When the buzzer sounded on Times No. 4 Chesterton's upset of No. 1 Valparaiso for the Class 4A Portage Sectional crown, the Trojans erupted with jubilation.
The student section spilled onto the corner of the court as players celebrated with a mob of classmates. Chesterton's 32-year sectional drought came to an end, and the Trojans sent their rival home, to boot.
Now, the Trojans (19-6) must maintain the intensity that helped them knock off the Vikings. Chesterton faces Penn at 10 a.m. in Saturday's Class 4A Michigan City Regional semifinals and hopes to play with the same edge it showed last weekend.
“We addressed it,” Chesterton coach Marc Urban said. “It's great for our community and school and all that kind of stuff. You're gonna have time to go back and enjoy this, but you've got to move on. I really think our kids have done a good job of doing that.”
Penn (22-3) enters with wins over Valparaiso, Crown Point and Merrillville, although the Kingsmen dropped a home game to Michigan City. The Northern Indiana Conference champs led the league in scoring at 73.1 points per game and ranked ninth in the final Associated Press Class 4A poll.
Bruising 6-foot-6 big man Noah Applegate leads the Kingsmen with 19.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game after scoring 27 in Penn's win over South Bend Adams to advance to Regionals. Point guard Drew Lutz adds 19.0 points and 7.6 assists per game, making for one of the state's better inside-out tandems.
“With their point guard, Lutz, he's got to be one of the best point guards in the state,” Urban said. “His assist-to-turnover ratio is off the charts. He's really good and Applegate's really good. They're not extremely deep, but they're very, very talented."
Times No. 3 Munster will also compete in the Michigan City Regional, and is aiming to bring home its first regional championship in eight years.
The Mustangs have been led by a strong senior class all season — highlighted by combo guard Jevon Morris — but even coach Mike Hackett admits that his players are heading into uncharted territory.
"Having seniors helps," Hackett said. "But this regional step is new for us and this group of kids."
Munster (22-4) has won six straight games and in its three postseason contests, the Mustangs have only given up an average of 39.3 points per game. They will try to continue their stifling defense in a 12 p.m. matchup against Northridge (18-8) on Saturday in the semfinals but have their work cut out for them.
The Raiders are on a 12-game winning streak and are led by senior guard Jackson Erekson. He leads Northridge in scoring at 15.5 points per game and totaled a game-high 25 points in his team's 13-point victory over Warsaw in the sectional championship.
Another player the Mustangs will have to key in on is Alex Stauffer, who is averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 5.8 rebounds per game. The junior stands 6-foot-4 and as the tallest player on Northridge's roster, he is a focal point for the Raiders' low-post offense. Hackett also doesn't want to underestimate his importance on defense.
"They're not just a zone team," Hackett said. "They're not just a man team. They throw in some jump defenses and etcetera. So we're trying to make sure we're ready for all of those things."
If the Trojans and Mustangs both win their first games, they will face each other in the championship at 7 p.m.
Covenant Christian, 21st Century look to go one step further
After winning its first sectional title in school history a year ago, Covenant Christian entered this season knowing it would be one of the highlights of every opponent's schedule.
Despite losing six seniors off that team, the Knights are back at regionals. For coach John Heerema, it was never a sure thing.
“I thought as the year went, there for a while I was like, 'Man, can we do what we did last year?'” Heerema said. “The way our boys responded this year has been incredible. I can't be more proud of it as the coach. For these young men to sit here and get 22 wins again and another sectional trophy, it has been an incredible ride.”
Covenant Christian (22-4) faces Argos (21-4) in the Class 1A Triton Regional Semifinals in an apparent a contrast of styles. The Dragons score 56.1 points per game and allow just 35.9. The fast-paced Knights score 71.0 per night but allow 55.5.
Heerema said he hopes to “speed it up a little bit” defensively and increase the tempo. Forward Ben Lins (22.3 ppg) and guard Gavin Herrema (22.0) give the Knights threats from the outside, but Argos counters with 6-foot-7 big man Ian Kindig, who scores 12.3 per game. Lins, Covenant Christian's tallest player, stands 6-foot-4.
The Knights' experience, however, could help their cause. Argos will make its first Regional appearance since 2005.
“I think that everything that goes with winning sectionals, there's so much other stuff that happens for the kids,” Heerema said. “I think we learned some of that last year and how to handle that. Now, going in, I would hope that we don't have near the nerves, and I think we're going in with a little more confidence obviously with having the experience."
Times No. 5 21st Century is also making an appearance in the Triton Regional after winning its fourth consecutive sectional championship. The Cougars won their three sectional games by an average of 12 points and are the hottest team in the Region.
Junior guard Johnell Davis has guided 21st Century all season long and his stellar play has continued during the Cougars' 12-game winning streak. He is averaging a team-high 24.9 points and team-high 10.0 rebounds per game.
In the sectional championship against Kouts, Davis went off for 31 points and 12 rebounds and will try to continue his strong play against Fort Wayne Blackhawk, who has dropped just two games all year.
The Braves have won 14 straight games and have three players averaging double figures in scoring. If 21st Century (19-6) hopes to advance, it will most likely need a big outing from Davis and the Cougars' defense must be able to limit at least one of Fort Wayne Blackhawk's main scoring options.
Covenant Christian and 21st Century could meet up in the regional championship at 7:30 p.m. if both teams are able keep their seasons alive.
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Andrean and Marquette Catholic ready for rematch
Andrean and Marquette Catholic have been here before.
Last season, the 59ers knocked off the Blazers 76-72 in overtime to advance to the Class 2A North Judson Regional title game. And roughly a year later, the two squads will square off once again on Saturday at 10 a.m. with a chance to reach the championship round at 7 p.m.
After a gritty showing at the Lake Station Sectional, in which Times No. 6 Andrean (17-8) won all of its games by single digits, coach Brad Stangel is confident his squad will be ready to face a familiar opponent. The 59ers downed Marquette Catholic (16-8) 69-55 at home on Jan. 5, but Stangel believes both teams have improved since then and that Andrean is playing some of its best basketball of the season.
“Sometimes the season can get long, but I think our guys are ready and they’re prepared,” Stangel said. “They’re excited to play this weekend.”
Senior guard John Carrothers and sophomore forward Kyle Ross continue to lead the way for 59ers. During sectional play, Carrothers averaged 18.3 points per game, while Ross averaged a team-high 23.3 points, a team-high 13.3 rebounds and a team-high 3.3. blocks.
Stangel said that both players have put together two of the best three-game stretches he’s seen during his three-year tenure at Andrean, but he’s also aware that Marquette Catholic is home to another top player in the Region.
Colin Kenney, the Blazers’ all-time leading scorer in boys basketball, is averaging 25.8 points per game and has notched seven 30-point games this year. Marquette Catholic coach Fred Mooney commended Kenney for his leadership and work ethic and expects him to continue his standout play against the 59ers.
“He’s a team player and a great person,” Mooney said. “Some wise person said one time, ‘A test of a man’s character is measured by what it takes to stop him.’ And I guess what I’m saying is that he has a lot of character because he is hard to stop.”
Mooney doesn’t think that his returning players have any extra motivation to beat Andrean because of how the 59ers ended their season last year. Instead, he’s confident his team is focused on the present moment and continuing its momentum after winning the school’s sixth straight sectional title.
“It sounds intriguing,” Mooney said. “But our kids are focused on executing the Xs and the Os. It’s just a matter of executing what we want to do and trying to take them out of what they want to do.”
Hammond and Hanover Central do not lack confidence
Hammond won back-to-to back sectional championships for the first time in 21 years, but coach Larry Moore Jr. made sure his team didn’t spend too much time celebrating the accomplishment.
He acknowledged that the Wildcats continue to feel counted out and that they should be proud of proving a lot of people wrong, however the season isn’t over. Hammond (17-7) will take on West Lafayette in the Class 3A South Bend Washington Regional at 11 a.m. on Saturday, and Moore believes there is room for improvement.
“There were some defensive assignments that we missed, and we could’ve done better at the free throw line,” Moore said. “Of course we’re excited to still be practicing and playing, but they know we gotta do some things better, and they also know we went home early last year.”
Hammond lost by 24 points to Culver Academies in the regional semifinals last season, and Moore does not want his squad to have relive that experience. Two players he will rely on to guide the Wildcats offensively and defensively are Amiri Young and Reggie Abram.
The senior and sophomore, who represent Hammond’s starting backcourt, combined for 31 points in the team’s sectional championship victory over West Side. Young and Abram also spearhead the Wildcats’ relentless on-ball defense and their effort will be crucial against the Red Devils.
West Lafayette (16-9) won its sectional championship by 21 points, and Moore knows advancing past a program that has won six sectional titles during the past decade will not be easy.
“They’re a very well coached team,” Moore said. “They have size. They have shooters. I believe their coach has been there 25 plus years, so any time a coach is able to hold tenure that long he’s doing things well.”
Hanover Central (17-8) will join Hammond at the South Bend Washington Regional and take on defending state champion Culver Academies at 9 a.m. in the semifinals.
The Wildcats are coming off a historic sectional victory over Calumet, which marked the program’s first sectional championship since 1986. Coach Bryon Clouse anticipates that his squad will be a little nervous during the initial moments of the game but expects them to settle after a few plays.
“Culver has obviously been through this before just last year, and we have never (done it), none of my boys,” Clouse said. “It’s been 33 years since our school won a sectional, so we gotta get through those early-game jitters and make sure we’re playing good defense and taking good shots.”
Senior Luke Barach has been Hanover Central’s most consistent player all season and is averaging a team-high 15.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. During his final prep campaign, he has posted five 20-point games and had just four outings with less than 10 points. Clouse considers it a luxury to have such a steady player as his team’s leader, and will look for him to be a calming force for the rest of the team.
“You can pretty much count on Luke and what he’s averaging right now,” Clouse said. “As a coach, it’s great to know coming in that Luke is going to his job. And I’m sure as a teammate they know they have someone they can fall back on as well, and it makes them feel a lot better and a little more at ease.”
The Red Devils have three players averaging double figures in scoring, led by junior Trey Galloway. He is averaging a team-high 16.7 points per game, while senior Ethan Brittain-Watts averages 15.7 points and junior Deontae Craig 12.6 points.
Culver Academies (21-3) has won six straight games, as Hanover Central seeks to pull off the upset.
If Hammond and Hanover Central both win their opening round matchups, they will play each other in the regional championship at 7 p.m.