By Beau Wicker
This season marks the 50th anniversary of Royal Center High School winning a regional championship in boys basketball in 1963.
With all that Pioneer’s boys basketball team has returning this season, the Panthers are hoping they can get over the hump in Class A regional play.
The Panthers will first have to defend their sectional championship, and they enter as the favorite having won three sectional titles in a row. The sectional this year will be held at West Central.
But there’s a lot of basketball to be played from now until then. First things first, Pioneer opens at Lafayette Jeff on Wednesday night.
The Panthers return all but 7 points and 7 rebounds from a year ago in production, but they are dealing with a key injury to start the season, as Mitchell Williams will be out of the lineup for at least a month due to a broken wrist suffered during football.
“Without a doubt he does a little bit of everything for us,” Pioneer coach Pat Skaggs said. “He’s obviously one of our better defenders and an excellent rebounder. He’s 6-4 now. He does a lot of little things for us. We’re anxious to get him back.”
When Williams returns to the court, they Panthers will have four starters back from last year’s team that went 19-6 and won a share of the Midwest Conference title with Caston.
“Obviously we have high expectations,” Skaggs said. “Right now we’re battling the flu bug and we’re waiting on Mitchell Williams to come back. We’re a little behind where we’ve been the last couple years at this time, but we have a good group of kids and they’re working hard. We’ll get there.”
The Panthers are led by 6-foot senior point guard Brandon Scruggs (13.2 ppg, 6.8 apg), 6-3 senior forward Matthew Dorris (12.1 ppg, 6.5 rebounds per game) and 6-4 sophomore sharp-shooting guard Carter Skaggs (12.5 ppg), the coach’s son.
Scruggs and Dorris have been mainstays in the Panthers’ lineup in recent years.
“They’re both doing a fine job so far,” Pat Skaggs said. “I’ve been really fortunate with this senior class. Matt Dorris and Brandon Scruggs have helped us win three sectionals in a row. They’ve had major roles in the last two. Hopefully they continue to lead us as they have and hopefully we get back to where we were last year at the end of the season.”
Carter Skaggs could have an expanded role this year.
“Carter will have to play more inside than what he did last year,” Pat Skaggs said. “He’ll have to be more versatile, scoring inside and out.
“Obviously he’s taller and stronger than he was last year. Hopefully he can step up his play.”
Pat Skaggs said 5-10 senior forward Stephen Whitlock and 5-11 junior guard Blake Johnson will likely fill the other two starting spots for now. Johnson can share the point guard duties with Scruggs.
Two contributors off the bench are senior forwards Clayton Harvey (6-6) and Dillon Stanton (6-0).
“We have eight seniors and several of them are starters. Several are battling for what minutes they can get,” Pat Skaggs said. “We have four freshmen out there who are doing a nice job for us as well. Practices are pretty competitive and they’re working hard.”
Caston and Tri-County, which pushed Pioneer in last year’s sectional title game, also return a lot and look to be major contenders for both the MWC and sectional titles.
Last year Pioneer was defeated on a last-second shot in a regional semifinal by Fort Wayne Canterbury, 48-46. There was controversy after the game as Pat Skaggs signaled on the sideline for a timeout with 1.3 seconds remaining as the Canterbury fans were erupting, but the officials didn’t see him in time and the game was over. Canterbury went on to defeat Triton in double overtime for the regional title.
The Panthers are hoping for a better ending to this year’s script, and they’ll try to become the most successful boys basketball team from Royal Center since the ’63 Bulldogs team. Royal Center High School consolidated into Pioneer the following year, when the Panthers won a sectional title in their first year of existence way back in the single-class basketball days.