ELNORA — The final week of the Indiana boys basketball regular season in Southwestern Indiana comes to a close Friday. That means the area’s second season is ready to begin Tuesday with the sectional as the stretch run for a state championship is about to begin.
Class A Sectional 63 and Class 3A Sectional 31 have produced multiple state champions in years past and countless classic tournament clashes.
Washington (6-13) has had an up and down year, but the Hatchets’ play is trending upward as the regular season comes to a close. After a 2-10 start to the season, which included seven straight losses, the Hatchets have rebounded by winning four of their last seven games entering the regular season finale tonight at Evansville Memorial.
“We are playing a lot better now than we were earlier in the season,” said Washington coach Gene Miiller. “We have been in most of the games down the stretch and the last time we lost in a close game (60-56 to North Daviess, Tuesday night), we had the ball in our hands and a chance to tie the game or win it, but we didn’t get the job done. We have been right there, it’s just a matter of us making the plays down the stretch. When it comes to tournament time, it’s not necessarily the best team that wins it, but who is playing the best on that particular night.”
Sectional 31 will have one game Tuesday night and two games Wednesday night as the tournament tips off at Southridge. Jasper-Mitchell will play Tuesday at 7 p.m. and Heritage Hills-Vincennes Lincoln will play at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and the Hatchets will follow with matchup against No. 12 Southridge Wednesday night at 8 p.m. Washington lost in its game earlier this season to the Raiders, 61-52 on Feb. 18 on the same floor the teams will share Wednesday night. Washington will look to Colten Garland and Connor Brown to get the Hatchets going offensively from the perimeter against Southridge.
“We have to do some things better,” Miiller said. “We’ve got to do a better job of defending the post and we have to do a better job of rebounding the basketball — those are the two things we have to do better for the second time we play them.”
Heading into Sectional 63 at North Daviess, No. 1 Barr-Reeve (19-1) is the favorite to win its second straight sectional, but if history serves as a guide, this group of teams is one of the best in the state, but also can create an upset or two in the process. The Vikings entered the season as the top-ranked team and have gotten every team’s best shot and that won’t change next week.
Barr-Reeve will kick off Tuesday night’s games with a matchup against rival North Daviess. The Vikings defeated the Cougars, 68-53 at Kavanaugh Kourt on Jan. 25 as part of the annual Buggy Bowl game. While the Vikings have one blemish on their schedule — a 51-40 loss to Elizabethtown (Ky.) — the Cougars have had an uneven regular season, but going into the regular season finale at Eastern Greene tonight, North Daviess sits at 10-10. North Daviess coach Brent Dalrymple said his team will be able to learn from its first matchup with the Vikings.
“Even though we have a lot of seniors, we really don’t have a lot of veterans,” Dalrymple said. “We had guys that were playing in that game for the first time, hopefully that helped them mentally and will help settle them down a little bit to understand exactly what they are facing. I think we got a feel for their size, length and quickness. We feel like we have a feel for what to expect as far as stepping on the floor with them.”
Dalrymple said it doesn’t hurt that this time around the game will be on the Cougars’ home court in Elnora. The Cougars will look to play an inside-outside game with guards’ Alex Wittmer and Dusten Cook and forwards’ Kelby Byrer, Austin Buehler and Zach Moore. The winner of the first game Tuesday will face Shoals (2-16) in Friday’s first semifinal.
The Vikings have won 10 straight games and have had only one game decided by five points or less this season. Barr-Reeve has been led offensively this season by senior Micah Bullock and junior Addison Wagler to form a pontent inside-outside combination that has kept opposing defense’s on their heels. Sophomore point guard Logan James has also come on strong down the stretch to give the Vikings a third scoring option. With that being said, Barr-Reeve has shut down opponents with a defense that has allowed just 39.8 points per game.
“Our ingredient for success all year has been playing defense and rebounding the basketball,” said Barr-Reeve coach Bryan Hughes. “These guys have been consistent at it all season and those are probably the two things that we try to go into every game and make sure we take care of.”
In the second game Tuesday night will be Loogootee-Vincennes Rivet. The Lions and Patriots will meet in the sectional first round for the second straight year. Last year, Loogootee avoided a first round upset narrowly at Jack Butcher Arena. The scheduled regular season game between the teams was postponed due to inclement weather and was never made up. The Lions (6-13) have had a rare season under .500 as they have had two different four-game losing streaks. The Patriots (8-12) have won three of their last five games as they enter tonight’s regular season finale at Shoals.
“They are big, they have a lot more experience back than we do and they have some shooters who are capable of putting a lot of points on the board,” said Loogootee coach Mike Wagoner. “I know they can get up and down the floor if they want to and they can shoot the three. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”
The Lions will look to Ryan Howell and Hayden Bell to supply the offensive punch. Howell has been lethal from behind the three-point line and Bell has provided an inside-outside scoring threat. Loogootee returned zero starters from last year’s team that lost in the sectional final to Barr-Reeve, but Wagoner said his team has improved with each game this season.
The winner faces Washington Catholic (4-14) in Friday night’s second semifinal. The Cardinals have doubled their win total from a year ago in coach John Howell’s second year in his second stint at Washington Catholic. The Cardinals have lost four straight game and lost both games against Loogootee (62-49) and Vincennes Rivet (56-34) this season. The Cardinals will need big games offensively from A.J. Sellers, Ethan Wichman and Jon Mitchell in order to have a chance to advance to Saturday’s championship game, no matter the opponent.
Coach John Howell said his team needs to continue to get better on defense. The Cardinals are lacking in size and have struggled against teams with size and will continue to be the biggest challenge facing Washington Catholic.
“We have to find a way to get a little better defensively,” Howell said. “Everybody knows we’re a zone team — we’re not seeing the cutters, so we have to pick those guys up and deny that pass. No matter who you play, both teams are physical down low — even though Loogootee isn’t big, they are physical. Rivet has the big kids. We just have to get better at being more physical.”