By CARLA KNAPP
Pharos-Tribune sports editor
Logansport’s hopes of a North Central Conference championship in boys basketball may have been stunted last weekend by the 68-59 loss to Class 4A No. 3 Anderson, but that makes little difference to coach Al Rhodes.
“As a coach, I never had the focus on the conference,” said Rhodes. “I think the kids did but I tried to focus them on getting ready for the state tournament. The conference would have been nice, but my goal has always been a sectional championship.”
The Berries (12-4, 3-3 NCC) have four games left before the start of the postseason, beginning with tonight’s game at Marion. But while Logan is out of the NCC title hunt, Marion (13-4, 4-1 NCC) is still in the thick of it with Anderson as the only two teams with just one conference loss.
But even if this game didn’t mean first place in the conference for the Giants, Rhodes knows it would still be a challenge.
“They’re an excellent half-court team,” said Rhodes. “They have an excellent half-court defense. They’ve really improved in execution and playing as a team on offense. If you look at their losses, all four of their losses were to excellent basketball teams. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Marion is currently riding a seven-game winning streak, including recent wins over Huntington North, Ft. Wayne Northrop and Warsaw. The Giants lead the NCC in rebounding with more than 33 boards per game and are second — to Logansport — in field goal percentage with over 48 percent accuracy.
The team’s offense is led by Julius Mays, who averages 15.8 points per game. Also, T.J. Jones adds 14.8 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game while Billy Pettiford averages 9.2 boards per game.
The Berries are led by K.C. Victor’s average of 15.1 points per game while Kory Rombold is close behind with 14.9 points. On the boards, Rombold pulls in 6.7 per game while Zach Deitrich averages 5.4 rebounds per game.
In last Friday’s loss to Anderson, Rhodes said he was pleased with the team’s overall effort and felt it made some key improvements. But the Berries still have some strides to make before the start of the postseason.
“Our composure and maturity have been excellent all season,” said Rhodes. “We responded well to the losses against Kokomo and Harrison and I expect us to respond well after this loss. February is such a tough month. The season is so long and most teams refuse to improve in February. Sometimes I worry that we’ll settle for being a good team instead of working to become a great team. The bottom line comes down to the players choosing to consistently improve instead of being satisfied.”
Lewis Cass vs. Eastern
Both squads have struggled at points this season. While Eastern (2-14, 0-5 Mid-Indiana Conference) has had the roughest time, Cass (9-6, 1-5 MIC) has only earned one conference win. But this should be a good opportunity for the Kings to get another.
The Comets have lost their last 10 games, though four of those — including a 66-63 loss to Elwood on Friday — were by less than 10 points.
“They’re a team that has played close enough to win but hasn’t been able to get over the hump,” Cass coach Basil Mawbey said of Eastern. “Their team has had a lot of adversity this season. ... . I hope we can play well against them and I hope we can get out with a win because this is an important conference game for us.”
Taylor Bowser is leading Cass with an average of 17 points and eight rebounds while Garrett Segraves adds five assists and three steals on average per game.
Caston at Lewis Cass
This is a strong rivalry between two Cass County teams and it should be a battle, just as it has been in recent years.
The Comets (9-8) have come out ahead in the last two meetings, which were decided by a combined 11 points. Caston won last year’s thriller 40-34.
“It’s a county game and we always put a lot of importance on county games,” said Mawbey. “We want to do well against Caston. They’re around .500 right now and I know they’ll want to get a win against us in a county game as we do against them.”
Right now the Kings have a slight advantage on paper, with better averages both offensively and defensively.
Both squads are coming off wins. Caston topped Northfield 59-45 on Wednesday while Cass beat Winamac 53-37 on Saturday.
Both coaches expect this one to be close.
“I think we’re going to see one of their better ball games,” said Caston coach Ryan Bales. “I’m sure they’re going to come ready to play. They’ve struggled at times but they have a few kids that have been around for a while like Segraves and Bowser. We’ll have to do a good job like we did (against Northfield) of establishing things early on the defensive end. They’re a good defensive team as well and I look for a battle on both sides of the court.”
Pioneer at Delphi
These two squads could hardly be more similar on paper.
The Panthers (4-12) are averaging nearly 49 points per game offensively but giving up more than 61 points defensively. The Oracles (4-11) allow nearly 62 points per game defensively while averaging 51 offensively.
After piecing together a good mid-season stretch by winning four of seven games from mid-December to mid-January, the Oracles have lost their last four games by an average of nearly 22 points.
Pioneer, on the other hand, seemed to have some momentum going with wins over Rossville and North White before a a tough 75-47 loss to Culver Academy last week.
Still, two of Pioneer’s four victories this season were on the road. If the Panthers can put together a solid performance in this game at Delphi they have a strong opportunity to pick up their fifth win.
Winamac vs. South Newton
Despite several close efforts, the Warriors (2-15, 1-4 Midwest Conference) can’t seem to snap their current seven-game losing streak. And Saturday’s game against South Newton (9-7, 3-3 MWC) won’t be any easier.
The Rebels average six more points offensively and 11 fewer points defensively. Following two tough losses, South Newton should be prepared for a battle in this one.
By CARLA KNAPP