by Beau Wicker Sports Editor
---- — Austin Keisling did not know what to expect his senior season at Lewis Cass after the Kings had back-to-back .500 seasons the previous two years.
Little did Keisling know that the Kings were in store for one of their finest years in the 50-year history of the school.
The Kings went 22-3 and made a run to the semistate, and Keisling is the 2014 Loganland Player of the Year.
Keisling, a 5-11 guard, averaged 18.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game for the Kings this season. He scored exactly 1,100 points for his career.
He shot 47 percent from the field, 30 percent from the 3-point line and 76 percent from the foul line.
“He started the season off strong and finished even stronger,” Cass coach Jon Kitchel said. “He had big games in the tournament against really good teams and against really good players. Wapahani had two Division-I players on their team and as far as I’m concerned he outplayed them.”
While the Kings went on a 20-game win streak this season and earned a No. 7 ranking in Class 2A, what they’ll probably remember most is their deep tournament run.
They ran through their sectional taking the best shots against Wabash, Manchester and Oak Hill and winning each game handily.
They then knocked off No. 3 Wapahani 63-62 in a regional semifinal game. Keisling scored 26 points and hit the game-winning free throw with 22 seconds left in the win.
He also hit a huge 3 midway through the fourth quarter after Wapahani had built a six-point lead.
“Being a senior you think you have to pull through, you can’t shy away from the challenge,” he said. “I took the ball into my hands and I knew Blake [Hadley] would do the same.
“The Wapahani game, I like being the underdog. It felt worse playing sectionals than regionals because after sectionals we felt like we were the underdogs so we could just go out there and play. Being the underdog and beating that team — I think we were predicted to lose by 13 — it felt great. Beating that team with two Division I players shows that we had some players on our team and size does not matter when you play basketball.”
The Kings play Tipton annually but hadn’t beat them since 2005. They got them twice this season including a 55-47 win for the regional championship, their second in school history and first since 2003.
Keisling scored a team-high 13 in the Tipton win. After battling heavy foul trouble in the first half, the Kings built up a lead in the second. Then, like they had done all season after building a late lead, they weaved a web a death for their opponent with Keisling, Hadley and Ryan Bixler — all three strong ball-handlers — running the weave.
Next up was Westview at the semistate. While the Kings had been able to overcome a size disadvantage against opponents all season, Westview was able to control the tempo for the most part and take advantage inside.
But the Kings never went away and got to within three points on a Keisling 3-ball with 1:51 left in the contest.
Instead of holding the ball to kill some clock or waiting for a foul, Westview’s Jamar Miller drilled a quick 3 out of a timeout.
If the shot would have missed the Kings had the momentum and very well might have won which would have earned them a spot in the state finals. But instead the shot went in which led to their defeat.
“Their coach called it,” Keisling said. “He called a timeout and calls that play an my dad calls it a very gutsy play. And it’s true. It was a gutsy play. He called it, Weaver goes to the corner, hits a 3 and swishes a 3. It was a dagger. It was a dagger.”
Keisling scored a game-high 20 in the contest.
“It was just a game we couldn’t hit as much as we could. And they scouted us real well. Their coach was good,” Keisling said. “But we still got in the lane. Sometimes me and Hadley, we would just drive. I remember one time I had [Chandler] Aspy in front of me, [Jordyn] Bontrager on my left, I had about three guys on me and I somehow finished on the block.
“We still got in, we just couldn’t hit our 3s like we usually do.”
The Kings nearly pulled off an improbable run to the state finals considering they were about a .500 team the previous two years. But after the hard work and development of their senior leaders, maybe the run was not so improbable after all.
“It just shows that heart helps you win,” Keisling said.
The Cass standout added he is weighing his options on where to play college basketball. He said as of now his favorite is Judson University, an NAIA school in the Chicago suburbs.
The following are capsules of the rest of the 2014 All-Loganland boys basketball team.
Blake Hadley, Cass
Hadley and Keisling formed a 1-2 punch at guard for the Kings that will be difficult to replace.
“We will miss them,” Kitchel said. “I don’t know. When you lose 48 points a game from six seniors, it’ll be an interesting year. [Ryan] Bixler and the Ohman boys will have to be big and we’ll have to have some people separate themselves from the JV.”
Hadley was a similar player to Keisling and they both had a similar ascent in Kings uniforms.
They both earned starting roles in the second half of their freshman seasons. They were both little freshmen who grew and gained a lot of muscle over the years.
This year the duo attacked the rim with abandon and were able to consistently finish tough shots in the lane against taller opponents. Their ball-handling and hard-nosed defense was also a key to the team’s success.
“They got to the rim and scored or got to the foul line,” Kitchel said. “Both of them got to the foul line a lot this year. The biggest thing is they were competitors. They competed all year. There were some games we could have folded and they dug a little deeper. They did the things that winners do and that was a big part of our success.”
Said Keisling: “Hadley really stepped it up this year. You could really tell his strength improved from last year. I also wanted to work on that too. We were small, but we knew if we got stronger we’d be able to drive and take the hits and finish.”
Hadley averaged 14.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.4 assists per game this year. He shot 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range and 68 percent from the foul line.
His steal and layup late in the Wapahani game gave the Kings a late lead in what was arguably their biggest win since 2003.
Carter Skaggs, Logansport
The 6-5 junior forward continued his career ascent at Logansport after playing his first two years of high school ball at Pioneer.
He averaged a career-high 20.4 points per game for the Class 4A Berries playing in the North Central Conference. He also led the team in rebounding (8.1 rpg) and added 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
He shot 46 percent from the field overall and 81 percent from the foul line.
Skaggs scored 773 points in his first two years at Pioneer, good enough for 10th all time in Panthers history. He had 408 for the Berries this year for a total of 1,181 entering his senior season.
He made 52 3-pointers this season at a 37 percent clip. He made 63 3-pointers his sophomore year at Pioneer but played in five more games for a regional finalist team. He scored 18.7 ppg as a sophomore.
The Berries went 12-8 this year under first-year coach Pat Skaggs, Carter’s father. They started 8-1, winning the Cass County Tournament and also swept the three Lafayette schools that will be part of the NCC next season. But they went just 1-5 in NCC play this year with the lone win over Muncie Central, their first win over the Bearcats in 15 years.
Pat Skaggs said he was interested to see how Carter would handle the move from Class A to Class 4A.
“I really thought he rose to the occasion and really had a solid season for us,” Pat Skaggs said.
Carter was selected to play for the Spiece Indy Heat AAU team this year. The team is competing at a EYBL tournament this weekend in Sacramento, Calif. The team is the only of its kind for its age group in Indiana and consists of eight of the top high school players in the state and one player from Michigan.
“The EYBL circuit is a big-time, elite high school basketball circuit,” Pat Skaggs said. “Obviously we’re very, very fortunate he was selected to play.”
Quentin Douglass, Caston
Douglass finished as Caston’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 1,219 career points.
This year the 6-foot point guard averaged 16.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
The Comets went 12-10 this year including 11-2 at home. They finished tied for third in the Midwest Conference and were runner-up at the Caston Shootout and county tournament. They swept Pioneer and had big wins over Central Noble, Kankakee Valley, Maconaquah, North White and Culver.
Caston coach J.R. Howell appreciated having a player like Douglass in his first year at the helm.
“He was a great player for us this year. He’s a good leader,” Howell said. “He accepted the new system we implemented this year defensively and offensively and led the team to the best of his abilities. It’s hard having a new coach your senior year and I thought he responded greatly and accepted his role. There were games where he did the bulk of our scoring and there were other games where he had a lot of assists and just did the things we needed to do to win. He did a good job of balancing between being the man and letting other people step up.
“We will miss his leadership and athletic ability, not only in basketball but in all athletics at Caston. He was a great player for us not only this year but in his career. I’m glad he was with us this year.”
Parker Fox, Winamac
The Warriors had a balanced attack this year but it was Fox who led the team in scoring (13.0), assists (3.3) and steals (2.3) per game.
After a solid regular season, the 5-11 junior guard went off in tournament play. He scored 18 points in the sectional championship win over North Judson and then had a career-high 34 in a regional win over Woodlan.
Woodlan couldn’t stop the athletic slasher as Fox was 9 of 15 from the field, 3 of 3 from 3-point range and 13 of 16 from the foul line.
In the regional final against Westview, he fouled out early in the fourth quarter with 14 points which hurt Winamac’s chances at a big comeback.
The Warriors went 15-9 which included going 10-2 in their last 12. They went unbeaten in Midwest Conference play and won their first sectional title in 12 years and 20th overall.
“One thing he does so well is defend,” Winamac coach Kyle Johnson said of Fox. “He plays great defense and always plays with great energy on both ends of the court. He always defends the other team’s best player and he led us in so many categories as far as deflections and steals.
“He can shoot the 3 and take the ball to the basket. He led us in assists this year. He’s got a great future in college basketball. I truly believe he’ll find a spot due to his energy and athleticism. He put a lot of time in this year. He had a 34-point game in the regional and he’ll just continue to grow.”
Fox was also the starting quarterback on Winamac’s regional championship football team last fall.
Andrew Wamsley, Logansport
Wamsley had a big senior year for the Berries.
The 6-3 forward averaged 11.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He added 2.3 assists per contest.
He shot 56 percent from the field and 74 percent from the foul line.
Wamsley utilized his strength and craftiness to do most of his damage in the paint. He had a number of big games, including 23 points against McCutcheon, 20 against Winamac and Richmond, 18 against Frankfort and 17 in a win over Cass.
“He’s just a very heady, smart post player,” Skaggs said. “We are really going to miss him next year. It’s not that he did a lot of flashy things, but he has just solid post moves around the basket. You don’t see too many high school kids with his type of moves. It’s going to be interesting to see who tries to step in his spot for us next year and fill in because he will be missed.”
Matt Jennings, Logansport
The 5-9 freshman point guard averaged 13.1 points and 2.6 assist per game.
He shot 43 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3 and 72 percent from the foul line.
Jennings had 24 points against Muncie Central, 22 versus Cass and Harrison, 21 against Western and 19 against Anderson.
“I thought he had an outstanding freshman season,” Skaggs said. “He was obviously another double figure scorer for us. Just his ball-handling and quickness is a real asset for us. He was another reason that we were able to win 12 games and he’s obviously a big part of the future here.”
A.J. Smith, Logansport
Smith and Jennings gave the Berries two starting-caliber point guards in their backcourt.
Smith, a 5-8 junior, averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 3.5 assists on the season. He added 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals per contest.
He shot 46 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3 and 78 percent from the foul line.
He had 22 points against both Muncie Central and Western, 21 versus Winamac and 20 against Peru. He missed a stretch in the middle of the season with a badly sprained ankle.
“I really thought A.J. did a lot of good things for us this past season,” Skaggs said. “He was an outstanding free-throw shooter and really improved his 3-point percentage as the season went along.
“He’s a quick guard for us and obviously we expect big things out of him next year.”
Ryan Bixler, Cass
Bixler formed a potent Kings’ backcourt along with Keisling and Hadley. All three of them made big plays throughout their 20-game win streak and tournament run.
Bixler, a 6-foot sophomore, ran the point for the Kings. He averaged 13.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.0 assists per contest.
He shot 51 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 73 percent from the foul line.
“Bixler had the best stats of anybody in regards to he shot 57 percent from 2, 40 percent from 3 and 73 percent from the free-throw line,” Kitchel said. “He led us in rebounding and led us in assists from the point guard position. He had a tremendous year too.”
Owen Ohman, Cass
The 5-10 junior was the Kings’ defensive ace.
“Owen was the guy that got to defend the other team’s best player regardless of the position,” Kitchel said. “At the forward spot he’s undersized but he’s so quick and determined. He’s a real competitor, so know matter who that player was he did a great job. He was also the point guy of our press and was real active there. He’s just an extreme competitor.”
Ohman averaged 7.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He shot 41 percent from the field including 36 percent from 3.
He hit a lot of big shots on the year.
“Against Northwestern he hit a 3 that turned that game around,” Kitchel said. “He probably turned at least three games in the fourth quarter. Most of his 3-pointers put the game away for us or allowed us to be in position to win. He’s a big-play guy.”
Evan Ohman, Cass
Owen’s younger brother was the Kings’ sixth man as a freshman. Though the Kings had no starter taller than 6-1, Evan Ohman came off the bench at 6-3.
He averaged 6.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. He shot 42 percent from the field, 28 percent from 3 and 90 percent at the foul line (44 of 49).
“He was the guy at the end of the game we could put in and he hit 90 percent from the free-throw line and made great decisions,” Kitchel said. “As a freshman he might not be able to go for 32 minutes strength-wise, but we’d put him in at key times. He hit some free throws to put away big games in the sectional.
“I’m excited about what he’ll do in the future.”
Adam Gruenig, Winamac
The 5-9 junior sharpshooter was the Warriors’ second leading scorer at 8.1 ppg.
Of his 66 made field goals on the season, 58 were from 3-point range. He shot 38 percent from beyond the arc.
“He’s one of best shooters in area,” Johnson said. “I think his best year is yet to come. He made 58 3-pointers after a slow start. On defense he’s always in the right spot and is a good defensive player. He’ll be gym rat this summer.”
Dustin Offenberger, Caston
The 6-1 junior averaged 9.9 points and 4 rebounds per game for the Comets this season.
Offenberger had a particularly memorable stretch in February when he had back-to-back game-winning shots against Maconaquah and North White.
His game-winner against North White was on the “Valpo play” that was a 3-point buzzer beater against an eventual regional finalist team.
“Dustin is probably our best set shooter,” Howell said. “He has a pretty good body for the Class A level and was a good rebounder by the end of the year. He did a great job of attacking the basket and being something more than just a 3-point shooter. In the middle of the year he was in a slump and hadn’t hit a 3 for a few games and I challenged him to be aggressive and get to the free-throw line and the shots from the outside would come. Late in the year he had a string of five straight games in double figures.
“Over the course of the year he was one player that you could tell who grew. Everyone knew he could shoot it but people didn’t think he could attack the basket and rebound as well as he did late in the year. That gave him momentum going forward into next year. He’ll get in the gym and continue to improve.”
Brayton Jellison, Caston
Jellison, a 6-2 sophomore, averaged 8.9 points and 7 rebounds per game for the Comets. He had four double-doubles this season.
“Brayton is one of our best athletes on the team,” Howell said. “He can shoot from the outside and take you off the dribble. He can also play with his back to the basket and got better there as the year progressed. He’s a guy we’ll look to for leadership in scoring and setting a good example for all the players.
“At the end of the season he had five double-figure games in a row. One thing we’re hoping for next year is an increase in points and rebounds from him and to be a solid player we can count on consistently night in and night out for us.”
Caleb Kindley, Pioneer
Kindley, a 6-2 sophomore, led the Panthers in scoring (8.8) and rebounding (5.6) this season.
The young Panthers went just 3-18 under first-year coach Austin Cowley after losing a lot of key seniors that won four sectional titles in a row. Their three wins were against North Miami, West Central and Faith Christian. They had an 11-point sectional loss against eventual regional finalist North White.
Kindley had a 17-point game against South Newton and had 16 against Carroll and 15 against North Miami. He had a double-double against West Central and pulled down 11 boards against Kouts to go with nine points.
“He started every single game as a sophomore,” Cowley said. “He got injured and went into a little slump there. But he led us in scoring and rebounding.
“He’s a hard worker and will put in the time for us, in the weight room and on the court. He’s turning into a gym rat.”