by Beau Wicker
ROYAL CENTER —
At this football-loving school, they’ve put Pioneer back on the map in basketball.
This year’s Pioneer’s boys basketball team consists of veteran players that have had a big hand in the Panthers winning four straight sectional titles. The Panthers had only won two sectionals previous to the current run.
The Class A No. 4 Panthers enter Saturday’s Triton Regional with a 20-3 record.
The Panthers rely heavily on their starting lineup that includes four seniors — Brandon Scruggs, Matthew Dorris, Mitchell Williams and Stephen Whitlock. The only underclassman that sees significant time is sophomore Carter Skaggs, the coach’s son.
The Panthers have good size for a small school with Dorris at 6-3, Williams at 6-4 and Skaggs at 6-5.
Scruggs, a 6-1 point guard, has been on fire of late and solid all season. He was recently named the Midwest Conference Player of the Year.
He also could have been named the MVP of last week’s West Central Sectional, where he averaged 24.3 points in three lopsided wins. He had a classic performance knocking down shots from all over the court for a career-high 36 points in a 67-44 win over Caston to get the Panthers’ tournament run off to a roaring start.
Scruggs is averaging 15.2 points and 7 assists per game this season.
Dorris, at 6-3, is a classic small-school Indiana high school post player that plays bigger than his size. He’s posted up 12 points and 6 rebounds per game this season. A solid all-around athlete, he’s also a standout football player and sprinter in track.
Williams is a glue guy for the team that does a little bit of everything for the Panthers. He’s averaging 7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game.
Williams broke his wrist while playing quarterback for the Panthers, who coincidently also finished the regular season ranked No. 4 in Class A last fall. He had a quick return from the injury and is also shooting the ball well of late.
Whitlock is another football standout. He’s set to play college football as a linebacker at Division-II Indianapolis. The 5-11 forward is also a scrappy player on defense for the Panther boys basketball team.
Skaggs is the team’s leading scorer at 19 ppg. The 6-5 sophomore lefty has a quick release on his jump shot. A prolific bomber, he’s shooting 37 percent from 3-point range and has knocked down 57 treys on the season. He’s shooting 61 percent from 2 and is 73 of 80 from the foul line (91.3 percent).
Scruggs is the team’s leading 3-point shooter. He’s knocked down 58 on the season and is shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc. He’s shooting 50 percent from 2.
Dorris is shooting 60 percent from the field.
Seniors Tyler Beaupre and Alex Boonstra have been the Panthers’ first two players off the bench during the stretch run.
Coach Pat Skaggs is 4-for-4 in winning sectional titles at Pioneer. The Panthers are seeking their first regional win during that time.
The Panthers are the highest ranked team in this year’s regional field, but it’s once again a loaded field.
The Panthers face unranked Gary 21st Century (15-7) at 10:30 a.m. in the first semifinal on Saturday.
This is the second year that 21st Century, a charter school, has competed in the IHSAA Tournament. The Cougars knocked off No. 5 Kouts 56-49 last week in sectional play.
“They’re an extremely athletic team that has excellent guard play,” Pat Skaggs said. “They like to press both man and zone. We’re going to have to take really good care of the ball and make good decisions. We’ll have to play really smart to have a chance to compete this weekend.”
The Cougars have four players that average in double figures. They’re led by 6-5 senior Louis Brown’s 13.6 ppg and 8.9 rpg.
No. 10 Triton (17-5) and No. 13 Fort Wayne Canterbury (15-8) will meet in the later semifinal.
Triton is led by Valparaiso recruit Clay Yeo, who is averaging 26.8 ppg and 8 rpg.
Canterbury is the defending regional champion.