season-high 23 points to lead the way. Teal moved into an 18th-place tie on the Trojans scoring list with 1974 grad Joe Gifford. Chesterton was eliminated by eventual sectional champion LaPorte, 71-58.

Hebron (13-10): The Hawks opened Class 2A Hebron Sectional play with a 38-35 win over defending champion Boone Grove but fell to Whiting 47-43 in the semifinals. Junior Bryce Hanaway scored 11 points against the Oilers to bring his career total to 400.

Kouts (16-5): The Mustangs topped Westville 69-57 in the opening round of the Class A Morgan Township Sectional before being eliminated for the second year in a row by 21st Century, 82-71. Senior Jake Bekelya, with back-to-back 30-point efforts, became the 61st player in Kouts history to reach the 500-point plateau. Senior Matt Stewart tossed in nine points in the two games to become the 30th player in Kouts history to reach the 700-point mark. Senior Cody Nelson totaled 47 points in the two games, moving into 33rd on the Kouts scoring list, behind 1979 grad Jeff Sandberg. Bekelya (21.5) and Nelson (17.3) became the first Kouts duo to average at least 17 points per game since the combo of Jake Wade (25.9) and Josh Kain (21.2) in 1996.

Morgan Township (10-10): The host Cherokees dropped an 80-51 decision to 21st Century in the opening round at Morgan. Sophomore Jake Koselke led the way with 24 points and finished the year with 555 career points, which ranks as the 10th-highest total for a 10th-grader in Porter County history. The combo of Koselke (18.3) and junior Chase Braden (16.2) became the first pair to average at least 16 points per games since the duo of Shawn Nicklas (21.6) and Brett Spratley (17.0) in 1990.

Portage (13-11): Coach Rick Snodgrass’ Indians defeated Hobart 64-57 in the opening round of the Valparaiso Sectional before being eliminated by Michigan City, 64-49, in the semifinals. They were able to record the first winning season at Portage since 2004. Senior Mike Lattanzi notched a career-high 16 points against the Brickies.

South Central (5-16): The Satellites edged Oregon-Davis, 31-29, in the opening round of the Class A Triton Sectional before falling to Argos, 75-51, in the semifinals. Junior Mark Richards matched his personal best with 18 points against the Dragons and moved over the 400 mark to 407. Sophomore Max Clemons added a career-best 12 points.

Washington Township (16-6): The Senators defeated Covenant Christian 67-49 in the opening round of the Morgan Sectional before being eliminated by Marquette Catholic 75-62 in the semifinals. For the second consecutive year, the Senators, under the direction of coach Scott Bowersock, recorded their best record (16-6) in school history. They topped the 16-7 mark of last year. The Senators also had four players in double figures for the first time since 1998. Sophomore Nathan Line totaled 32 points in the two sectional games to move over the 200 mark to 221. Sophomore Alex Perez tallied 11 points against Marquette to move over the 300 mark to 303. Senior Bryce Pappas added six points to go over the 200 mark to 202.

Westville (13-9): Sophomore Josh Brownlee knocked in 13 points in a loss to Kouts to move over the 200 mark to 211. The Blackhawks finished with four players in double figures for the first time since 1989.

Wheeler (6-14): Junior Austin Greiner scored 14 points in a 58-34 loss to New Prairie in the opening game of the Class 3A Kankakee Valley Sectional to move over the 400 mark to 406.

March 11, 2014 5:00 pm

Porter County-area prep basketball notes


Boone Grove (6-13): Wolves dropped a pair of decisions to Duneland Athletic Conference schools last week to finish the regular season with nine losses in their last 10 games. They were beaten by Crown Point, 88-55, and Chesterton, 38-35. Senior Jon Hogg totaled 42 points in the two games and moved into 34th on the Boone scoring list, behind 1959 grad Roger Shurr.

Chesterton (11-9): The Trojans, playing their first game without the injured Chris Palombizio and his 19 points per game, were able to hold off Boone by three points and assure themselves of having a winning season.

Hebron (12-9): The Hawks snapped a five-game losing streak with a 67-63 win over Westville but dropped their season finale to River Forest 67-50. Hebron leads the series with Westville 40-7.

Kouts (15-4): The Mustangs defeated River Forest, 76-59, and followed with a 79-43 win over LaCrosse, their 10th straight over the Tigers. The victory over the Tigers provided the Mustangs with their fourth consecutive undefeated season in Porter County Conference round-robin play, a feat that had never been accomplished in conference history. Kouts' winning streak in conference play is at 29 straight. Senior Cody Nelson totaled 34 points in the two games to move over the 600 mark to 631. He is the 35th player in Kouts history to reach 600. Senior Jake Bekelya scored 31 points against the Ingots to equal his career best. Senior Matt Stewart tallied 19 points in the two games and moved into 30th on the Kouts scoring list, behind 1991 grad Brad Redelman.

LaCrosse (3-16): Junior Austin Harris netted a career-high 16 points in a loss to Kouts. Senior Bryce Guse added 14 points and moved past 1986 grad Steve Koselke into 24th on the all-time LaCrosse scoring list.

Morgan Township (10-9): Losses to Merrillville, 61-50, and Washington, Township 66-58, gave the Cherokees four defeats in their last five games. Junior Chase Braden totaled 32 points in the two games to move over the 800 mark to 824. Braden ranks 15th at Morgan, behind 1999 grad Kevin Grieger. Sophomore Jake Koselke scored 41 points in the two games, becoming the 66th player in Morgan history to reach the 500-point plateau, with 529 points. Sophomore Conner Martin recorded a personal-best 12 points against the Senators.

Portage (12-10): The Indians defeated Kankakee Valley, 44-40, and Rensselaer, 50-26, before falling to Griffith, 47-41, in their season finale. Portage assured itself of its first winning season since 2004. Senior Mike Lattanzi scored 10 points against Griffith to move over the 300 mark to 304. Junior Jordan Collazo matched his season high with 17 points against Rensselaer. Senior David Clegg netted a personal-best 11 points against the Panthers.

South Central (4-15): The Satellites dropped decisions to Culver, 43-42, Argos, 52-35, and Westville, 54-48. Junior Mark Richards equaled his career best with 18 points against the Cavaliers. Senior Austen Hanna tallied seven points against the Blackhawks to move over the 200 mark to 204. The series with Argos stands at 18-18.

Valparaiso (12-8): The Vikings pounded South Bend Clay 87-36 in their season finale for their sixth straight win in the series. The 87 points is the most by the Vikings since an 89-52 season-opening win over Boone in 2010. The 51-point margin of victory is the most by Valpo since a 69-17 win over South Central in 2005. Junior Drew Paul scored 18 points in the game to move over the 200 mark to 208. Valpo finished in a second-place tie with Michigan City in the DAC with a 5-2 mark.

Washington Township (15-5): The Senators recorded wins over West Central, 60-53, Oregon-Davis, 54-36, and Morgan, 66-58, giving them a seven-game winning streak. The victory over Morgan was their third straight in the series and provided the Senators with a second-place finish in the PCC at 5-2. It marked the first time in their 56 years in the PCC that they finished as high as second. Junior Alex Lowther totaled 41 points in the three games to move over the 300 mark to 326. Sophomore point guard Alex Perez fired in a career-best 20 points against Morgan.

Westville (13-8): The Blackhawks sandwiched wins over Covenant Christian, 73-52, and South Central, 54-48, around a loss to Hebron, giving them 13 wins for the season. That represents the most victories by the Blackhawks since the 2007 team went 18-4. Sophomore Josh Brownlee netted a career-high 19 points against Hebron.

Wheeler (6-13): The Bearcats’ losing streak reached six games with losses to Lowell, 60-40, and Hobart, 63-58. Senior James Miller totaled 35 points in the two games to move over the 300 mark to 330. Miller matched his personal best with 21 points against the Brickies.

March 04, 2014 5:00 pm

HILLARY SMITH: Local semistate good for region, great for teams

The Crown Point High School gym seats approximately 3,800 fans in the top and bottom bowls.

It can exceed 4,000 when area coaches hoping to glimpse the Class 4A North Semistate on Saturday are forced to stand for nearly two hours along the stairs and anywhere they can peek through two sets of shoulders.

Last season's Crown Point Semistate, handed by the IHSAA to the Bulldogs athletic administration, was a disappointment in attendance.

Fort Wayne Canterbury, a Class A school last year, passed by the other semistate site — Warsaw — on its 131-mile trip to Lake County. Lafayette Central Catholic, which returned this season, had the second shortest drive of any team in the 2013 field at 81 miles. Benton Central came from 70 miles away, and neither team brought fans to fill the gym.

By 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oregon-Davis had already staked out its claims to space at Crown Point and it reached nearly to the rafters. The Bobcats, who played four region teams in the regular season, filled one side of the gym with fans and the noise never died down.

Logansport, whose team was playing in its first-ever semistate, had the furthest drive at 93 miles, and easily brought the most fans of any of the four teams there. Berries faithful had spilled into space that was supposed to go to Penn. The administration sold out its allotted 500 tickets, then sold 300 more before Saturday.

Senior Whitney Jennings, who scored 23 of her team's 41 points in a three-point loss to Penn, is on the short list for the Miss Basketball award determined later this month. She's a draw that can't be denied, and part of what brought casual fans to the gym. 

Would Logansport have traveled to Warsaw (the semistate site that hosted the Class 3A and 2A games)? Sure. But they came west, instead.

What did this mean to Crown Point? Immediately, not much.

The teams that play in the semistate split the gate, so of the more than 4,000 tickets sold, Crown Point doesn't see the money. If all of those 4,000 people ate nachos, drank sodas and snacked on candy, then the Bulldogs athletic department sees a profit. If anyone stopped at Arby's or McDonald's on their way down Main Street to the school, Lake County will see the taxes.

The economic impact isn't astronomical. 

However, those coaches standing along the railings and sitting in whatever spaces they could find in the stands have votes for the Indiana All-Star team and for Miss Basketball.

And everyone makes noise.

"It's nice to have this here," athletic director Bill Dorulla said. "It's just great to see your gym full and the noise.

"I think that our gym is just so big anymore, it's hard to fill it. And there's so many other things now, the other sports that have grown, it makes it difficult to get a big crowd to basketball games anymore, it's not the only thing in town."

In the past, a drive to Elkhart Memorial or as far as Warsaw meant that fewer local coaches would make the trek.

The region has 44 girls basketball coaches with teams that play in the IHSAA. Any one of them that hadn't played against Penn, Logansport, Oregon-Davis or Lafayette Central Catholic this season just saw what each player can do.

Those 44 sets of eyeballs is an advantage for visiting teams that is not seen at Warsaw or Elkhart Memorial.

The last two years that the semistate has been at Crown Point, the area was one game away in two different classes from putting a team on a Lake County floor. Prior to Crown Point hosting the semistate last year, no Lake or Porter County school had ever thrown the semistate party in 38 previous editions of the girls basketball tournament.

Crown Point is happy to take the call again. The region should be happy, too.

March 02, 2014 6:30 pm

Oregon-Davis punches ticket to girls basketball state finals

CROWN POINT | Amidst the 47 total fouls called in Saturday's Class A North Semistate, Oregon-Davis found its rhythm.

Despite the difficulty of an up-and-down-then-stop cadence, the Bobcats countered a rally by Lafayette Central Catholic behind the offense of a known defensive stalwart.

Guard Alicia McIntosh, who is better known for her high-caliber defense, led all scorers in a 67-46 O-D win. Her 18 points helped send the Bobcats to the state championship game for the first time since 2007.

"Alicia hitting that first 3, that sparked us," senior Ashley Campbell said. "That spark was good."

When Central Catholic changed its attention to McIntosh, that allowed Campbell, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, her chance to shine.

"McIntosh, she's a streaky shooter, but when she's hitting, she's unbelievable," O-D coach Terry Minix said. "Campbell willed us to win. Because of foul trouble, I had kids on the floor that rarely play and she just led like she had all of her starters on the floor."

Central Catholic pulled as close as two points early in the third quarter before the Bobcats (22-2) went on a 10-0 run with five points by McIntosh.

"That's where our bench was able to really come in and play hard," McIntosh said. "With the foul trouble, and with Jessica (Avarone) out, that was tough because she really handles the ball well. We practiced with a lot of different options and the bench played really well."

O-D picked up 11 points from bench players.

Also hampered by foul trouble, Central Catholic had just one player finish scoring in double figures. Angela Tharp hit five 3s and tied for a game-best 18 points.

"We can't afford to get in foul trouble and our point guard, we can't afford to have her off the floor," Knights coach Craig DeVault said. "If the game hadn't been called so tight, they'd have their starters on and we'd have our starters on and it could be a different game. But we had one of our worst games tonight, and we'll learn from that."

Each team had one player foul out and Central Catholic had another two finish with four fouls.

Oregon-Davis won the state championship in 2007, but hasn't been past the regional round since.

The Bobcats will play Vincennes Rivet in the state title game at the Hulman Center in Terre Haute, 190 miles from Oregon-Davis High School.

"I'll drive 10 hours if it means we're playing in the state championship," Minix said. "Being able to be with these kids one more week, wow, that's a lot of fun."

March 01, 2014 6:30 pm

Penn beats Logansport in girls basketball semistate nail-biter

Penn beats Logansport in girls basketball semistate nail-biter

CROWN POINT | Penn practices shooting free throws with the gym's sound system pumped up past 11.

The Kingsmen have learned to cut out distraction and play past the noise under pressure.

So with a gym more than half-filled with loud Logansport fans at Saturday's Class 4A North Semistate, Penn hitting seven free throws in the last 1 minute, 32 seconds of the game was nothing new.

While it was hitting its free throws, the Berries missed six of seven as the Kingsmen advanced to the state championship game with a 44-41 victory.

"Free throws win games," Penn coach Kristi Kaniewski said. "We work on pressure free throws and simulate those kinds of things all the time in practice. We talk to the girls about having confidence in those situations when you step up to that line. Every player should want to be in that position at the end of the game."

Down by as many as 10 after a two-point first quarter, Logansport edged back into the game behind Whitney Jennings and Nakeya Penny, who combined for 40 of the Berries' 41 points.

After tying the game heading into the fourth quarter, Logansport led by as many as six as part of an 11-0 run that lasted the final 4:14 of the third quarter and first 1:08 of the fourth.

Logansport had missed just one free throw heading into the fourth quarter, then went 5 of 11 from the line in the last stanza.

"We went into delay, and we didn't make free throws or layups, and that's what you're supposed to do in that situation," said Logansport coach Jerry Hoover, a one-time boys coach at Lake Central.

Jennings led all scorers with 23 points after having just six at halftime. Perry added 17.

Jessica Alexander led Penn (25-1) with 13 points, while the Kingsmen spread the scoring around to eight players.

"Anyone can step out on any given night, and I think that's what's so special about this team," Alexander said. "We don't have just one player that can play. It's an all-around team game and that's what's gotten us this far."

En route to its semistate appearance, Penn beat Merrillville and West Side in the regional. From Mishawaka, the drive to the state finals in Terre Haute will be nearly 225 miles.

The Kingsmen played in the 2011 state finals, losing to Jeffersonville.

"This means a lot, considering at the beginning of the year a lot of people were counting us out," Kaniewski said. "They had ticketed LaPorte or Homestead all the way to the state finals, and here we are."

March 01, 2014 6:30 pm Photos


Porter County-area prep basketball notes


Chesterton (11-11): Senior Caroline Puntillo, Porter County’s leading scorer, finished her career with 985 points, which ranks fourth in Chesterton history and 40th on the county scoring list, behind 2001 Valparaiso graduate Courtney Rosenbaum.

Hebron (7-12): Senior Lauren Carlson finished 26th on the Hebron scoring list, behind 2002 grad Jennifer Marshall, with 435 points. The Hawks recorded their fifth consecutive losing season.

Kouts (13-9): Kouts posted its 10th winning season in the last 11 years. Junior Jayla Crump concluded the season with 765 career points, which ranks 12th in Kouts history.

LaCrosse (6-13): In spite of dropping nine of its last 10 games, the Tigers still recorded their second best record in the last 11 years.

Morgan Township (15-7): The Cherokees were eliminated by Oregon-Davis 83-50 in the Class A Caston Regional on Saturday. It marked the third straight year their season was ended by the Bobcats. Senior Trina Coleman scored 17 points to bring her career total to 1,182. Coleman finished third on the Morgan scoring list, behind Karin Morrisroe and Angie Bush, and finished 16th in county history, behind 2007 Kouts grad Jaclyn Jessen. Senior Brianna Leuck added a season-high 15 points and finished her career with 496 points, 22nd at Morgan.

Portage (10-11): Kaitlin Doud concluded her junior year with 623 career points, which ranks 13th on the Portage scoring list, behind 2010 grad Tara Ellis. Senior Alexis Johnson finished with 483 points, which stands 24th in Portage history.

South Central (13-8): Senior Jill Rosenbaum finished as the Porter County Conference's leading scorer at 15 points per game. She concluded her career with 1,068 points, which ranks third at South Central, behind Mallory Gorski and Anna Kammrath. Sophomore Riley Popplewell has 513 points, good for 18th at South Central.

Valparaiso (9-11): Grace Withrow wrapped up her junior season with 737 career points, which ranks 15th in Viking history, behind 1984 grad Diane Ciciora.

Washington Township (15-6): Heather Burton finished her junior year with 854 career points, which ranks fourth in Senators history. Seniors Sammie Higgins (493) and Maddy Johnson (401) rank 19th and 26th, respectively, at Washington.

Wheeler (8-12): Allie Stevenson finished her junior year with 443 career points, which is 20th on the Bearcats scoring list, behind 2003 grad Lindsay Schiess.


Boone Grove (6-11): The Wolves snapped a six-game losing streak with a 57-48 win over Hebron before falling to Lake Station 54-48. It was the 201st meeting between Boone and Hebron. Boone has won 87 and Hebron 114.

Chesterton (10-9): The Trojans lost to Munster 65-59 but bounced back with a 48-30 win over Valpo that snapped a 14-game Vikings winning streak in the series. The win over the Vikings was only Chesterton’s 30th in 145 meetings between the two schools. Senior Cole Teal scored 32 points in the two games, including a season-high 20 against Valpo, as he moved over the 600 mark to 620. Teal ranks 28th on the Chesterton scoring list, behind 2002 grad Michael Claudio. Senior Jake Wasielewski tossed in 16 points against the Vikings to move over the 300 mark to 306.

Hebron (11-8): Along with a loss to Boone, the Hawks also fell to Lowell, 60-49, and Rensselaer, 51-38, extending their losing streak to five games. Senior Tony Rose netted 49 points in the three games to move over the 400 mark to 417. Sophomore Donovan Friel stashed a career-high 15 points against the Red Devils.

Kouts (13-4): The Mustangs sandwiched losses to Rensselaer, 63-61, and Lake Station, 80-50, around a 68-43 victory over Hanover Central. Senior Jake Bekelya totaled 69 points in the three games to move over the 400 mark to 404. Bekelya recorded a personal-best 31 points against Hanover.

LaCrosse (3-15): The Tigers dropped a pair of decisions to North Judson, 79-67, and North Newton, 59-52. Senior Bryce Guse totaled 44 points in the two games and moved into the top 30 on the LaCrosse scoring list, behind 1954 grad John Berkshire. The Tigers have dropped six of their seven meetings with the Spartans.

Morgan Township (10-7): Junior Chase Braden scored a career-high 32 points in a 62-51 win over Westville. In the process, Braden moved into 19th on the Morgan scoring list, behind 2001 grad Aaron Rosenfeld. Morgan leads the series with the Blackhawks 36-25.

Portage (10-9): The Indians moved over the .500 mark with a 55-51 win over LaPorte. Junior Jordan Collazo scored a season-high 17 points. Portage is 20-40 against the Slicers.

South Central (4-12): The Satellites stopped a three-game losing streak with a 50-45 victory over Knox. It was South Central’s 19th win in 46 meetings with the Redskins.

Washington Township (12-5): Sophomore Nathan Line scored a personal-best 20 points in a 62-56 win over River Forest. Senior Brandon Adkins added 18 points to move over the 700 mark to 708. Adkins went past 1953 grad Bob Jacobs into 15th on the Washington scoring list.

Westville (11-7): After losing to Morgan, the Blackhawks responded with a 74-63 win over New Buffalo in which senior Collin Walker recorded a season-high 19 points. Junior Austin Swistek tossed in 11 points in the two games to move over the 200 mark to 210.

Wheeler (6-11): The Bearcats lost to Kankakee Valley, 67-44, and Marquette, 100-59. Sophomore Jared Catherman netted a career-best 19 points against the Blazers. The 100 points is the most allowed by a Wheeler team since a 102-90 loss to River Forest in 1997.

February 25, 2014 5:00 pm

IHSA puts H-F boys team on probation, but lets them compete in state playoffs

After an investigation into possible bylaws violations, the Homewood-Flossmoor boys basketball program will be allowed to compete in the state tournament, the Illinois High School Association announced Tuesday.

The Vikings are seeded sixth in the Class 4A Thornton Sectional and are scheduled to face either Andrew or Lincoln-Way Central in a semifinal of the Lincoln-Way Central Regional scheduled for March 5.

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman told The Times of its ruling Tuesday morning. The IHSA is still looking at the other programs at Homewood-Flossmoor.

"It is ongoing," Hickman said of the investigation into the other programs.

The ruling to allow the Vikings' boys team to play came as a relief to H-F coach Jim McLaughlin and his players.

"We're happy, of course, where we're at with the IHSA," McLaughlin said after the Vikings' game against Sandburg on Tuesday night. "We're very thankful we have an opportunity to participate in the state playoff series. We'll move forward. We have a goal here about getting to March and being able to play. That's great news for our side.

"When you're put under investigation and you think you've been doing things the right way for the last 20 years, 24 years I've been involved in coaching, it sets you back a little bit when someone tells you you're not. We're obviously relieved and thankful that Marty Hickman granted us permission to play in the playoffs."

McLaughlin said he talked with his players after the Bloom game on Saturday night, advising them the decision was imminent.

"We let them know where we stood," he said. "From my perspective, I thought we did things the right way in the summer. We did the right things in the fall. It was nice, great to see Marty Hickman saw things the same way."

Senior Tai Odiase said the IHSA's decision "was a load off my shoulders. We didn't do nothing wrong. It was a little bit of a relief."

The school's boys basketball program was investigated following violations made by the girls basketball program, the IHSA said. The agency last week banned the girls team from competing in the state playoffs after violating several IHSA bylaws. The boys broke a single rule regarding practice times, the agency said.

The investigation was a result of H-F self-reporting violations of the IHSA’s season limitation bylaw. The Vikings had organized conditioning programs during the offseason, which does not comply with IHSA bylaws, the agency stated in a news release.

"The violations by the girls program were far more extensive than the boys program," the release quoted Hickman as saying. "The school has been forthright in admitting the violations and working with the IHSA to correct them."

The girls program, ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A, had to forfeit all 21 of its wins.

According to the release, the school will be placed on probation for one year and be required to submit a comprehensive plan to ensure future compliance with IHSA rules.

Girls basketball coach Tony Smith is still on suspension, placed there by the IHSA board of directors, according to Hickman. Jodi Bryant, a spokesperson for District 233, said Tuesday that Smith is still the coach and is still employed by the district.

Homewood-Flossmoor High School said in a news release it plans to work with IHSA to complete a compliance audit and develop a comprehensive plan to ensure its compliance as well as coordinate professional development activities for the coaches. The probation calls for for additional and more severe consequences if the school commits future violations.

February 25, 2014 2:30 pm

Seton Academy's hopes of a state berth come up short

Seton Academy's hopes of a state berth come up short

RIVER FOREST | Three times in as many years, Seton Academy's girls basketball team walked into the super-sectional — the last two at Concordia University — with hopes of a berth in the state semifinals at Illinois State.

Three times, the Sting has gone home to South Holland without a ticket to that semifinal game and the shot at glory that accompanies it.

Monday, the roadblock in their way at the Class 2A Concordia Super-Sectional was IC Catholic. The Knights scored a 40-38 victory despite the 21 points of standout Seton senior Ebony Bailey.

Seton ends its season 19-9. IC Catholic moves on to Friday night's game against Prophetstown with a 25-6 record and a 16-game winning streak.

Bailey, sniffling as she spoke, knew exactly what cost the Sting a downstate berth.

"I think it was our defense," Bailey said. "We started the game without enough intensity."

Seton was reluctant to force the issue defensively. That allowed the Knights to barge their way to a 17-9 lead after a quarter, and a 26-15 advantage at the half, the final points gained on Grace Vitek's wide-open 8-footer just before the buzzer.

It could have been a wider margin. IC Catholic, the old Immaculate Conception, missed a handful of easy shots and still led by 11.

"The second half, we went to the man-to-man and put on a bit more pressure," Seton coach Kevin Green said, questioning his reluctance to switch from a zone earlier. "They got too big of a lead. It was a tale of two halves."

Bailey scored on a drive, cutting the deficit to five points, to start the fourth quarter, and after Vitek (10 points) answered, sophomore Danielle Bailey, Ebony Bailey's younger sister, drilled a 3-pointer, trimming it to four points. Two baskets inside by ICC center Rory Manion (10 points, 12 rebounds) made it 38-30, but Seton had one push left. When the younger Bailey scored another 3-pointer with 3:12 to play, the lead was down to three points.

It stayed there until Vitek hit a pair of free throws with 39.3 seconds left. After she missed the front end of a 1-and-1 15 seconds later, Seton's Alfatinee Boyd dropped in a 3-pointer with eight seconds left.

"We figured on playing deny defense," Ebony Bailey said.

But the Knights got the ball in and the Sting couldn't foul, denying Bailey and her cohorts the trip to the championship weekend.

February 24, 2014 9:00 pm Photos


Penn bumps West Side girls from postseason

Penn bumps West Side girls from postseason

MISHAWAKA | West Side coach Rod Fisher said that if a team could figure out a way to slow down or stop Dana Evans, the Cougars could be beat.

Through 21 games, no team had.

Then West Side met Penn.

The Kingsmen held Evans to four first-half points and 18 overall as they beat the Cougars 57-43 in the Class 4A Penn Regional championship game Saturday night.

Despite an 18-point deficit at halftime, West Side pulled within six points in the fourth quarter, thanks to a surge that came almost too little, too late.

"We made a run, but when you give one of the best teams in the state a 13, 14-point lead on their home floor, it's sorta hard to come back," Fisher said.

Evans scored 10 of her points in the fourth quarter and was held in the second half without a field goal until the 1:09 mark of the third quarter.

"We felt like the time was going out and we had to give it our all," Evans said. "They played good defense, they played really good defense. We were tired and beat up from the first game. We rested, but we were still tired."

Evans led all players in scoring, and was the only West Side player to reach double figures.

Amari Ferguson added seven points before fouling out, and Jerrica Neal and Lexus Fox had six each.

After scoring 35 points in the semifinal game against Northridge, Evans was no secret to Penn.

The Kingsmen were led by 17 points from Camryn Buhr and picked up 13 from Caroline Buhr and 12 from Jess Alexander.

With 25 fouls and two players fouled out, West Side sent Penn to the free-throw line 38 times, where the Kingsmen picked up 26 points. West Side was 17 of 18 from the line.

"We got too aggressive and sent them to the foul line," Fisher said. "The game could have been a lot closer if we didn't spot them 12, 14 points."

The Cougars turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and 19 times overall. Penn picked up 17 points off of turnovers.

"The first quarter was decent, the second quarter was awful, and whoever was dribbling the ball, four other people were standing around and watching," Fisher said. "We were lethargic the second and basically the third quarter."

"I think it was fatigue," Evans said. "They were executing better and moving the ball better, and we weren't."

West Side was the only team in the regional bracket that Penn had not played in the regular season.

The Cougars went 3-2 against opponents on both schedules, and Penn won all meetings against the likes of Lake Central, South Bend Clay, E.C. Central and South Bend Washington. West Side split with Lake Central, lost to Washington and beat the other two.

Penn will play Logansport in the Northern Semistate at either Crown Point or Warsaw.

February 22, 2014 11:30 pm Photos



K.V. comes up short in program’s first-ever regional title game

K.V. comes up short in program’s first-ever regional title game

ROCHESTER | Until Saturday night, the Kankakee Valley girls’ basketball program had never played in a regional championship game.

But the Kougars accomplished that goal, but came short of a regional championship as Western ran away with a 46-35 win.

Bethany Jansma led K.V. with 10 points in the loss.

“I thought our kids battled, it’s just bad to have an off-night on offense (in the postseason),” Kougars coach Ryan Myers said. “Some of that is credit to (Western). They played a great defensive game, but I thought we had a lot of mental errors.

“I love the kids’ effort tonight. They came out and battled for 32 minutes, and that’s all we ask. It’s unfortunate that things had to end the way they did, but credit to our kids for how they played tonight, they did a good job.”

Kankakee Valley (16-7) shot just 23 percent (12-for-53) from the floor and 3-for-14 (21 percent) from 3-point range. The Kougars were held to two points in the third quarter.

K.V. lead early, but Western battled back quickly and took the lead for good with just over a minute left in the first quarter. The Panthers were 5-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half and led by 10 at halftime.

The Kougars rallied late in the second quarter with a 7-0 run, but a turnover led to a Western layup just before the halftime buzzer, shifting the momentum back to the Panthers.

“We’d make a little run and then, credit to a good team, they’d come right back at us and make a run of their own to keep pushing it,” Myers said. “I thought we had chances tonight, I thought our kids played hard, but we just had a lot of shots that didn’t fall tonight. Postseason, if you don’t shoot the ball well, it’s going to be a short one.”

Kankakee Valley had won the program’s first sectional title since 2005 before beating Griffith 54-34 Saturday morning to advance to its first-ever regional championship.

“First time in nine years that we won a sectional, and that was a goal from Day 1, was to win a sectional,” Myers said. “These kids did that. I was just super proud of the effort. Even though we didn’t come out on top, I’m super proud of these kids.”

February 22, 2014 9:00 pm Photos



Kankakee Valley's defense ends Griffith’s season at regional semifinal

Kankakee Valley's defense ends Griffith’s season at regional semifinal

ROCHESTER | Few teams overachieved this season like the Griffith Panthers.

After a slow start to the season, Griffith saw marked improvement and came out of seemingly nowhere to win a sixth straight sectional title. But when push came to shove in Saturday morning’s Class 3A Rochester Regional semifinal, Kankakee Valley was too fast, too tall and too strong.

The Kougars won 54-34.

Bre Toppen scored a game-high 18 points for K.V. (16-6) and Lauren Stokes added 15. Courtney Bell led Griffith (12-11) with 16 points, the only Panther in double figures.

K.V.’s defense set the tone early, forcing turnovers and challenging nearly all of Griffith’s shots. The Kougars grabbed 15 steals, led by six from Stokes.

“Their guards put a lot of pressure on our guards, and it was hard for our guards to handle that,” Griffith coach Tom Golumback said. “You’ve got to give them credit; they had a good game plan.”

The Kougars kept the Panthers off the scoreboard until nearly six minutes into the game and had doubled-up the score by midway through the second quarter. The Kougars never trailed and advance past the regional semifinal round for the first time in program history.

“I told the girls we probably got as much out of them as we could have,” Golumback said. “That’s obviously nothing to be ashamed of.

“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t very good. We have two kids that contribute (who) last year were playing eighth grade basketball. We’ve gotten better as the season went on and that’s what we wanted to do. In that regard, we achieved all of the goals we wanted to. We told them we were proud of them.”

The Panthers will lose just one starter, Jasmine Alvarez, to graduation and will return three-quarters of the total roster. Golumback hopes the small turnover will help Griffith make another deep run – perhaps deeper – next season.

“We have a lot of kids coming back,” Golumback said. “Obviously, we’re going to miss our seniors. That said, the future looks pretty good next year. We return Courtney and a couple of our bigs, so we told them we’re hoping to get back here and maybe go a little bit farther next year. That’s always the goal.”

February 22, 2014 6:17 pm Photos


Bishop Noll rally falls short against Canterbury in 2A regional

Bishop Noll rally falls short against Canterbury in 2A regional

RENSSELAER | Bishop Noll was facing a formidable foe in Fort Wayne Canterbury in the Class 2A Rensselaer Regional on Saturday.

Canterbury, winners of five of the past six Class A state titles, had its hands full with Bishop Noll in Joe Burvan Gymnasium. Noll hung around and trimmed a double-digit deficit down in the latter stages of the third quarter, before Canterbury closed out a 76-64 win.

“They knocked down big shots down the stretch,” Noll coach Vanita Gary.

Noll trailed 19-13 at the first stop and got within 38-30 at the half. Noll (20-4) made its move in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 46-45 with 1:25 left in the period.

“We focused back on the defensive end,” Gary said. “We were able to make stops to force errors.

“We just tried to take advantage of those in transition.”

Canterbury (18-4) answered with five points from Kindell Fincher in the closing minute and took a 51-47 lead with eight minutes left.

A bucket by Mason VanHouten and a three from Darby Maggard to start the fourth, stretched the lead to 56-47. Noll got to within 59-53 on a basket by Brenda Pennington at the 5:05 mark but would get no closer the rest of the way.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” said sophomore Naomi House, who tallied a game-high 25 points for Noll. “We had runs. They had runs, but it just didn’t pull out our way.

“We were executing well. They’re a great team.”

House scored 14 points in the first half to keep Noll in the game. Pennington, also a sophomore, added 14 points, and classmate Tori Keilman finished with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Senior Asya Hobbs pulled down a team-high 12 boards and had 3 points.

“I’ll be losing my seniors who have played a tremendous role in shaping our team and shaping our work ethic within our program,” Gary said. “But it’s exciting knowing that the girls that are coming up under them, I’ve got one junior and everyone else is a freshman or sophomore.”

Fincher, an Xavier recruit, led all scorers with 30, while Maggard finished with 27.

“Kindell did a great job coming down, got two or three offensive boards and putbacks, and that was a big swing,” Canterbury coach Wayne Kreiger said.

February 22, 2014 6:00 pm Photos


Morgan Twp. battles top-ranked O-D before losing at regionals

Morgan Twp. battles top-ranked O-D before losing at regionals

FULTON | Morgan Township gave top-ranked Oregon-Davis all it could handle in the first half of Saturday’s Class A Caston Regional semifinal, but it wasn’t enough to pull off the upset.

The Cherokees had a six-point lead after the first quarter and trailed by seven at halftime, but the No. 1 Bobcats outscored them by 26 in the second half to pull away for an 83-50 win.

“It was fun, wasn’t it; our girls played outstanding,” Morgan Township coach Kevin Krieger said. “We hung with them for two-and-a-half quarters.

“They kind of asserted their will on us the last quarter-and-a-half. It was an outstanding effort by all of our girls.”

Morgan Township (15-7) jumped out to an early 7-0 lead. Trina Coleman started the scoring with a drive to the hoop. Kameron Stanko followed by scoring off of an offensive rebound, and Brianna Leuck drained a 3-pointer.

“We worked all week on attacking their press, and for the first half we did a good job,” Krieger said.

Another 3-pointer from Leuck put the Cherokees ahead 11-3, and Coleman had a three-point play with 30 seconds left in the quarter to make the lead 22-16.

The Bobcats (20-2) started the second quarter on a 9-0 run to lead 25-22. Lueck tied the game with a 3-pointer, and Kia Holder scored on an inbounds play to put Morgan in front 27-25.

Oregon-Davis closed the half on 13-4 run to lead 38-31 at halftime. The Bobcats outscored the Cherokees 45-19 in the second half.

Coleman led the Cherokees with 17 points. She also dished out 10 assists for a double-double.

“She’s been a tremendous leader in getting the girls to believe they can accomplish anything,” Krieger said.

Leuck finished with 15 points on five 3-pointers.

Morgan Township’s four seniors—Coleman, Leuck, Katie Bachert and Hannah Murphy—were all on the floor together in the fourth quarter. They left the game at the same time to an ovation from the Cherokee fans.

“They were the heart and soul of our three sectional championship teams,” Krieger said. “They have set the bar really high for our program, and I just wanted to make sure that they finished together.

"They’ve done a real nice job the last three years of representing our program.”

Ashley Campbell scored a game-high 28 points to lead the Bobcats. Haley Collings added 15. Oregon-Davis was 16-of-22 from the field in the second half after shooting 12-of-40 in the first half.

February 22, 2014 5:00 pm Photos


Merrillville falls, West Side advances at Penn Regional

Merrillville falls, West Side advances at Penn Regional

MISHAWAKA | While Merrillville couldn't keep the ball when it needed it, West Side used its speed-driven offense to impress.

As the Pirates fell to host Penn, 66-55, in the first semifinal game of the Penn Regional, West Side beat Northridge 72-56 to advance to the championship match on Saturday.

Merrillville turned the ball over 11 times in the first quarter and 31 times overall, unable to sustain any momentum.

After falling behind 19-5 in the first quarter, the Pirates (16-7) pulled as close as eight points in the fourth quarter.

But, Merrillville turned the ball over again, and sent the Kingsmen to the free-throw line.

"We almost had more turnovers than shots, how do you expect to win a game with stats like that?" Pirates coach Amy Govert said. "If they threw something at us that we weren't prepared for, that's one thing, but they didn't. We threw over the top, didn't attack, didn't get anyone in the middle, that's on us."

All of Merrillville's turnovers came from five players, led by eight from Jasmine Wright, who also scored 11 points.

"The turnovers, for us, were very frustrating," said senior AJ Downs, who chipped in 11 points. "We knew we needed to stop and we knew we needed to score."

Jaz Talley* also scored 11 points as Kiarra Thompson pulled down a team-best eight rebounds.

Penn, which beat Merrillville 70-63 on Feb. 3, was led by 21 points from Camryn Buhr and another 20 from Caroline Buhr, who scored 12 in the first quarter.

"You can't expect to put yourself in a double-digit hole against a team like Penn and get back. We made runs, but we couldn't get over the hump," Govert said. "We had, from our 'stars' if you want to say, they led us in turnovers."

In the second game, West Side let Dana Evans control the offense to the tune of 35 points in dominating fashion over the Raiders. Evans had 15 in the second quarter as the Cougars erased a three-point deficit and took a 36-31 halftime lead.

After West Side's lead grew as large as 18 points, a run at the end of the third quarter pulled Northridge within seven.

Evans sparked an 8-0 run with 3:56 remaining in the game with a 3-pointer and Amari Ferguson, who added 14 points for West Side, capped it with a pair of free throws.

"One thing you can always count on with Dana is that she's not going to stop shooting," West Side coach Rod Fisher said. "We had a good supporting cast, even with the foul trouble we had."

The Cougars had seven fouls by the end of the first quarter, and the Raiders were in the bonus most of the first half.

Still, West Side finished 17 of 22 from the line as Evans hit 7 of 8 and Ferguson 5 of 6.

"For a young team like this and the adversity they had, I think they responded really well, but it helps when you have the best player on the floor on your side," Fisher said. "We hit free throws today ... but when you've got Ferguson and Evans shooting free throws, they're probably 80 percent from the line."

The win put West Side into the regional final for the first time since 2005, when the Cougars played for the state championship.

*This corrects an earlier version of the story. The Times regrets the error.

February 22, 2014 1:37 pm Photos


No downtime for Merrillville's AJ Downs

No downtime for Merrillville's AJ Downs

MERRILLVILLE | There's no time on the court for Merrillville's AJ Downs to take a breather.

The senior guard just can't allow herself to do it.

"To me, I don’t want to leave the floor," Downs said. "I don’t want to get out of the game. I love staying in and playing the game of basketball. Sometimes I (become tired), then I find energy inside me to help me keep going and help me stay on the floor as much as possible."

No, she's not secretly a marathon runner. In fact, she tried track once, but it took too much time away from basketball.

Her effort on the court makes her not only a tough stop, but also tough to take off.

When the Pirates topped LaPorte for the Hobart Sectional title on Saturday, Downs played nearly all 32 minutes.

"She’s had a great season and the one thing we always tell our younger kids is to watch how hard she plays," Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. "Practice, in a game, she never takes a play off. It would be hard to find another player in this area that plays as hard as she does every second on the court."

Downs is next in line for the guard-dominated Pirates. She follows in the footsteps of Division-I talent Bryonna Davis, All-Star Raveen Murray and last year's grad Dariyan Morris, all Times players of the year.

A contributor as soon as she pulled on a purple uniform, Downs is in a new spot this season with the pressure on her to create plays and score points. Teams aren't ignoring the x-foot-x shooter, and she's adjusted her game as she finds herself double-teamed against a defense.

She is second on her team in points scored and leads with 2.4 steals per game. After this season, she's headed to Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, with the hope of a Division I offer in two years.

"Coming in, I don’t think the pressure was (there), but we had a rough start and when we had some people out the pressure really was put on her at the beginning of the year," Govert said. "She realized how hard it is. She’s the first one to say ‘we can’t do it by ourselves, we need everyone,’ because she’s been in that position.

"She realizes, obviously her points are up, she’s averaging close to 12 a game, but we rely on her to lead us on the defensive end, and if she came into every game thinking ‘oh my gosh, I have to score 25 points,’ then that’s a whole different pressure. She just lets the game come to her. Yeah, she’s had some games where she’s scored 24, and that’s just a bonus for us. She’s relaxed as the season has gone on and as we all got comfortable with each other."

Having fallen to LaPorte earlier in the season, this is the first year in Downs' career at Merrillville that the Pirates entered the sectional as an underdog.

They'll do the same at today's regional, where they'll play host Penn at 9:30 a.m. The Pirates fell to the Kingsmen 70-63 on Feb. 3.

"We kind of like that, we like to be the underdog," Downs said. "It’s a good thing that we’re the underdog and we don’t have a lot of pressure on us."

February 21, 2014 11:15 pm Photos


West Side on a roll thanks to role players

West Side on a roll thanks to role players

GARY | The West Side girls basketball Class of 2015 was packed with talent and dominating the Cougars' offensive categories for two seasons.

Then Dana Evans arrived.

Now the juniors are taking their roles as role players seriously.

It wasn't easy at first. They were used to ruling the floor, with the offense rolling through them.

Instead, they checked their egos at the door.

"I’ll be honest, at first it was a transition, because last year I was one of the ones scoring all the points," junior Lexus Fox said. "Then you have to look at it as ‘we’re all winning, so you have to do what you can for your team.’"

"To me, it doesn’t faze me as long as I’m helping my teammates get the win, it doesn’t affect me," junior Ashley Danzy said.

While Evans is averaging more than 20 points per game, the role players are picking up the slack as West Side heads into today's Penn Regional averaging 67.2 points per game.

The Cougars will play Northridge at approximately 11:30 a.m. in the second semifinal. Juniors Danzy, Fox, Tinon Hunter and sophomore Jerrica Neal have helped them all get to that spot.

"None of them are going to go score 20-25 points per game, that’s not their role," coach Rod Fisher said. "If we can get 30 out of those four players combined, we’re in good shape."

West Side won last week's Lowell Sectional without three suspended seniors, requiring the juniors to make an even bigger leap forward.

In a semifinal win against Lake Central, Hunter scored nine points and Neal picked up a team-best eight rebounds. With a win over host Lowell on Saturday, West Side won its first sectional title since 2009.

“One of our goals this year was to win sectionals, and we’re trying to take it one game at a time instead of looking directly at state," Hunter said. "We’ve achieved one goal, but not the biggest goal yet.”

The ride through the playoffs has helped West Side's role players realize their importance, even if they're not leading the team statistically anymore.

"Nobody really sees that it could be a good basket, but it came because of a great pass," Fox said. "We do the little things that nobody sees.”

Fisher knows that by now, the secrets are out about his team.

"Sooner or later someone is going to really key on Dana. Nobody really has yet, and if they have then we’ve been able to get the ball to her pretty easily," Fisher said. "Everyone has to be ready. Amari (Ferguson) was ready against Lake Central and it’s the best game she’s played all year. Lexus, she was ready against Logansport and even though she only had five points, you add, (nine) rebounds, five steals, five, six points, all that adds up to a pretty good game."

February 21, 2014 11:00 pm Photos


Another H-F team now facing possible suspension

Homewood-Flossmoor’s boys basketball program is under investigation by the Illinois High School Association and could be banished from the state playoffs as the school's girls program was earlier this week, the agency's executive director confirmed Friday.

While the IHSA continues to investigate the girls program and coach Tony Smith for recruiting violations, a decision on how to penalize the boys for breaking an association bylaw regarding practices should come before playoffs start March 3, IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said.

“I certainly imagine so,” Hickman said by phone. “That gives us next week to wrap that up.”

The IHSA learned of possible violations by the boys team from the school, Hickman said. In self-reporting violations to the IHSA regarding its girls program, H-F administrators submitted out-of-season workout schedules. Those schedules showed virtually identical programs for the boys and girls teams.

Principal Ryan Pitcock, hired in 2008, noted in a letter to the IHSA that the off-season program had been in effect “for a span likely greater than 9 years.”

“They can’t organize their basketball teams in August, September and October,” Hickman said. “They can have a conditioning program, but it can’t be sport-specific."

Boys basketball coach Jim McLaughlin declined comment.

The IHSA barred the girls team from the state playoffs and ordered to forfeit its 21 regular season wins on Wednesday, just hours before it was to take the court in a tournament game against T.F. North.

Hickman also confirmed that three H-F girls players and their mothers claimed residency in a single-family home on Douglas Avenue in Flossmoor, but that the living arrangement did not violate IHSA rules.

“While it is a little odd, it is not against the rules,” he said.

Hickman lauded H-F administrators for their candor, noting that the agency has suspended similar programs for spring sports.

“Our plan is to help them develop a program that complies with the rules,” he said. “They want that.”

An IHSA ruling might not necessarily end the Vikings' season. Hickman said a penalty has not yet been finalized and could be anything from a warning to a suspension from playoffs.

In addition to violating season limits, Hickman noted, the girls also violated bylaws regarding open gym limitations and independent team participation. He said Smith violated open gym limitations by inviting players not yet enrolled at H-F to open gym sessions and ran afoul of independent team rules by signing in at an AAU event during the school year as the head coach for a team featuring 11 H-F players.

The IHSA has suspended Smith indefinitely. He is also still under investigation for possible recruiting violations alleged in a lawsuit brought against him and the school in January by the parents of an unnamed girls player.

“There’s still some question in our minds whether or not there have been recruiting violations,” Hickman said. “With regard to the residency, we don’t really have any issue. With regard to the larger recruiting issue, we haven’t ended our investigation.”

On Friday, H-F superintendent Von Mansfield and Pitcock released a letter to parents and guardians in the district outlining their efforts to cooperate with the IHSA.

In part, the statement reads:

“It is with heavy hearts that we are obligated to administer this suspension against our athletes, who have been affected by these events. We apologize for this situation and for the negative attention it has brought to our community. We want you to know that we are focused on rectifying these issues as soon as possible in order to uphold the integrity of our school district and to minimize the impact on our students.”

February 21, 2014 4:15 pm

Griffith's franchise players haven't learned the word quit

Griffith's franchise players haven't learned the word quit

GRIFFITH | Jasmine Alvarez and Amy Bubala are examples of girls basketball players that Griffith coach Tom Golumbeck has rarely seen.

Neither were the best players entering the program four years ago. Both were junior varsity caliber who he wasn't sure would ever reach the varsity.

When he set a standard for each one to hit, she did it. When he asked them to work harder around players who were outshooting and outscoring them, they did it.

Despite roller coaster seasons, each one never left the Panthers program.

"A lot of kids won't stick with it. 'I'm not going to play' or 'I don't feel like putting in the time,' but they did and it paid off for them," Golumbeck said. "They were behind people like Sammi Adams and Emma Blackwood, and they could have given up and they never did. They waited their turn and played their time on the JV and helped on the varsity when they could, and those are the kinds of kids you want."

Alvarez and Bubala are now captains, and the hard work hasn't stopped.

"I knew my time would come to play and putting in all the hard work for all three years and in the offseason would pay off by my senior year," Bubala said. "I didn't really see it pay off until this year, but I'm glad that I stuck with it and waiting for that chance to come this year."

Bubala is second on the team in steals, in part because her basketball-trained mind puts her in the right place at the right time.

"We talked every year about her getting quicker and faster and most kids when you tell them that, they don't do anything about it," Golumbeck said. "She did."

Alvarez is second on the team in points, and her defensive pressure makes her hard to keep off the floor.

"One thing she does for us now is that she usually guards the best player on the other team," Golumbeck said. "She does a good job of keeping them under their average or giving us a chance to stay in the game. She's quick and kind of long and she can bother people."

The Panthers, winners of six consecutive sectional titles, are five seasons removed from their last regional title. Griffith plays Kankakee Valley on Saturday in one semifinal of the Class 3A Rochester Regional. 

Having a pair of players that continue to push past every obstacle handed to them gives Golumbeck hope for other players on his team. Griffith has four seniors, these two are the only that have been in the program all four years.

"The biggest thing we've learned this year is how to stay together," Alvarez said. "No matter what happens, we've learned that we win as a team ..."

"We lose as a team," Bubala finished.

February 20, 2014 7:10 pm Photos


KV's improvement follows Bethany Jansma's season

KV's improvement follows Bethany Jansma's season

Kankakee Valley's Bethany Jansma turned on the switch during winter break.

Prior to the school break, the senior guard was averaging 11.2 points per game. Since the start of the new year, she's averaged 18.6 points per game.

"We had a lot of time off because of the break and the weather and I think that time off gave me time to get back to my normal self and not think too hard," Jansma said. "I tend to (over-think) too much. I'm hardest on myself, but when I just play, that's when I play my best basketball."

Her season of success has helped turn the Kougars' season around. Prior to the holiday break, K.V. was 5-4. Since then, the Kougars have gone 10-2 and won their first sectional championship since 2005 with a win over Andrean last Saturday.

K.V. will play Griffith at 9:30 a.m. in one semifinal of the Class 3A Rochester Regional.

"Since Christmas, really, you can see her play with confidence, and it's spilled over to other kids," Kankakee Valley coach Ryan Myers said. "She's a great offensive rebounder, too. She has been a big, big improvement help on the team."

As a freshman, Jansma joined a squad that had already been playing together for a long time. A DeMotte Christian school player, Jansma joined the team and was placed on the freshman squad. It didn't take long for coaches to realize she had a spot elsewhere.

"We brought her up for the holiday tournament and she played on the JV," Myers said. "The freshman coaches were telling us she needed to come up. When we saw her play and how she could create things for other people, we were thinking, 'Wow, where have we been? We missed the boat on this kid.' By the start of her sophomore year she was starting on varsity."

Jansma is still creating plays. While she leads the team in points with 15.4 per game, she also leads in assists at 3.8. When she scored a then-season high of 23 points against North Judson, she also added her season high of nine assists.

Her new season high of 26 points came in the regular season against Andrean, and she added three assists and a pair of steals.

"She's making other kids on our team better," Myers said. "Some of her passes, it's fun to see what she tries to get the ball through. Our team has seen such a big improvement with her improvement this season. All aspects of her game have improved, her defense, her assists and, of course, her scoring."

The reason is simple. Jansma didn't want her senior year to end without her best games.

"I just knew that this is my last time I'll ever be playing basketball with my teammates," Jansma said. "I wanted to just give all I had and leave everything on the court every game. I knew that this was our last year to play and I just wanted to win a sectional, finally."

Jansma is hoping this ultimately isn't her last season of basketball. She was recently offered by Trinity Christian and will pick a school after her season ends.

"I'm still open minded," Jansma said. "I still want to visit a few more schools."

"She's under the radar," Myers said. "She hasn't really gotten a lot of attention. She was recently nominated to Hoosier Basketball Magazine's Top 100, which is a great honor. Hopefully there will be many more coming to find her."

February 19, 2014 8:00 pm Photos


IHSA suspends H-F girls basketball team for bylaws violations

IHSA suspends H-F girls basketball team for bylaws violations

Homewood-Flossmoor's girls basketball team, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A in Illinois, was suspended Wednesday from the state playoffs and required by the state's high school sports sanctioning agency to forfeit its wins from the 2013-14 season.

The Illinois High School Association announced the decision barely an hour before H-F was to face T.F. North in a first-round regional game in Calumet City.

"I have no comment at this point," Homewood-Flossmoor Superintendent Von Mansfield said when reached by phone Wednesday evening. "We've been cooperating with (the IHSA) and we're going to continue to do that."

Exiting Homewood-Flossmoor High School near 8 p.m. Wednesday, members of the Vikings girls basketball team and their parents, walking briskly, declined comment.

"Talk to our attorneys," the mother of a player said.

H-F finished the regular season with a 21-2 record, both losses coming to out-of-state teams, and was 14-0 in the SouthWest Suburban Blue.

According to an IHSA news release, the agency found H-F in violation of bylaws regarding athletic season limitations and open gym limitations.

"Not adhering to these bylaws created a distinct advantage for the Homewood-Flossmoor girls basketball program," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said in the release. "The school has admitted to violating IHSA Bylaws 2.090 and 3.107. In fairness to the teams in the tournament who abided by IHSA rules, removing Homewood-Flossmoor from competition was the most equitable decision."

None of the violations cited were directly linked to accusations that first-year coach Tony Smith illegally recruited six players, including four transfers from his previous coaching stop, Bolingbrook. A lawsuit was filed last month on behalf of an unnamed H-F player seeking Smith and the new players be barred from the team.

Senior football player James Sheehan described the girls basketball players as "devastated."

"We saw them all throughout school," he said. "Faith Suggs, she's in one of my classes, she just seemed physically and emotionally exhausted."

Suggs, a junior, transferred to H-F from Plainfield East. Smith was her AAU coach.

His sympathy for the girls basketball players aside, Sheehan conceded some admissions made by school administrators raised a few eyebrows.

"There was definitely some stuff a lot of students at H-F didn't know about — like how they were practicing as a team during the summer," he said. "Obviously, you can't do that."

On Tuesday, H-F administrators told the IHSA that it would self-impose suspensions of 11 varsity players and Smith over bylaw violations it reported, leaving the team to compete in Wednesday's playoff game with its remaining players. The IHSA went further, banning the team from competition.

Homewood-Flossmoor officials appealed, but the IHSA Board of Directors upheld Hickman's decision and required the school to forfeit its regular-season wins from the 2013-14 season, the IHSA release stated.

Hickman said more violations could be discovered as the investigation continues.

“We are still in the initial review of what occurred at the school and when,” Hickman said. “From the information provided thus far, other programs at the school may have also violated our Season Limitation and Open Gym bylaws. However, we will not know the full scope of the possible violations until we have completed our investigation.

"The investigation into the aforementioned recruiting violations is ongoing as well.”

H-F's other athletic programs felt the repercussions of the IHSA ruling immediately, according to players.

Isaac Cutrara, quarterback for H-F's state-qualifying football team and a member of the baseball team, noted that there has been an impact felt throughout the school' athletic program.

"A lot of other sports at H-F right now are being basically shut down," he said. "We can't lift anymore after school, stuff like that."

At T.F. North, administrators were left to explain the situation to fans as T.F. North players shot around in the gym.

"You always want to give kids the opportunity to play, that would be my feeling in general," North athletic director Dale Pietranczyk said. "Those kids lost the opportunity to participate in high school athletics.

"I'm not saying what the IHSA did was wrong. I'm saying, whatever happened, there are many losers in this whole situation. Just think about the senior girls at H-F."

T.F. North coach Chris Pruitt, whose team improved to 10-13 with the forfeit win, said her girls were disappointed to miss the opportunity to play the Vikings.

"They actually wanted to play them," she said. "I told them you want to play the best to become the best."

But Bloom Township coach Ron Newquist said Homewood-Flossmoor got what it deserved.

"If you cheat, you lose. That's all there is to it," Newquist said before his team played Lincoln-Way East in the Class 4A Lincoln-Way Regional semifinal on Wednesday night. "The bottom line is, every single one of us has to coach the kids that walk into the gym. The kids that live in our district. That's what we do as coaches.

"If you want to go out there and illegally recruit and try to build a championship team, that's against the rules. So there's no sympathy from me at all."

Times correspondent Tim Cronin contributed to this report.

February 19, 2014 5:50 pm

Noll freshman returns from concussion A-OK

Noll freshman returns from concussion A-OK

HAMMOND | Brittany Anderson used to bleed Whiting green.

Her sister is a senior at Whiting High School, Brittany played at the middle school last year, and last season she sat with Whiting fans when the Oilers beat Bishop Noll for the girls basketball sectional title.

When she had a chance to pick her high school before starting her freshman year, Anderson opted to attend Bishop Noll.

That's where the story begins.

In volleyball, Noll beat Whiting in the championship game of the sectional, and twice in the regular season.

Before the first time the two teams met this season for a basketball game, Anderson was asked if she thought she'd make it through the game without injury.

"Before the game, people were asking me 'do you think you're going to get hurt,' 'do you think anyone will cheap-shot you,' and no I didn't think I'd get hurt," she said. "It wasn't their fault. It wasn't on purpose."

While jumping for a rebound on Whiting's home court, Anderson was boxed out and as she landed, a guard was beneath her. Her head hit the floor.

"It echoed throughout the gym," Bishop Noll coach Vanita Gary said. "So we were worried, and when the officials let me come out to the floor, she was still talking."

"It obviously wasn't on purpose," Anderson said. "I got all these texts, a good 30 texts that night, and I had my sister replying to them all because I wasn't allowed to look at the screen or anything. They were all 'I hope you feel better.' My team's texts were the most important to me because they said 'recover soon' and 'we're going to need you in the long run.'"

Though she passed an initial concussion test, she took two weeks off to rest, sit in a dark room, relax her brain and let it recover. When she took the concussion test again, she answered even faster.

She practiced and was cleared to play long before her official return to the Warriors last Saturday, at the Whiting gym, in the sectional championship against Whiting.

"Everyone said, you can't go out there and play scared. You can't be scared to get another injury," Anderson said. "I didn't feel like I was. I felt like I was really focused."

She finished with nine points and a team-best eight rebounds as Noll won its first sectional title since 1997.

The Warriors will meet Fort Wayne Canterbury in the noon semifinal of Saturday's Class 2A Rensselaer Regional.

The freshman is among the first players off the bench, subbing in for senior post player Asya Hobbs.

When Hobbs picked up her second foul early in Saturday's game, Anderson said it took a long moment before Gary put her in the game.

"We had talked before the game. We all had a conversation whether it was OK for me to play and everything," Anderson said. "After Asya got her second foul, coach looked at me, and we had a good 10-second look, and I went in and at first I was thinking, 'this is awesome,' then 'I'm in a game, so I need to focus.'"

With her first high school injury out of the way, Anderson, who has already committed to play softball for James Madison University, hasn't yet started her best sport. She's won two sectional titles in two seasons, as the volleyball team reached the state title game in November.

"You have to respect her as a true competitor," Gary said. "I think if it was a chess game, she'd work extra hard and come out with that same intensity. I think people like that, I don't want to say are uncommon, but that's a real find. That's like finding a diamond in a haystack. That's a real find."

February 18, 2014 10:00 pm Photos


Porter County-area prep basketball notes


Boone Grove (2-16): The Wolves were eliminated from the Whiting Sectional by Bishop Noll, 48-33, last week. It was their first loss to Noll in four meetings. Boone concluded its season with a 15-game losing streak.

Chesterton (11-11): The Trojans defeated Michigan City, 55-41, before falling to Merrillville, 66-47, in the semifinals of the Hobart Sectional. Junior Jordan Wadding matched her personal best with 10 points against the Wolves. Senior Caroline Puntillo totaled 49 points in the two games and came up 15 points shy of the 1,000-point plateau. Puntillo finished as the fourth all-time leading scorer in Chesterton history. Her 450 points this season ranks as the second most in school history. Her scoring average of 20.5 per game is a school record, surpassing the 20.3 mark set in 2011 by Clair Holba.

Hebron (7-12): The Hawks were eliminated from the Whiting Sectional by Noll, 62-29.

Kouts (13-9): The Fillies opened Class A Kouts Sectional play with a 52-27 win over Westville behind a career-best 17 points from sophomore Bella Wireman. They were then eliminated by Morgan Township for the third consecutive season.

Morgan Township (15-6): Coach Kevin Krieger’s Cherokees captured the Kouts Sectional with victories over 21st Century, 62-9, Kouts, 36-29, and Washington Township, 32-29. It was Morgan's sixth sectional title overall and its third straight. Senior Trina Coleman totaled 36 points in the three games and has 1,165 career points, which ranks 17th in Porter County history, behind 1994 Boone graduate Jennifer Sliwa. Senior Hannah Murphy had 17 points in the three games to move over the 300 mark to 312. Senior Brianna Leuck equaled her season high with 14 points against 21st Century. Next up for the Cherokees is a meeting with No. 1-ranked Oregon-Davis (19-2) in the Caston Regional on Saturday. The Cherokees have been eliminated in each of the last two years by the Bobcats in the regional.

South Central (13-8): Sophomore Riley Popplewell poured in a season-high 24 points in a 73-55 opening-round Triton Sectional loss to Oregon-Davis. Popplewell’s effort pushed her over the 500 mark to 513 and moved her into the top 20 on the school scoring list.

Valparaiso (9-11): Senior Kristina Veljovic matched her career high with 10 points in a 64-41 loss to Merrillville at the Hobart Sectional. The Vikings, under the direction of coach Joe Otis, posted their best record in four years.

Washington Township (15-6): Washington recorded wins over Covenant Christian, 48-21, and Marquette, 62-28, before falling to Morgan in the Kouts Sectional title game. Coach Chris Tomcsi, in his first year at Washington, directed the Senators to their best record since the 2003 team went 18-6. The 15 wins were the most since the 2005 team recorded the same number of victories. Washington finished with the sixth-lowest defensive average in the state. Senior Maddy Johnson became the 25th player in Senators history to reach the 400-point plateau.


Boone Grove (5-10): The Wolves lost to Portage, 52-34, and Lowell, 52-39, running their losing streak to six games. Senior Jon Hogg totaled 18 points in the two games to move over the 600 mark to 608. Junior Isaac Mioduski netted 26 points in the two games to go over the 200 mark to 225.

Chesterton (9-8): Chesterton lost to Portage, 47-44, and Mishawaka Marian, 72-55, extending its losing streak to four. Junior Chris Palombizio totaled 43 points in the two games to move over the 700 mark to 730. He ranks 14th on the Chesterton scoring list, just ahead of 1955 grad Bob Westergren.

Kouts (12-2): The Mustangs defeated Morgan, 68-59, to secure their fourth straight Porter County Conference round-robin title. Kouts has one PCC game remaining against LaCrosse in the regular-season finale. Should the Mustangs win that, it would be their fourth consecutive undefeated season in conference play, which has never been accomplished in PCC history.

LaCrosse (3-13): The Tigers dropped an 80-67 decision to West Central despite 21 points from senior Bryce Guse. Guse's effort pushed him over the 700 mark to 712. He ranks 27th at LaCrosse, behind 1976 grad Tom Wozniak.

Morgan Township (9-7): Junior Chase Braden tallied 22 points in a loss to Kouts to move past 1987 grad Mark Maxwell into 22nd on the Morgan scoring list.

Portage (9-9): The Indians, with victories over Boone and Chesterton, are trying to avoid the school’s 10th consecutive losing season. Senior Luke Kizer (514) and junior Jordan Collazo (500) each reached the 500-point milestone. They became the 52nd and 53rd players in Portage history to reach that plateau.

South Central (3-12): The Satellites suffered losses to Washington Twp., 69-56, and New Prairie, 52-35. Junior Mark Richards totaled 31 points in the two games to move over the 300 mark to 315.

Valparaiso (11-7): The Vikings recorded wins over Crown Point, 44-41, and Munster, 56-49. Senior Justin Osburn scored 12 points against Munster to move over the 400 mark to 405. Sophomore Conner TenHove added eight points to move over the 200 mark to 201. Junior Brandon Nicholas scored a career-high 11 points against Munster.

Washington Township (11-5): The Senators defeated South Central for the fifth straight time.

Westville (10-6): The Blackhawks recorded a 67-61 win over River Forest. Senior Alex Henn scored 18 points, moving him over the 300 mark for his career to 305. Senior Shawn Gerron added 13 points in becoming the 35th player in Westville history to reach the 600 mark.

Wheeler (6-9): The Bearcats dropped decisions to Morton, 71-57, and North Judson, 56-50.

February 18, 2014 5:00 pm

Morgan Township’s unsung hero happy to have found her niche

Morgan Township’s unsung hero happy to have found her niche

MORGAN TWP. | Hannah Murphy may not be a household name for fans of girls basketball in Northwest Indiana, but it’s fair to say Morgan Township would not have completed the program’s first-ever sectional title three-peat without her.

Murphy, a senior, plays in the paint despite standing just 5-foot-8. She typically draws the opponent’s toughest post defensive assignment, and she’s the most important rebounder for the Times No. 7 Cherokees.

She may not fill up the shot chart like fellow seniors Trina Coleman and Brianna Leuck, but she’s arguably just as important to the team’s success.

“I think she helps the team in more ways than just scoring,” said Morgan coach Kevin Krieger, who emphasized Murphy’s defense and rebounding. “She can play off of Trina’s penetration and Bri’s shooting and go get the rebounds and work into open spots. There are options for her and she’s done a good job with finding her niche on the team.”

Murphy was more important than ever in the Cherokees’ 32-29 win over Washington Twp. in the Class A Kouts sectional title game Saturday night. With the Senators hanging around late, Murphy took the ball on the left wing and drove around the Washington defender for a layup that put her team ahead for good.

It was her only field goal in the contest, and it harkened back to her days as a point guard, the position she played throughout middle school and on the JV team as a freshman.

“Those moves definitely started kicking back in,” Murphy said with a laugh. “I hadn’t used them very much lately because I’ve been in the post the last three years, but my freshman year point guard moves definitely kicked in at the point and I knew I had to do something to get us back into the game.”

Murphy’s transition from point guard to post presence was created out of necessity. Morgan Twp. didn’t have much height – and still doesn’t; 5-11 freshman Kia Holder is the only Cherokee taller than Murphy – so Krieger moved Murphy to the post simply because she jumped well.

“Krieger told me he needed me to step up and be a post player, that he would need me in the four or five position for that game,” Murphy said. “I kind of looked at him with a weird look, saying I’d never done those post player moves. But from there on out, he’s had me in the post.

“I’ve gotten a lot taller than I was my freshman year and I’ve gotten a lot stronger. I like the transition from the point guard to the post. I like the post position a lot better because it’s just a point of being stronger and doing a lot more for your team.”

Krieger is glad the transition worked so well for Murphy and for the program. He

knows back-to-back-to-back sectional titles probably wouldn’t have happened without Murphy’s willingness to put in the work.

“Hannah has done whatever we’ve asked her to do over her career,” Krieger said. “To maximize her playing time, we moved her … and she’s just kind of embraced her role, learning to be a post player. The last two sectionals, she’s come through for us. She had a big sectional final game last year against LaCrosse and she hit a huge basket (Saturday night) in the fourth quarter. She just goes about her job and does what we ask her to do and isn’t real flashy, but she gets the job done.”

An unsung hero, Murphy is happy to let the slasher Coleman and 3-point specialist Lueck grab the headlines while she toils away in the paint. For her, winning is everything.

“The publicity and stuff, I couldn’t care less about any of that,” Murphy said. “I don’t care about scoring as many points. I care about making my team better. I want to win. That’s all I look forward to, is winning. I don’t care about the publicity or scoring a bunch of points, I want my team to be the best it can be during the game.”

Morgan Twp. has been at its best with Murphy clogging the lane the past three years. Three straight sectional titles are all the reward she needs.

“It’s a heck of an experience,” Murphy said. “Coming in my sophomore year and not thinking I was going to be on varsity at all to being a part of a sectional championship that year, coming back my junior year from a fractured ankle and winning sectionals again and then coming out as a senior and winning another sectional, it’s been really great. That’s what we’ve talked about all year as seniors: that we wanted to go out with a bang and win our third sectional title.”

Looking now to win a regional title, the 15-6 Cherokees will face Class A No. 1 Oregon-Davis in the regional semifinals for the third straight season. Krieger knows Murphy will be a key to Morgan Twp.’s chances.

“We’ve got to rebound,” Krieger said. “We went there last year and I think gave up 26 points off of offensive rebounds, and lost by (22 points, 61-39). If we can keep them off the offensive boards and limit our turnovers, I think good things are going to happen for us.”

February 17, 2014 7:48 pm

Scouting the Class A Caston Regional


West Central (17-2) vs. Hamilton (5-14), 9:30 a.m.

Morgan Twp. (15-6) vs. Oregon-Davis (19-2), 11:30 a.m.

Championship, 7 p.m.

Defending champion: Fort Wayne Canterbury.

Favorite: Oregon-Davis. Darkhorse: Morgan Township.

Advancement: Winner plays the winner of the Tri-Central Regional on March 1 in the North Semistate.

Players to watch: MORGAN TOWNSHIP — Trina Coleman, Sr., G; Brianna Leuck, Sr., G; Hannah Murphy, Sr., F. OREGON-DAVIS — Jesse Averone, Sr., F; Ashley Campbell, Sr., G; Haley Collings, Sr., F; Alisha McIntosh, Sr., G. WEST CENTRAL — Alivia Kruger, Sr., F; Mickayla Wenzel, Jr., F.

 Fast facts: Defending regional champ Fort Wayne Canterbury won a second straight Class A state title last season and has moved up to Class 2A … Morgan Twp. won a third consecutive sectional championship for the first time in program history and will face Oregon-Davis in the regional semifinal for the third straight year ... Oregon-Davis is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 1A … Hamilton had lost 11 straight games before winning three straight to capture its own Class A sectional ... West Central won its eighth sectional title in the last 10 seasons, but has not captured a regional championship during that span.

Getting there: Drive U.S. 30 East to U.S. 31 South. Follow U.S. 31 and turn right at Ind. 25. Travel west to Fulton, and the school is on the left side of the road.

February 17, 2014 7:49 pm

Big changes could be coming to IHSAA girls basketball tourney

Big changes could be coming to IHSAA girls basketball tourney

Amy Govert has been through it. The girls basketball coach at Merrillville represents most of the basketball fans in Indiana. She, like many, believe something has to change in regards to the IHSAA state basketball tournaments.

In 2010, Merrillville advanced to the Class 4A state championship game, which was held in Fort Wayne. Teams from Vincennes Rivet played in the Class A game and Austin played in the 2A game. The drive for them was horrible.

So Govert was pleased to hear about a possible coming change on Saturday night after her Pirates beat LaPorte to win the Hobart Sectional.

"I am all for that," Govert said. "It's tradition. Growing up the state finals were in Indianapolis and that's where they should be."

Because of the current format in which the boys basketball tournament begins the week of the girls finals, Merrillville's boys basketball team had their sectional championship game in 2010 bumped to a Monday night because of the girls' success.

"You don't want this conflict," Govert said. "We don't need this overlapping and splitting of fans."

From 1976 to 2002 there was a natural rhythm to the Indiana high school basketball state tournaments. The girls tourney was first and ended in Indianapolis on a Saturday.

The boys basketball sectionals would begin the following Tuesday and carry through to the state capitol.

But in 2002 a change was made by the IHSAA and the two tournaments overlapped, with the girls state finals being played on the same Saturday as the boys sectional championship. It diverted the attention of the fans and the media, and it eventually moved the girls state championship out of Indianapolis, which hasn't been warmly received.

The reception is especially breezy since the boys state finals never moved out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse/Conseco Fieldhouse.

This, though, could all be changed on May 5, when the IHSAA board of directors will vote on a proposal that would give basketball some breathing room.

Submitted by IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox, the girls regular season would start a week earlier, the girls hoops tournament would begin one week earlier and end the Saturday before the boys sectional begins, just like it used to be.

Jason Wille of the IHSAA said that there is no agreement with Bankers Life Fieldhouse to host future girls state finals at this time, but it does open the door for that to happen.

If it passes the changes will not take effect until 2015-16.

Because of a current conflict with the Big Ten women's basketball tournament, which is held in Bankers Life, the girls have played two state finals in Fort Wayne and will play for the third straight year in Terre Haute in a few weeks.

"I'm sure Fort Wayne and Terre Haute are fine cities," West Side girls coach Rod Fisher said on Friday night, "but the state championship should be held in Indianapolis, no place else. I'm old school."

In 2005 when Fisher's Cougars played in the 4A state finals, West Side's boys basketball team had their sectional championship game moved to the following Monday night, just like Merrillville in 2010.

Such schedule gerrymandering will not be necessary if this proposal passes.

"It's a good thing to get the state finals back to Indy," Lake Central coach Marc Urban said on Friday night. "Starting a week earlier shouldn't be an issue. Once you get in a groove it doesn't matter if it's a week earlier or a week later."

Wille said the IHSAA sports calendar would have to change to make this happen. The proposal would shorten the volleyball season from nine weeks to eight weeks.

Volleyball would still be allowed to play 25 matches plus two tourneys in the regular season.

"It would be a boost for our tournament," Fisher said. "This will be great for the game."

February 16, 2014 9:00 pm Photos


HILLARY SMITH: Merrillville found its next freshman phenom

HILLARY SMITH: Merrillville found its next freshman phenom

HOBART | As soon as Jasmine Wright was fouled with 20.5 seconds remaining in Saturday's sectional championship game, her Merrillville teammates swarmed and hugged her.

Now the pressure was on.

The Pirates had a two-point lead over Duneland Athletic Conference rival LaPorte and the Slicers had just committed their 10th foul.

Wright had two shots that could help clinch a win, or put more pressure on Merrillville. She hadn't shot from the foul line all night.

"She had a lot of confidence," Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. "When I went to the locker room this morning, she was in there and said, 'I'm ready.' She's focused and she's played a lot of games, not just in high school and middle school, but with AAU. Nothing fazes that girl."

The 5-foot-2 Wright will beg to differ just a little.

"A lot of pressure," Wright said after her shots went in and Merrillville won back-to-back sectional titles. "(My teammates) said concentrate, block everything out, clear my mind and relax. I did that."

Quiet and shy, Wright has let her teammates take the lead this season.

A freshman who isn't ready to make noise just yet, Wright could be the guard of the future for the Pirates.

She had a team-high 16 points Saturday night, with five of those coming from the free-throw line in the last 20 seconds.

When the first one went in to give Merrillville a three-point lead, Wright breathed a sigh of relief.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God, thank you,'" she said while clutching her portion of the victory net.

The remaining buckets were just bonus.

Senior AJ Downs, who herself made adjustments to her role this season, said that bringing along Wright has been an important part of the Pirates' success.

"Her coming in as a freshman, she knew it was going to be a tough season," Downs said. "During the second part of the season, she knew what she had to do on the team, and we tried to help her out during practices. She knew she wanted to come in here and help us win this game, too."

When Wright told Govert she was ready, she it was more than just lip service.

"I was ready to play," she said. "I was mentally ready."

Wright is ready for whatever comes next.

The schedule says that Penn is next, a rematch against the Kingsmen for a chance at the regional title. Merrillville lost to Penn 70-63 earlier this season.

For Wright, it's a little more than that. She's a freshman starter with a sectional title. There's pressure there.

The expectations will remain high, not just because it's Merrillville and not just because Wright is a guard.

In a season of freshman phenoms, Wright has included herself as part of the conversation. There are another three years to talk about how good she could be.

February 16, 2014 9:00 pm

Merrillville wins back-to-back sectional titles with victory over LaPorte

Merrillville wins back-to-back sectional titles with victory over LaPorte

HOBART | For more than four minutes in the first quarter, Merrillville reminded LaPorte that it was the defending sectional champion.

The Pirates went on a 13-0 run and held LaPorte to just one first-half 3-pointer. In the fourth quarter, Merrillville scored its last eight points from the free-throw line and erased a tie to beat the Slicers 56-49 for the Hobart Sectional title.

“We knew coming in that LaPorte was the team to beat,” senior AJ Downs said. “In the regular season, they beat us by three, so we took that to heart and came in here doing what we had to do to win this game.”

Freshman Jasmine Wright, who led her team with 16 points, hit the final five from the free-throw line, starting with a game-clincher with 20.5 seconds remaining.

LaPorte used a 3-pointer, a defensive rebound and two steals to tie the game at 45-45 with 4:41 remaining. A bucket by Downs regained the Pirates’ lead and when LaPorte fouled Wright with 20.5 seconds remaining, Merrillville held a two-point lead.

“We told them in the locker room ‘don’t leave this locker room if you don’t believe,’” Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. “It was just a matter of playing the best defense of the year and I believe we did that.”

LaPorte, known for its offense beyond the arc, finished with five 3s.

Senior Jaclyn Heath scored a game-high 17 points, including 10 in the second quarter to keep her team in it.

“We got to a point where about all we were getting was Jaclyn,” coach Skeeter Heath said. “She struggled the first seven, eight minutes of the game and then was great from then on. We were just trying to get the ball in her hands and let her create.

“I’m really proud of our team, but we struggled to start and that’s very uncharacteristic of how we’ve played. I’m proud of them for getting back in to tie the game.”

Merrillville won back-to-back sectional championships for the first time in school history, and its seventh overall.

Downs added 14 points, with seven in the fourth quarter. Victoria Gaines scored 10 for the Pirates, who lost to LaPorte on Dec. 13.

“That’s why we played the regular season that we did. We played a different schedule and we were focused,” Govert said. “We were focused and ready to go.”

Merrillville will play Penn at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the first semifinal of the Penn Regional. The Pirates lost to the Kingsmen earlier this season.

February 15, 2014 10:15 pm Photos



STEVE HANL0N PREP BEAT: This No. 3 will be No. 1 some day

HOBART | If you think a jam-packed, Motley Crue-loud Hobart gymnasium on a sectional Saturday night had LaPorte's Nicole Konieczny nervous, think again.

Playing for such large stakes against the powerful Merrillville Pirates only motivated the freshman guard, who perfectly wears No. 3, just like Dale Earnhardt's car.

As a 6-year-old, Konieczny raced a Quarter Midget race car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She was the only girl in the race.

For three years, she raced Go-Karts and Quarter Midgets.

“She did well in a male-dominated sport,” said Debbie Konieczny, Nicole's mother. Her father, Doug, is an assistant coach for Skeeter Heath's Slicers.

“She loved the competition,” Debbie continued.

Many of LaPorte's fans wore an orange T-Shirt with a No. 3 on the chest. For some it was likely supporting Konieczny. For others it is the program's philosophy.

In their home gym are many signs with a 3 on it, one for every trey the Slicers have hit. Yes, Konieczny can hit a lot of 3s. But that isn't why she picked the number.

“When she started playing basketball, I had three kids,” Debbie said. “So she picked 3. Her brothers wear No. 3, too.”

She scored 22 in LaPorte's 48-45 win over the Pirates in the regular season, which helped the Slicers win their first Duneland Athletic Conference title.

It was much tougher on this night. No points, five steals and four rebounds. It doesn't mean Konieczny isn't a great player, because she is.

Big props have to go out to Merrillville's Audrianna Downs whose defense was choking.

The Pirates' team defense was top-shelf, too. Only five 3s were connected in this game. It just wasn't enough.

LaPorte's Slicers should not hold their heads down, even after the 56-49 loss. This is a young team with a lot of promise.

Senior Jaclyn Heath went out a winner with 16 points and great guard play. This should not be her final high school game. I expect to see her play again in Kentucky and Indianapolis this June.

“I know Nicole really wanted to win this game,” Debbie said before tipoff. “She was really close to the seniors, they were great friends.”

Konieczny had tears all over her face after the game. Her competitive spirit took over.

“I let my team down, I feel terrible,” she said. “I needed to step up and I didn't. They took everything away. I had opportunities and I didn't make them.”

Coach Heath knew her thoughts. He, too, knew she was wrong.

“We wouldn't be where we're at without the year she had,” Heath said of Konieczny. “She feels the way she does because of how dedicated she is. I know she'll use this in the off season to get better and I know she will.”

February 15, 2014 9:30 pm

Cherokees down Washington Twp. for third straight sectional title

KOUTS | For the first time in program history, Morgan Township has won three consecutive sectional titles.

The Cherokees rallied in the fourth quarter Saturday night to beat Washington Township, 32-29, for the Class A Kouts Sectional championship.

Trina Coleman led Morgan Twp. with 12 points and Brianna Leuck added 11.

With the score close late, Washington Township made it clear the Cherokees (15-6) would have to win the game at the free-throw line, fouling repeatedly on in-bounds plays until Morgan Township reached the bonus.

With the title at stake, Coleman went 7-for-8 from the stripe in the final minute-plus to seal the win.

“I knew we’d play with poise in the last four or five minutes,” Morgan Twp. coach Kevin Krieger said. “We had three seniors make huge plays in the fourth quarter: Hannah Murphy had a basket, Brianna Leuck hit a couple shots and then Trina hitting the free throws.

"They came through again.”

Heather Burton pulled the Senators (15-6) within three points twice in the final 30 seconds. Her 3-pointer made it 28-25, then a putback made it 30-27. Coleman answered every time, however, and Burton fouled out with just a few seconds remaining.

Burton led all scorers with 13 points in the loss. She was the only Senator in double figures.

Morgan Twp. zoomed out to a 9-3 first-quarter lead, but after nearly eight minutes without a point, the Senators rolled off an 8-0 run in the second period to pull within 12-11 at the half.

The run reached 10-0 in the second half as Washington Twp. took a 13-12 lead on Burton’s jumper, and the Senators led 20-19 heading into the fourth quarter.

Leuck opened the fourth with a 3-pointer for a 22-20 Morgan Twp. lead. Bethany Kingery tied it on a layup, but Coleman and the Cherokees proved too much at the line down the stretch.

“There’s a lot of validation for the hard work we put in year round,” Krieger said. “I’m enjoying watching the girls grow as a team and grow as individuals.

"They came together when we needed it tonight because our backs were against the wall.”

It was Morgan Twp.’s ninth straight win over the Senators, dating back to Washington Twp.’s 54-52 overtime win in February 2010.

Krieger is now 77-76 in his seventh season at Morgan.

The Cherokees advance to the Class A Caston regional and will face Oregon-Davis for the third straight season.

February 15, 2014 9:15 pm

K.V. wins first girls sectional crown since 2005

CEDAR LAKE | It just took a little while to get started.

Kankakee Valley took a 71-58 win over Andrean in Saturday's Class 3A Hanover Central sectional championship despite a sluggish start.

Andrean (8-14) controlled the early going with its defense. K.V.'s Bethany Jansma, who averaged 15 points per game in the regular season and scored 21 in the Kougars' semifinal win, was held to just three points in the first quarter and touched the ball only a handful of times.

The Niners led by as many as seven but didn't score in the last three minutes of the first quarter, and the advantage was only 12-11 after eight minutes. Andrean was clearly trying to get the ball into the post to 6-foot-1 center Haley Hrosik.

"We know (Andrean's size) is one things we have to be ready for tomorrow night, to match that," Kougars coach Ryan Myers said Friday night. "We really wanted to attack the glass. We've been working on that a lot this week."

Momentum swung back and forth in the second frame before the Kougars (14-6) took over late. A 9-1 run to end the first half propelled Kankakee Valley to a 36-31 lead at the break. Jansma was a major part of that run and finished with nine first-half points.

Breanna Toppen kept the Kougars alive early, though. The sophomore led all scorers with 15 at halftime. She would score 27 for the game.

Kankakee Valley pulled away in the third quarter. Andrean cut the lead to one twice, but the Kougars never trailed again.

"(K.V.) is good. We played them earlier in the season, and we had a hard time containing them," Andrean coach Tony Scheub said Friday night. "Our defense is going to have to step up again, but I think we're ready for it."

The K.V. senior class had won only a single postseason game before this year. It's the Kougars' first sectional title since 2005.

"The past two years, we came out and didn't play so good (in the playoffs)," Jansma said Friday night. "It's our senior year this year, so I just wanted to give everything I had."

Jansma finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Lauren Stokes added 18 and 10.

Lauren Stazinski paced Andrean with 17.

February 15, 2014 9:15 pm

Griffith claims sixth straight sectional crown

GRIFFITH | Courtney Bell is tired of the Griffith-is-so-young talk.

Sure, the Panthers graduated four starters and even lost two assistant coaches from a solid program, but it’s not like they kicked aside the diapers and teething toys yesterday.

With 21 games under their belts going into Saturday’s Class 3A Griffith Sectional championship, the Panthers threw all the baby talk out of the crib and delivered when it mattered most.

Behind Bell’s all-around game and Griffith’s dominating effort on the glass, the Panthers raced out early and held off Lew Wallace 48-30 for the program’s sixth consecutive sectional crown.

“We know we don’t have the most experience, but you just work hard and rise up to the pressure,” said Bell, who had a game-high 21 points.

“We know we have to put the effort in every game, it’s not going to come easy, but this team works hard in practice and we knew we could do it.”

Bell, a junior and the team’s lone returning starter, single-handedly outscored the Hornets 12-10 in the first half, when the Panthers went into the intermission up 20-10. Bell buried three 3-pointers, including one with 25 seconds left in the second quarter, and added three assists, a steal and one rebound before the break.

Griffith (12-10) had a 31-18 rebounding edge against the Hornets (9-8), who have no seniors on the roster, but are coached by respected veteran coach Omar Vazquez.

The Panthers survived despite a game-high 16 turnovers. It helped that the young Hornets were a dismal 4-of-21 from the free-throw line.

“We struggled tonight, but we found a way to win and that’s what we always tell the girls,” Griffith coach Tom Golumbeck said. “We struggled defensively and handling their pressure, but the bottom line is we won the game. We tell the kids, ‘It doesn’t have to be pretty, just get the job done.’”

Senior Lisette Roldan had a game-high 10 rebounds to go with five points, while freshman sister, Talia, had five rebounds and four points.

Lew Wallace got 12 points from China Lollis, all coming on 3-pointers.

February 15, 2014 9:15 pm

Noll wins its first girls basketball sectional in 17 years

WHITING | The rematch in the Class 2A Whiting Sectional final between Bishop Noll and host Whiting had a much different look than a year ago.

Last year, Whiting handled the Warriors 65-48 for its first sectional title since 2004.

On Saturday night, Bishop Noll ended its long sectional title drought by cruising to a 52-22 win over the host Oilers for its first crown since the 1996-1997 season.

Noll (20-3) bolted to a 10-2 run in the opening minutes and led Whiting 16-7 after the first quarter.

After senior forward Asya Hobbs got into early foul trouble, freshman Brittany Anderson stepped up. She was a big part of the Warriors' dominance in her first game back from a concussion suffered on Jan. 18 in Noll's 45-24 win over Whiting.

Anderson ended up with nine points and eight rebounds, while sophomore point guard Brenda Pennington added eight points and four assists.

Whiting (13-9) managed just one point in the second quarter on an Emily Brooks free throw.

After scoring a career-high 39 points against Bowman in the semis, Whiting do-it-all senior point guard Citlali Lopez was handcuffed by the Warriors' perimeter defense in the first half. She made just one field goal and totaled five points at the break. She finished with 12.

The visiting Warriors also played very efficiently, committing just four turnovers in the first half and 13 total.

Bishop Noll sophomore guard Naomi House, who didn't play in the fourth quarter, led all scorers with 22 points, including four 3-pointers.

The Oilers were without 1,000-point scorer Bri Blackwell, who didn't dress because of a foot injury.

February 15, 2014 9:00 pm

Dana Evans' big night powers West Side past host Red Devils

LOWELL | West Side’s offense was clicking on all cylinders from the opening tip of Saturday’s Class 4A sectional title game against Lowell, and freshman Dana Evans played a big role in that.

Evans shot 14-of-18 from the field and scored a game-high 30 points as the Cougars beat the Red Devils 66-30 to claim the school’s 16th sectional title.

“The only one that’s going to stop Dana is Dana,” West Side coach Rod Fisher said.

The Cougars (17-3) will face Northridge in the second game of the Penn Regional next Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

Evans scored 11 points in the second quarter as the Cougars outscored the Red Devils 18-6 to turn a nine-point lead into a 21-point edge at halftime.

She scored four baskets and assisted on the fifth of a 10-0 run to close out the half.

“We played hard and we played as a team,” Evans said. “We loved how people doubted us. That motivated us a lot.”

West Side shot 26-of-46 from the field as a team.

“I was worried they wasted all their energy and emotion (Friday night),” Fisher said. “But they had a lot of residue. They kept coming back.”

The Cougars got a balanced scoring effort aside from Evans. Six players scored at least five points, led by eight apiece from Amari Ferguson and Jerrica Neal.

“It’s taken a while, but they have come together as a team,” Fisher said. “They’re bonded more. They are like sisters now. They just want to win.”

West Side’s defense held Lowell (11-8) to single-digit point totals in each quarter and limited the Red Devils to 13-of 54 shooting.

Sydney Barta scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead Lowell.

February 15, 2014 9:00 pm

Morgan fends off Kouts; Washington rolls over Marquette

KOUTS | With chaos unfolding around her, Trina Coleman was the calm in the midst of the storm for Morgan Township.

Big surprise there, huh?

"Great players come through in the clutch," coach Kevin Krieger said after Coleman's six fourth-quarter points helped the Cherokees fend off Kouts 36-29 in Friday's Class A Kouts Sectional semifinals. "She was very poised and that translates to the other girls. She just goes about her business."

Morgan will face Washington Township, a 62-28 winner over Marquette Catholic, in tonight's final.

A dozen second-half turnovers were almost the undoing of the Cherokees (14-6), but Kouts (13-9) just couldn't turn its defensive pressure into offense. It had the ball three times in the last two-plus minutes needing a 3 to tie, but came up empty.

"We kind of panicked," Kouts coach Ron Kobza said. "We weren't setting screens or going down low. We weren't running any offensive sets."

Morgan scored 10 straight in the first quarter to seize control behind eight points by freshman Kameron Stanko. Classmate Kia Holder snagged all eight of her caroms in the first half.

"How about our two freshmen?" Krieger said. "We've asked them to play big roles for us, to adjust to the varsity level. It's been a year-long process. They played really well."

Kouts was in chase mode all game after the 12-2 deficit and couldn't overcome its woeful shooting (7-42).

"I'm real proud of the effort, battling back. That's what they've done all season. That's what's special about this team," Kobza said. "We just didn't hit shots. We didn't hit free throws. We didn't box out well the whole game. We thought we were prepared for their (2-2-1) press, but we didn't run our press break like we're supposed to. we weren't moving the ball or rotating to help the girl with the ball."

Coleman's 13 points topped Morgan. Jayla Crump led all scorers with 14 for Kouts.

"Survive and advance," Krieger said.

In the opener, Washington ran off 14 points after Marquette scored the opening basket and cruised from there.

"At times, we weren't focused and part of the credit for that goes to Marquette. They battled the entire game," Washington coach Chris Tomcsi said. "These moments are special. They don't occur very often so you want to enjoy them, but We had a job to do to come and win the sectional and we're in position to do it."

Heather Burton put up 13 points, six rebounds and five steals for Washington in a little over a half of action.

"She's been doing it all year for us," Tomcsi said. "Sometimes, it's her shooting. Sometimes, it's her distributing the ball. I feel like she's an all-area caliber player. If I had five of her on the floor, we'd be a tough team to beat."

Sammie Higgins added 12 points for the Senators (15-5). Marquette committed 31 turnovers, 21 in the first half, and shot 25 percent. Colleen Falk scored eight for the Blazers (4-14).

"Turnovers killed us. That was the game for us," Marqette coach Abby Skube said. "But they didn't put their heads down at all. I didn't see what I saw the first half of the season. I saw what they're capable of. I saw heart, desire, a passion for the game. That's something you can't coach. That builds within a player. That's the most satisfying thing as a coach."

February 14, 2014 10:00 pm

Griffith, Wallace can at least hold on to wins

GRIFFITH | It's critical for teams in the 3A Griffith Sectional not to be intimidated by the host Panthers, who are shooting for their sixth straight title.

But when the combined record of the seven participating schools is 40-69, it's difficult not visualizing coach Tom Golumbeck's Panthers hoisting another trophy.

They took a step closer to that goal Friday night with a 37-13 win over Hammond, holding the Wildcats to four points through three quarters.

In the other semifinal, Lew Wallace somehow overcame 32 turnovers and 12-of-28 foul shooting to oust Clark 36-22 before a near-empty gym.

"We didn't come out ready to play in the first quarter," Golumbeck said of his team's 5-0 lead. "We lacked focus and intensity and if we do that (Saturday), it's going to be a very sad locker room."

Guard Courtney Bell led the Panthers (11-10) with 13 points, often landing on her backside following each long jumper. Foul or flop?

"We don't teach flopping," Golumbeck said. "Courtney doesn't have the best balance. If she goes to the basket, she often gets bumped and falls down. She's not the biggest player.

"But she does a great job for us. We ask her to do a lot of things; to score, defend and handle the ball."

Talia Roldan's eight rebounds gave Griffith a convincing 22-12 advantage on the boards, with the Wildcats' 6-foot-3 Kayla Williams grabbing eight to go with her five blocked shots.

Griffith missed nine free throws on the night and had 19 turnovers to 22 for Hammond (5-14).

That was merely a warmup for the nightcap.

Lew Wallace (9-7), without a senior on its roster, owned the boards against Clark (7-15) with a 39-18 advantage as junior Ashanti Mays grabbed 12 to go with her game-high 12 points.

With 2:15 left to play, however, Wallace had 31 turnovers and 31 points. Clark hurt itself with 23 for the game.

Afterward, Hornets' coach Omar Vazquez let sophomore Ayanna Hunter — whom he jokingly called his interpreter — meet the media as he stood by.

"We have to play as a team, not as a 'me,'" said Hunter, who had problems hanging on to the basketball. "I should've passed the ball more and made sharper passes."

Wallace isn't afraid to mix it up and play physical.

"We have a tough team in general that wants to win, wants to bring the sectional trophy back home," Hunter said.

February 14, 2014 10:00 pm

K.V., Andrean girls to square off in Hanover Sectional final

CEDAR LAKE | Bethany Jansma says she doesn't like to shoot.

The Kankakee Valley senior sure is good at it though, as Jansma put on a shooting clinic in the first half of the Kougars' 71-54 Hanover Central Sectional semifinal win over Knox on Friday.

Jansma opened the game with a personal 7-0 run and scored 19 points in the first two quarters. She splashed a 3-pointer at the buzzer before halftime. The speakers screamed out Alicia Keyes' "This Girl is on Fire" as if the Hanover Central staff had it prepared.

"We wanted to show Andrean and Hanover what we had, because we knew they were watching," Jansma said. "I just wanted to give it everything I had because I knew we could beat them and I wanted to leave it all out on the floor."

K.V. (14-6) led by as many as 23 in the second half.

"If there was any question of whether we were nervous or worried, that was gone. One of the things we said was that we had to come out to a good start," Kougars coach Ryan Myers said. "Jansma just came out and played so well, I thought, especially early on. She got everybody else relaxed and then I think we could just settle down and play the way we're capable of playing."

Jansma finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. Lauren Stoke scored 22 for the Kougars.

Kankakee Valley will face Andrean in Saturday's championship. The 59ers held off Hanover Central to earn a 57-53 win in the nightcap, avenging a regular season loss to the Wildcats.

Andrean did it with defense, particularly in the third quarter. H.C. (12-10) scored only three points in that frame and the Niners built an 11-point cushion.

"It was the kids. It was all the kids," Andrean coach Tony Scheub said. "There were no changes (at halftime). It was just they wanted it more at that point."

The Wildcats closed the gap in the final minutes, but Lauren Stazinski hit several free throws and Andrean did enough for the win.

"It's been a tough season (due to injuries)," Scheub said. "We've had a rocky road, so to get everyone back at this time we kind of show that this is the team that we expected at the beginning of the season."

February 14, 2014 9:45 pm

Cougars top L.C.; Red Devils win with last-second free throw

Cougars top L.C.; Red Devils win with last-second free throw

LOWELL | With two minutes left in Friday's Lowell Sectional semifinal, West Side junior Tinon Hunter stole the ball, ripping it from the hands of Lake Central's Lindsay Kusbel and scored.

Hunter's two points, which turned out to be her ninth of the game, would prove to be the winning bucket as the Cougars took a 58-54 lead in a game they eventually won, 60-56.

West Side will play Lowell, a 37-36 winner over Morton, in today's 7:30 p.m. championship game.

"We've been up so many times at the half and teams have come back that I told the girls 'this is our time to come back,'" West Side coach Rod Fisher said. "For three minutes in the third quarter, we were great.

"What these kids went through the last four days, to beat a quality team like Lake Central is huge for them."

West Side is still without three players suspended after a fight at practice on Monday. Sophomore Tyeisha Hunter missed Wednesday's game against Munster because of the suspension, but returned Friday and scored two points.

The Cougars, who turned a 33-25 deficit around with a 24-point third quarter, opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run for an 11-0 lead. When Lake Central scored with 4:03 remaining in the game, the Indians' first points since the 1:25 mark of the third quarter, they were playing from behind. L.C. went on a 9-0 run to pull within two before Hunter's heroics gave West Side a tough advantage.

"They're a good basketball team and they've got a freshman who is the reason Purdue and Ohio State are here watching her," L.C. coach Marc Urban said. "This (Lake Central) group has been a really good group and even though they came out on the short end of this game, I'm really proud of them."

Super freshman Evans scored 22 points for West Side, including 13 in the second half.

Rolanda Curington and Kusbel recorded double-doubles for Lake Central, with 13 points and 11 rebounds for Curington and 11 points wiht 13 rebounds for Kusbel. Gina Rubino hit four 3s and scored 16 points to lead the Indians. Tara Zlotkowski chipped in 10 points.

Amari Ferguson, who added 15 points for West Side also had six steals.

In the early game, Lowell used a free-throw from Joselyne Bobos with one second remaining to beat Morton.

Bobos, making her first start of the season, scored five points in a game that Morton led most of the way.

Lowell took a 31-29 lead with 20 seconds left in the third quarter before Morton's Timiya Ray hit a 3 in the first 45 seconds of the fourth quarter to regain the lead.

The Govs led by as many as five points in the final quarter, but scored their last bucket with 4:16 left in the game. Lowell scored the final six points to reach the championship game.

"It doesn't matter how we got there, we got to the championship," Lowell coach Matt Welsh said.

Amy Fraikin scored nine points to lead the Red Devils.

Ray's 14 paced the Govs as the sophomore added eight steals. Tatyana Skinner had 13 rebounds for Morton and teammate Rayann Johnston pulled down 12.

"We have gotten outrebounded one time all year, and and we were outrebounded tonight," Welsh said. "Tonight, our team was uninspired."

February 14, 2014 9:45 pm Photos



Oilers, Warriors advance to Whiting girls sectional final

WHITING | One huge play helped fuel an epic performance on Friday night at the Class 2A Whiting Sectional.

Whiting went on a 6-2 run and felt like it had Bowman on the ropes, but with 4:21 left in the third, sophomore center Alex Danielides had a huge block and Citlali Lopez grabbed the ball and went coast-to-coast for the layup.

The sequence was a part of a 13-2 run and the Oilers' 25 points in the quarter on their way to a 74-60 semifinal win over the Eagles.

"When we lost (senior guard) Bri (Blackwell), I knew someone had to step up and get the team pumped," said Danielides, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds.

There were 22 turnovers in an ugly first quarter with each team committing 11 apiece. Whiting (13-8) had trouble breaking Bowman's full-court press and the visiting Eagles had trouble handling the ball, as they had five traveling calls against them.

Coming off a 34-point effort against River Forest on Wednesday night, Lopez got off to another good start in the first quarter by hitting two of her first three shots while scoring six of Whiting's 16 first quarter points.

"Everyone stepped up and did what they had to do," Whiting coach Kevin Moynihan said. "CiCi was fantastic and Alex challenged herself because she knows Joshlynn King is an excellent player."

But the third quarter was big for the lightning quick guard, who had 17 of the team's 25 in the frame and she did it while battling leg pain.

"Even in pain, I put the team first," said Lopez, who scored a career-high 39 points and added five steals. "I score, I rebound, I assist all because I love them."

Bowman (8-13) continued its dribbling struggles in the second quarter by getting whistled for another five travels, which upped its turnovers in the period to nine.

The Oilers were still outscored in the second quarter 17-16 because they made nine turnovers themselves.

In the first semifinal, Bishop Noll (19-3) blasted Boone Grove 48-33.

The Warriors ran out of the gate with a 10-0 run to begin the game and the Wolves (2-16) didn't score their first points until 4:08 left in the first quarter thanks to a couple Rachel Cantwell free throws.

Three of Bishop Noll's starters didn't play in the second quarter after the team led 18-2 after one.

Boone Grove netted its first field goal of the game in the second quarter on a Sarah Brown jumper, but the Wolves outscored Noll in the quarter 15-13, putting Noll's halftime lead at 14 points.

February 14, 2014 9:45 pm

LaPorte, Merrillville to meet in Hobart girls sectional final

LaPorte, Merrillville to meet in Hobart girls sectional final

HOBART | LaPorte proved early and often how potent its outside shooting range is on Friday. Blink, and you may miss a 3-pointer.

The Slicers connected on 14 3-pointers, 10 in the first half, in a 72-41 win over Crown Point in a semifinal game of the Hobart Sectional.

“We got a lot of good looks and shot the lights out,” LaPorte coach Skeeter Heath said of his team’s 14-for-26 shooting effort from beyond the arc. “It’s kind of pick your poison. We’re so unselfish that no one cares who gets credit for the shot.”

At the forefront of that shooting barrage was Kyleigh Kubik, who drained five treys and finished with a game-high 21 points. The Bulldogs (13-8) couldn’t do much to defend LaPorte’s outside shooting prowess.

“We’re really good at driving to the rim, getting them to guard us and then pitching out and finding the right person who is on for the night,” Kubik said. “It’s different people every night. Our guards did a really good job finding our shooters.”

Nicole Konieczny made four 3-pointers and finished with 17 points, while Jaclyn Heath connected on three treys, ended with 14 points and surpassed 1,000 points in her career at LaPorte.

“We got that out of the way, so we don’t have to worry about that,” Skeeter Heath said. “That’s a nice accomplishment for her.”

Katija Tarailo led Crown Point with 14 points in her final game. Crown Point will also lose Abby Kvachkoff to graduation.

The Slicers (20-2) advance to play Merrillville in today’s championship. The Pirates, who lost 48-45 to LaPorte on Dec. 13, survived a slow start with an explosive third quarter in a 64-47 win over Chesterton in the nightcap.

The Pirates (15-6) led 26-17 at halftime. They outscored Chesterton (11-11) 27-11 in the third quarter to go up 53-28 and put the game away.

“We didn’t decide to play until the third quarter, and we can’t do that tomorrow night,” Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. “We were lucky to still have a little bit of a lead at the half and turn it up. There’s no tomorrow in the postseason, so you have to be ready to play.”

Victoria Gaines led the Pirates with 13 points, while Chesterton’s Caroline Puntillo paced the Trojans with 23 points.

February 14, 2014 9:30 pm Photos


STEVE HANL0N: This is why we play the games

STEVE HANL0N: This is why we play the games

LOWELL | There was one singular reason to drive to Lowell on Friday night. It was to take in the West Side-Lake Central Class 4A sectional semifinal showdown.

On paper, there was no other reason to attend “The Pit.”

It was one of Indiana's marquee matchups without question.

These old shoes shuffled in a little early to yawn and watch Lowell play Morton in the other semifinal. The notepad wasn't taken out of the bag until the second quarter.

But, the pen didn't stop dancing until the heart-stopping, pulse-pounding 37-36 win by the Red Devils was done.

Lowell beat Morton by 40 in the season opener.

Yes, West Side's 60-56 win over the Indians was an unbelievable contest between two great teams. Dana Evans led a great team effort.

But so, too, did Morton's Tatyana Skinner. You know who she is, right? Me neither before Friday night.

“On the bus ride down one of our girls asked what percentage we had of winning,” Skinner said. “Coach (Tom Haluska) yelled, '100 percent.' That's when we started to believe.”

Lowell won the game, but the Governors absolutely outplayed the more talented Red Devils.

This tournament has been going on since 1976. Millions of fans have watched thousands of players make magic in Hoosier Her-steria. Most remember the best of the best.

But every year in the postseason there are two or three upsets that shake the foundation. That's why people buy the tickets.

Near upsets also sell tickets, but the fans from Hammond felt their team should've won.

“I apologized to the girls in the locker room after the game,” Haluska said.

In my opinion, no apology was necessary.

With 7:20 left in the third quarter and holding a three-point lead, Haluska was called for a technical foul. I heard what he said. He didn't swear. He just asked the official to make the same call on his end of the court. Twice.

Without a warning, the whistle blew and the “Model T” drove into the game. That one free throw in that call was the difference in the game.

Plus, Lowell's win came on a foul called with one second left in the game on a baseline jumpshot. You don't see that called too often either.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” Haluska said, taking the high road.

Yes, the Govs could've done a lot more to take the call out of the game. They did not get hosed. But when you make up a 40-point blowout and have a chance to win, you need a break or two.

They didn't get it.

Haluska credited senior Alexis Casas for showing great leadership in turning this thing around. Senior Rayann Johnston rebounded like a bandit.

Sophomore Timiya Ray also played with great courage and effort.

Haluska showed the E.C. Central tape to his kids, a loss in the regular season, and the Govs said, “We can play better than that.” He showed them the tape of the 40-point blowout to Lowell and the girls said, “Shut it off, we're way better now.”

They proved it on Friday night. They left everything on the floor.

“We wanted this so bad,” Skinner said. “We believed we could beat them.”

Some say they did, no matter what the scoreboard said.

February 14, 2014 9:30 pm Photos


North Newton’s season ends in Class 2A Winamac Sectional semifinals

WINAMAC | North Newton got off to the start it wanted in Friday’s Class 2A sectional game against North Judson, but the Bluejays answered back in a big way.

Gabby Jackson and Morgan Kutsch staked the Spartans to an early five-point lead, but North Judson responded with 28 points in a row to take control of the game and went on to win 54-26.

“We came out and it was 5-0, and then we reverted back to old habits,” North Newton coach Robert Gonczy said.

“We were passing backwards, and we’re a short team, and we were trying to pass over the top of the defense. Eventually they caught fire.”

Danielle Sallee scored eight of her game-high 18 points during the 28-0 run for the Bluejays (8-11).

The Spartans (3-16) went more than nine minutes between points. Kasondra Duncan snapped the scoring draught with a pair of free throws.

Morgan Goodard, who led North Newton with 10 points, scored all of her points in the second half.

“Late in the game she got aggressive and started going to the hole,” Gonczy said. “I’m definitely looking forward to having her for three more years.”

Morgan Schumacher added 12 points for North Judson, which had a 37-24 rebounding edge.

“We said all along she was going to have to step up for us to win a sectional championship, and she has done that the last four or five games,” North Judson coach Deb Bolen said of Schumacher.

Jackson, who finished with five points, is North Newton’s lone senior, so the Spartans were able to get a lot of players experience this season.

“We felt like the kids improved all year,” Gonczy said. “Three freshmen really contributed and we have two sophomores and two pretty good juniors.”

February 14, 2014 8:15 pm
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