Regional matchups set for Saturday
Mar. 8—The new-look regional will have plenty of familiar faces playing in familiar places on Saturday. The North Daviess Cougars will advance to the 3A Regional at the Hatchet House, while Loogootee will play and host the 1A Regional at Jack Butcher Arena.
In the new format, two Class 3A regional champion teams will come from Washington and two from Lebanon to make 3A Southern Regional Champions that will feed into the Southern semi-state. The same will hold true in Class A with the two winners from Loogootee and Martinsville.
For the semi-state, there will be four teams, and the format will be similar to the former regional format (with two morning games and a championship game that evening), but the blind draw won't be until Sunday at 3 p.m. There will then be the two morning games, and then the winners of those games will be playing in the semi-state championship that evening. The semi-state sites in the South will be New Castle (New Castle Fieldhouse), Southport (Southport Fieldhouse), Seymour (Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium) and Washington (Hatchet House). However, who is going where won't be determined until Sunday.
In the 3A Sectional, North Daviess defeated Washington in the sectional final for the right to remain on friendly turf against Gibson Southern in the 7 p.m. game. ND, the defending 1A State champions, were moved up to 2A this spring and elected to play in 3A. This year the Cougars were ranked as high as No. 2 in 3A and played one of the toughest schedules in the state, playing the No. 1 and/or No. 2 team in all four classes and are currently 23-5, with their final win being against Washington 42-28 in the sectional, as well as beating Vincennes Lincoln and Pike Central.
The Cougars lost against 4A power Penn and 3A NorthWood at the Hall of Fame Classic, along with razor-thin losses to No. 1 Bloomfield and No. 1 Linton. ND's only loss in 3A came to Connersville, a team that was eliminated at sectional on the first night.
ND has been impressive all year, including wins over Loogootee, Terre Haute North (4A), Blackhawk, Washington, Orleans, South Knox, Barr-Reeve, Beech Grove, Seymour (4A) and Evansville Christian, as ND ended up outscoring opponents by almost 15 points this year (58.2-43.8) and scored more than 70 six times.
Coach Brent Dalrymple is now in his 23rd season and will be looking for his 340th win on Saturday. Dalrymple has won all seven of the school's sectionals, four regionals, one semi-state and 2022 state championship.
"We do have a lot of experience returning from last year's team, but this is a very different type of team. We knew that we would have to be a very different type of team then won in Class A. This team is a lot faster, bigger and stronger because 3A requires a different type of team. We just can't focus on stopping just one player, these teams are just more complete. We had to become North Daviess 2.0," said Dalrymple. "We play a lot faster, press more and we look different than a lot of past North Daviess teams."
This year the Cougars return the majority of the 2022 championship team including Jaylen Mullen, Lance and Logan Wilson, Brendan and Braden Stickles. They also feature senior newcomer Austin Brower.
Mullen will be playing at OCU next season and has handled the point for the last four years. He is now the school all-time leading scorer and assist provider and has been the team's second top rebounder. He is averaging just under 18 ppg, 4.8 boards and 5.5 assist. His importance to the team is immeasurable, but he is by no means a one-man show. Lance and Logan Wilson are a pair of extremely athletic 6-3 twins that can play about any spot on the floor. They combine for 24 ppg game and just under 10 boards as a tandem.
Brendan Stickles is 6-5 with the ability to ramp up the crowd with a dunk and is a solid rebounder getting around 8 ppg. Braden Stickles and Brower have shared time in the starting lineup, with both having the ability to play on the perimeter, play defense and provide rebounds. Brower averages around 4.5 ppg and Stickles 3.8.
"I think everyone has just gotten better this season. The Wilsons have gotten better and are physically a lot tougher. They just have so much more confidence. Jaylen is just so good and Brendan Stickles didn't even start last year and he is just so important to us right now," added Dalrymple.
The Cougars will face off against Mark Rohrer's Gibson Southern team. Rohrer, a former Barr-Reeve standout, has now won sectional titles at South Knox, Southridge and with the Titans. He is 163-114 in just his 11th year and 24-24 at GS. This is the team's first sectional since 2002 and fifth since 1975. They did win two sectionals in the late 1990s, both in the Hatchet House.
The Titans started off 0-6 and then went 13-6 after that, posting wins in eight of their last nine, including wins this season over Washington, Southridge, Barr-Reeve, Boonville and Mater Dei.
"This team just never got down, even when we were 0-6 or 3-9. I think the season really turned around with some wins on Saturdays after losses on Friday. We got clobbered by Evansville Christian on a Friday and the beat Washington the next night. I think belief is an important thing and after some of those wins, this team started to believe," said Rohrer.
They are led by seniors Jaxun Lamb, Ethan Spindler and Cole McKee. Lamb is averaging 13. 5, while Spindler and McKee are right around 10.5. McKee is the top 3-point shooter, knocking down 41%
"The funny thing is, until last weekend, we really didn't have all three playing well at the same time. However, when they are, they are very tough," said Rohrer.
In the paint, Maxx Wilson (6-4") leads the team with 5.6 boards a game, while Isaac O'Neal (6-4") posts 4.6 rpg.
"They are a little like the Wilson brothers at North Daviess but they don't score as much. They aren't traditional big men, in fact both were football wide receivers. Maxx was our seventh JV player last year and was just 5-10" but went through a growth spurt. O'Neal is another one who has grown and improved a lot since his sophomore year."
In the other game at Washington at 4 p.m., will be 20-5 Scottsburg and 20-6 Greensburg. The winner of that game will also be a regional champ and will move into the four-team semi-state draw.
Class A Loogootee
The Lions ended up in battle with Orleans on Saturday in a game where the Lions kept the Bulldogs to just 10 points for three quarters, but watched Orleans nearly comeback to get the win. However, at the end of the night it was Loogootee hoisting its first title since 2017.
This was the first title for coach Ryan Haywood at Loogootee, who has now won sectionals at three schools — Loogootee, Princeton and Mount Carmel, Ill. (when he was at Mount Carmel in Illinois, the first round of the tourney is referred to as regionals).
The Lions will be taking on Blue Chip rival Northeast Dubois, who only have to make a 20 minute trip from Dubois.
"I think they are a team that surprised a lot of people by beating Evansville Christian at sectional in the final in overtime, by I wasn't really that surprised. They have five seniors and play with a lot of experience, which means so much during the tourney," said Haywood.
The Lions come in at 18-7, but Haywood thinks his team is playing some of its best basketball right now. They started out the year 1-2 with losses to Evansville Christian and North Daviess. They lost two games during the Bobcat Classic at North Daviess, but were without injured Peyton Bledsoe and Parker Arvin, who suffered injuries. There was one other losing streak where they lost three out of four, but those losses came to No. 1 Bloomfield, No. 2 Orleans and 4A BNL. However, since then, they have won eight straight.
"We were really tested when Peyton Bledsoe missed those five games. But guys really stepped up and we were able to turn a negative into a positive," added Haywood. "I really think we began to turn it around starting with the BNL game."
In the final games of the season, Bledsoe became the schools all- time leading scorer, passing Jeff Doyle and Brian Canada. However, senior Isaac Eagle has also stepped into the limelight during the second half of the season, providing a different type of scoring option from just the team's 3-point success (shooting 42% as a team from behind the arc). "Isaac has help take some pressure off Peyton and has really helped free up Drew Walker as well. They are both playing with so much confidence now."
Walker provides size and athleticism and is a good complement to 6-5 Parker Arvin, who also has an inside outside game.
Leighton Jeffers has handled the point for Loogootee all season and has an impressive 5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. In fact, as a team, the Lions are also making less than eight turnovers per game. Coming off the bench has been Camden Haywood and AJ Foster, both freshmen and Brendon Bledsoe, who shares 3-point skills with his brother Peyton.
For NE Dubois, the Jeeps come in at 14-10 with an upset win over Evansville Christian in the sectional final. The Jeeps lost to Loogootee 56-39 just two weeks ago, along with losses to Jasper, Southridge, Barr-Reeve, Orleans and Bloomfield, all quality opponents.
"They have two bigs who really control the paint. They are a very strong physical team with a lot of senior experience. The also have No. 6-4 Noah Betz and Ty Kalb who can really hurt you from anywhere," said Haywood.
Gaige Schepers and Josiah Stephens both come in at 6-3", while Ty Verkamp, and Peyton Betz are all seniors who have made this a very experienced team. Sheppers led the team on Saturday with a 22-point night. There are seven seniors on the roster.
Junior Grant Gollar is just a junior, but is a key contributor getting around 10 ppg for long-time coach Terry Friedman as well.
The 7 p.m. game at Loogootee and will feature New Washington (13-13) vs. Rock Creek Academy (10-14). The winner of that game will go back into the semi-state game, along with the winner of the Loogootee-NED game.