by Beau Wicker
Pioneer’s boys basketball team has been on a good run in recent years, having won three consecutive sectional championships.
This week for the first time in what is believed to be at least several years the Panthers have cracked into the top 10 in the AP state poll.
The Panthers (6-2) are ranked No. 8 in Class A after winning their last five games, all by double figures.
“I am very proud of our kids, who have continued to improve over the last few years and have worked hard,” Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs said. “It is a credit and honor to them to finally have been noticed where they are ranked.
“Obviously it’s a nice honor, but being ranked sure isn’t going to help you win any games. You still have to show up and play and make sure you’re ready. I tell our kids when they read the paper and read things to not let it go to your head. Take it one game at a time and make sure you’re ready and understand that anybody can beat you on any given night.”
The Panthers will look to improve on their 1-0 record in Midwest Conference play when they travel to Frontier (4-6, 2-2 MWC) tonight.
“Frontier is probably better than their record states at this time,” Skaggs said. “They have a solid starting five. They have some athletic kids and some streaky shooters who are capable of getting on a role. We have to make sure we go over there ready to play.”
Pioneer then hosts Faith Christian (1-5) on Saturday night.
“They graduated two really nice players who are playing college basketball this year,” Skaggs said. “They’re in a rebuilding state right now.”
Carter Skaggs is averaging 18.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for the Panthers. Brandon Scruggs is at 12.9 ppg and 5.5 assists per contest. Matt Dorris averages 9.1 ppg and 4 apg, Clayton Harvey averages 8.8 ppg and 5.6 rpg, and Mitchell Williams adds 6.1 ppg.
Western (6-3) at Logansport (6-3)
Logan hasn’t had much luck against Western, with just one win in six seasons against the Panthers.
This season Western’s three losses have all come against ranked teams, two against Class 4A No. 7 Kokomo and one to Class 3A No. 7 Lebanon.
“Western’s pretty good,” Logan coach Mark Victor said. “They had a tough time against Kokomo the last time but have nice wins over Frankfort, Northwestern and Hamilton Heights. The [Ronnie] Smith kid is a big kid you worry about. He’s 6-7 and very athletic. He’s played well the games we’ve seen. The young [Des] Balentine kid scored 30 against Northwestern. We’ll have to contain him outside and take care of Smith inside.”
The Berries enter on a two-game winning streak over McCutcheon and Twin Lakes.
Logan travels to Harrison (5-3) Saturday night to face the Raiders.
“They’re big, strong and physical,” Victor said. “They play Hamilton Southeastern the night before, so that could be a rough one. But they’re a lot better. They have some nice wins. They beat West Lafayette. We’ll have to play good post defense.”
Caston (5-4, 1-0 MWC) at W. Central (3-6, 1-1 MWC)
The Comets will play their first game in two weeks and will try to stay unbeaten in league play.
They face a West Central team with three wins on the season coming against North Judson, South Newton and Argos.
“I think they’re an extremely well-coached team. Coach [Bryan] Heimlich does as well as anybody,” Caston coach Ben Snyder said. “They’re very patient offensively. They get the shot they want. They’re hard to guard. We’ll have to stay disciplined and patient. They have two guys back from last year in 6-4 [Spencer] Holliday and 6-2 [Michael] Hamilton. They’re both very athletic post guys.”
The Comets are coming off a third-place finish at their holiday tournament. They had a four-game winning streak ended on a last-second 22-footer that erased a 1-point lead against Kankakee Valley, but they recovered with a 3-point win over Lowell.
“I thought we finished off the year playing very well,” Snyder said. “We played the best we’ve played all year against KV. They hit outside shots that were contested. Some nights that happens. We won the rebounding battle, had nine turnovers and shot 65 percent and lost. I didn’t feel like we were allowing uncontested shots. You tip your cap and move on.”
The Comets finally caught a break on a last-second shot against Lowell, as one bounced off the iron that could have tied it after the Comets had lost to Lakeland Christian and KV this season on long shots this season.
“We’re getting good at buzzer beaters,” Snyder quipped. “That game showed more about our team’s character than any other game this season after what happened four hours earlier. It usually affects a team and they’re sluggish and not over that. These kids bounced back and showed character. I was extremely proud.”
Jacob Howedeshell is averaging 17 ppg to lead the Comets, and Quentin Douglass adds 15 ppg and 6.5 assists per contest.
Tri-Central (3-5) at Cass (4-3), Saturday
The Kings hope to not show any rust from a three-week layoff.
“Hopefully. We’ve had some great practices,” Cass coach Jon Kitchel said. “It’s a home game. That helps.”
When they were last seen in action, the Kings had back-to-back big wins over Taylor and Rochester.
Tri-Central has wins over Taylor, Madison-Grant and Clinton Central. The Trojans are coming off a 5-point loss to Carroll last week. They travel to Sheridan tonight.
“They’re a team that plays with a lot of emotion,” Kitchel said. “The game I saw, they played Northwestern and got beat in double-overtime. They’ve got some shooters. The [Kolby] Thomas kid is a real good shooter. Their point guard, [Garrett] Dick, is a real good shooter. He runs the show. They’re a perimeter team. When they get the ball in the paint they set up 3-point shots. When they’re on they’re a tough team to beat. We need to contest all their outside shots.”
Winamac (3-5) at Knox (1-7), Saturday
The game is a rematch from the Winter Classic played last week on the same court, when the Warriors recorded a 52-50 comeback win.
“I think we were lucky to get away with a win the first time. We played a strong fourth quarter,” Winamac coach Kyle Johnson said. “They’re a big and strong team. They’re 6-2 across the board and strong. We have to do a much better job of taking care of the basketball, and we got outrebounded in that game as well, 27-19. That’s an area we need to improve on a great deal against a bigger team.
“I’m sure they’ll want some revenge. The last time a championship was on the line for the Winter Classic, and this time it’s for pride. It’s tough to beat a team twice, especially on their home court. It’s a great learning week for us. We have to be focused and mentally tough in a hostile environment.”
Zach Shidler scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter in last week’s win at Knox. The Warriors outscored the Redskins 22-10 in the final frame.
Winamac then won at West Central, 42-28, to win its third straight Winter Classic title.