by Beau Wicker
Pioneer’s boys basketball team is hosting a top 10 opponent in Class A on Saturday night.
The Panthers (5-2), which have the 14th most votes in this week’s AP poll, host No. 6 Kouts (6-0) for a 7:30 p.m. varsity tipoff.
“It’s obviously an excellent opportunity for us,” Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs said. “It’s a good game for us to play going into the break.”
The Mustangs, like the Panthers, are a defending sectional champion. Kouts won 19 games a year ago before a loss to host Triton in regional play.
The Mustangs, who hail from the Porter County Conference, are coached by Marty Gaff, who has 379 wins in his 30th year at the school.
“They’re obviously well coached and they have good size. They have three or four players averaging in double figures,” Skaggs said. “In my opinion what separates them from a lot of teams is the fact they have about four guys who can score 15 or 18 points on a given night.
“They do have a 6-8 kid in the middle who has improved a bunch since last year. Last year they didn’t get the ball to him as much, but this year they do a better job of getting it inside to him and he has success down there, and it opens things on the perimeter for them as well. On tape they do an excellent job of turning defense into offense. Whether it’s a steal or defensive rebound or even off a score, they look to get out and go.”
The Panthers have won four in a row, including an 11-point win over Culver Academy and a 50-point win over Argos last week.
Carter Skaggs is averaging 17.3 points per game to lead the Panthers, followed by Brandon Scruggs (12.9 ppg), Matt Dorris (9.1), Clayton Harvey (7.7) and Mitchell Williams (6.5). Carter Skaggs, Harvey and Dorris are each averaging around 6.0 rebounds per game, and Scruggs adds 5.5 assists per contest.
The Comets (4-3) face Kankakee Valley (6-3) in a semifinal game at 1 p.m. Saturday. The winner advances to the 7:30 p.m. championship game, while the loser plays in the third-place game at 7:30 in the elementary school gym.
The Comets have won four games in a row. Jake Howdeshell has had a hot hand during the winning steak, hitting 27 3-point field goals in the four games. Another key stat is the Comets have been in single-digits in the turnover category in each of the contests.
KV has won three straight, including a 46-33 win over Morgan Township Wednesday. The Kougars are led by senior guard Dustin Ketalaar.
“They have an extremely talented player,” Caston coach Ben Snyder said. “Ketalaar had 34 of their 54 points last weekend [in a win over Hanover Central.] On all the film, he’s as good as any guard we’ll play against all year.
“They run a motion offense with a lot of movement, and on defense they play halfcourt man and switch everything. It’ll be a challenge for us. We knew we were bringing in bigger schools that have been successful at that level for this tournament. It’s a little bit different this year instead of picking your three teams to play. It’ll be a challenge and we’ll see what happens.”
Hagerstown defeated Rensselaer 52-39 Thursday night in Shootout play. The Northfield-Lowell game was postponed to 8 p.m. tonight due to weather.