by Beau Wicker
Hoosier Hysteria looks to be alive and well tonight when successful boys basketball teams from Caston and Pioneer meet on the hardwood.
The Comets (15-6) square off against the No. 4-ranked Panthers (17-3) at 6 o’clock tonight in the opening game of the Class A West Central Sectional.
The Panthers enter having won nine games in a row and are 16-1 since a 1-2 start after close early-season losses at Lafayette Jeff and Logansport.
“I can’t say I’ve ever been involved in a sectional when one team is such a heavy favorite,” Caston coach Ben Snyder said. “That’s saying something because I’d like to think this sectional is as strong as it’s been since I’ve been at Caston. They’re pretty special.”
Snyder has said the Panthers are the most talented Class A team he’s ever seen.
“They’re clicking right now. They’re beating teams that have been ranked in the top 10 in 2A by 30. They’re beating teams in our conference by 45 that are pretty good,” he said. “There’s no secret they have to have an off night if they’re going to get beat in the sectional.”
The Comets are no slouches themselves. They’ve gone 15-3 since a slow start to the season with Pioneer being the only Class A team to beat them.
“Each time we’ve played them it’s been a battle and a game that’s been a lot closer than the final score in either game,” Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs said. “They’re a very good defensive team and they have three or four guys who can shoot the 3. We know we have our hands full.”
Jake Howdeshell is averaging 17.5 points per game for the Comets and has made a state-high 75 3-pointers on the season. He’s shooting 52 percent from behind the arc. Quentin Douglass adds 17 points and 7 assists per game.
The Panthers counter with a sharp-shooter of their own in Carter Skaggs, who is averaging just under 20 ppg as a sophomore. Like the Comets, they have an outstanding point guard as well in Brandon Scruggs, who is averaging 14.5 ppg and 7 assists per contest. Matt Dorris adds 11.5 ppg and 7 rebounds per contest.
The winner of tonight’s contest faces North White (10-11) in the earlier semifinal on Friday.
Tonight’s later game pits Tri-County (12-9) vs. West Central (5-15). The winner faces South Newton (2-17) on Friday. The title game is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Winamac (8-12) and North Judson (6-14) are meeting for the third time this year, and this time the season is on the line. The contest is set for 6:30 p.m. tonight.
The Warriors ended a long losing streak to the Bluejays on Jan. 11 at Judson, but the Bluejays got them back with a win three weeks later at Winamac.
“We’re excited to be playing against Judson,” Winamac coach Kyle Johnson said. “We know they’re a team that can beat us, and we know we can beat them. We split with them and the separation was by a total of three points. They’re a big rival and there’s not a better time to meet them than sectional time.”
The Warriors have a young squad that has been up and down this season. They’re coming off one of their best performances of the year in a 53-44 win at Rensselaer last Friday.
“It’s definitely nice getting the win going into the sectional,” Johnson said. “We had just played three quality opponents in Logansport, Pioneer and Caston. And we faced another quality opponent in Rensselaer. They were really big, strong and fast. It was nice to go to another place and win and go into the sectional on a win.”
Zach Shidler leads the Warriors, and the senior standout point guard is averaging 16.5 ppg. Parker Fox and Adam Gruenig each add 7 ppg.
The winner of tonight’s contest plays Hebron (9-10) in the earlier semifinal on Friday.
Tonight’s later game pits North Newton (2-18) vs. Rochester (6-14). The winner faces Boone Grove (12-8) on Friday night. The title game is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Johnson said it’s a “wide open” sectional field.
“There are five teams that could win the sectional if they play good basketball. We hope to be one of those teams,” he said.
Cass (10-10) faces a rematch against Wabash (7-13) at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
The Kings defeated the Apaches 86-67 during an afternoon game less than three weeks ago.
Cass coach Jon Kitchel said Wabash is a dangerous team.
“We can’t go in there overconfident. They shoot so many shots, if they happen to get on they’ll be a load,” he said. “They will outshoot us. We hope to outscore them. They will try to get 80 or 90 shots up in the game. Our job defensively is to challenge those shots, give them one and rebound and try to finish on the other end.”
Austin Keisling averages 16.1 ppg to lead the Kings. Jordan Miller adds 10.5 ppg, and Blake Hadley and Ryan Aldridge each add 9.5 ppg. Miller and Aldridge both pull down 7 rebounds per contest.
In other games of the sectional, North Miami (1-19) faces Oak Hill (12-8) at 7:30 p.m. tonight. The winner faces Manchester (6-14) in the 6 p.m. semifinal on Friday.
The 6 p.m. game on Wednesday pits Southwood (11-9) vs. Northfield (14-7). The winner faces the Cass-Wabash winner at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The championship game is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“It’s a wide open sectional. Four or five teams can win it,” Kitchel said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play each night. We have to win the first one to advance.”
Lafayette Jeff Sectional
Logansport (12-8) drew a bye and will play in the later semifinal on Friday. The Berries await to play the winner of tonight’s contest between McCutcheon (13-8) and Harrison (10-11).
No. 8-ranked Kokomo (19-2) faces Marion (10-12) tonight. The winner plays Lafayette Jeff (7-14) in the earlier semifinal on Friday. The championship game is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.