The IHSAA tournament has me thinking about the last game of my high school career. It was five years ago. I played for Highland and we opened up against Lake Central, which was ranked eighth in the state. The sectional was at East Chicago, which has the second biggest gym in the country.
We came into the game at 8-13. LC was 18-3. We had lost to them earlier in the season at home by 44. We would need a miracle to beat them.
We set up a plan to stall the entire game. In the back of my head, I was thinking, “this is never going to work.” That game plan fails 99% of the time. The only time I ever saw it work was in 2012. Highland took on defending state champs Bishop Noll. Highland coach Eddie Fierek set up a game plan to eat clock the entire game. As a JV player at the time, I played defense during practice for what seemed like eight hours that week. BNI had won 30-plus games in a row. It was layups or nothing the entire game for the Trojans. The game plan worked and Highland won 57-44.
I wasn’t confident that we could do the same against LC. Their starting five was loaded. Tye Wilburn was an all-area point guard. Matt Meneghetti was one of the best shooters in the state, and Tyler Ross was a perfect 6-7 wing man. Corey Dickelman was a stretch-four and could out jump anyone, and Tyler Wideman was nothing short of a beast at 6-8. They also had great role players off the bench. Wilburn, Ross, and Wideman went on to have good college careers. I had played AAU with Corey and was well-acquainted with his jumping ability. As a 6-3 post player, I was also well-acquainted with the many talents of Ty Wideman. I had guarded him since middle school.
In eighth grade, I watched Wideman block one of my teammate’s shots off the scoreboard.
At Highland, we had a lot of seniors, which is a plus in the tournament. But we had real trouble taking care of the ball and would wind up committing a ton of turnovers.
Heading into the game, I was nervous. It was sectionals, and it was my job to stop Ty Wideman, or at least slow him down. Thousands of people were there. From the opening tip, we were in over our heads. We had real trouble holding hold on to the ball. I remember Wideman guarding me very tightly and the refs never blowing the whistle. I caught the ball near the half court line and tried to dribble and Wideman scratched me on the arm. Nothing. No whistle. So I was fed up early. LC went on to end the first quarter with a 14-0 head start. We didn’t even score in the first quarter. Looking back, I realize that the game was already over at point.
Meneghetti torched our team hitting seven three’s for 21 points to lead all scorers. Wideman ended up with six points. I never settled into the game and didn’t score a single point. It was the only game all season I didn’t score. The nerves got the best to me. But, I didn’t let that stop me from having a memorable last game.
In the fourth quarter with about four minutes left, we were down by more than 30 points and had the ball. I went to set a down screen and saw Joe Bannister running right at me. He ran through me like he was trying to sack a quarterback. I heard a whistle blown from behind me. I thought for sure that it would be a foul on Bannister.
Nope. Offensive foul. I couldn’t believe it
“Are you f-----g kidding me!” I yelled at the ref. “You haven’t given us a call once.”
It was the first time I had ever cussed at a ref and it felt great.
I was, of course, met with the first technical foul of my life. With the offensive foul and the technical foul, that gave me five on the night. So with nothing to lose, I pressed on.
I untucked my jersey and made my way over to the ref. I may have even waved a finger in his face. I don’t remember.
“You’ve been sucking up to the best team in the area all night.” I said. “They didn’t need your help in this one.”
The Highland fans behind our bench cheered loudly. I took me a few seconds to realize what I had just done, which was to get ejected from the last game I would ever play. We lost 76-39. After the game I told my AAU teammate, Dickelman, to go all the way. LC almost did. They lost in the finals to Indiana Tech, who had Trey Lyles. He went to Kentucky and ended up playing in the NBA.
In all irony, my current boss, Jim Dedelow, was walking into the Barato Center as all of this was happening. He saw the whole thing. He takes great pleasure in making me recount the story every couple of months on the air.
I don’t recommend to players in the IHSAA tournament to go out like I did. I prompt them to play as hard as they can and leave it at that. Win or lose, life will go on.
On the other hand, I do not regret my exit. It was a sincere expression of my feelings at the time. I went out with a bang and a decent story to tell every March for the foreseeable future.
Here's my picks for this year's local sectionals of the the Indiana High School Athletic Association boys basketball tournament.
Class A Sectional 49 Morgan Township
LaCrosse (8-12) vs #5 Kouts (18-3)
I don’t know much about LaCrosse other than their wins this season were games they should have won. These two teams play each other Friday at Kouts and it will show how much of a chance the Tigers stand against the No.5 team in 1A. Kouts goes as the Wireman bros go. The three brothers contribute to over 50% of the scoring for the Mustangs. They also have a versatile player in Zach Nomanson. Kouts should win this matchup.
#14 Morgan Township (12-6) vs #6 Gary 21st Century (15-6)
Considering 21st went on the road and put up 100 on Morgan Twp. I’m not giving the Cherokees a fighting chance in this one. 21st plays a schedule more similar to a 3A school. Their tough schedule will have them prepared to take on this sectional. Junior Johnell Davis has quietly been one of the best scorers in the Region at 25 PPG. He’s nearing Northern Illinois standout Eugene German’s all-time scoring milestone at the school. No one in this sectional can stop Davis.
#11 Washington Township (14-6) vs Hammond Science & Tech (2-17)
These teams tipped of their seasons against each other. You could say it set the tone for both teams, and they went in different directions. Washington Twp. has played in a handful of close games this year. If it wasn’t for a buzzer beater in the Porter County Conference Tournament they would’ve had their first ever PCC tourney title. I like the size of 6’7 junior Austin Darnell. He can do a little bit of everything, and shoots well from outside. He will be a tough matchup for any team in this sectional. The Senators won’t have to sweat this game.
Westville (9-10) vs the winner of LaCrosse vs Kouts
If Westville ends up playing Kouts, this will be the third meeting between the two teams this season. They split the matchups. So it could be a tight game, but Kouts seemed to make some adjustments in the second matchup because they won by 24. So I’ve got Kouts handling the Blackhawks.
Winner: 21st Century
This team has too many athletes to be stopped. Their speed will cause a lot of teams problems. They’re currently on a nine-game win streak. Coach Rodney Williams has the Cougars ready to pounce on the postseason.
Dark Horse: Washington Twp.
I mentioned the length in Darnell at 6’7, but the Senators also have a 20 PPG scorer in Colin Burton. If these two play well they could pull their team through this sectional.
Class 2A Sectional 33 Lake Station
Andrean (13-8) vs Bishop Noll (11-9)
This sectional could be very interesting, and it starts off with the most interesting game. Everyone knows these two schools are rivals. Both basketball programs have had success in the past decade. Andrean has the size in Ross and Kendrick at 6’7. Morgan Grant will be outsized and the 59ers will have to capitalize. When Grant doesn’t get going BNI struggles. Brandon Scott will get his, but Grant is the X-factor. Senior John Carrothers will be a big part if Andrean wants to get back to regionals. I’ve got Andrean with the edge. BNI could win this one if they play to their potential.
Bowman Academy (10-10) vs River Forest (9-11)
Bowman by far has played the tougher schedule. Right now River Forest is struggling to find a win their only win in the last nine games came against 4-14 Gavit. This year Bowman isn’t lead by a sure D-1 athlete, but they have a number of guys that contribute. The one thing the Ingots have in their favor is they play hard. Hustle is rewarded in the postseason so I’ll give them a chance. If Bowman plays solid they move on.
Whiting (11-11) vs Gary Roosevelt (3-12)
Whiting has a star player in G’angello Reillo and he really does it all. I mean he posted two triple doubles this season and had 40 points in one of them. The Oilers struggled around Christmas losing 9 of 10 games. Coach Mercer “changed the oil” and now their motor is running smoothly. Whiting will head into sectionals with a seven-game win streak. They win this one and might even get to the title game.
Lake Station (15-6) vs winner of Andrean vs BNI
The Eagles will be playing on their home floor. That’s always a plus. They also have the best record in the sectional, but some say throw the records out the window come postseason. So forget their record. Let’s look at what they’ve got to offer. This team hasn’t lost back-to-back games. They play hard. They can score with the best in the Region averaging 70 PPG. Led by Dominique Smith with 20 PPG they also have three other players that average double figures. They won’t be an easy out.
This team has a good chance to repeat. Kyle Ross needs to dominate around the rim. The 59ers have a handful of reliable role players that can make the ultimate difference.
Dark Horse: Bowman
If they bring the energy to games and pressure other teams Bowman has a good shot at the title. They’re long and their tempo might be too much for some of these teams.
Class 3A Sectional 17 Hammond Civic Center
#11 Griffith (17-4) vs Hammond (14-5)
These two teams haven’t played each other since the brawl that everyone in the Region would like to forget. I talked to Coach Grayling Gordon and he assured me there is no bad blood between the two programs.It’s just basketball. He mentioned that both coaching staffs get along, and players are even friends with one another. So let’s get to the game itself. Two of the hottest teams in the Region will tip off to start this sectional. This should be the championship game. Griffith started off 3-3 since then they’ve lost once to Munster. They avenged that loss last week. They are currently on a 10-game win streak. They are senior heavy and lead by Corey Landers. He can flat out score and he’s not afraid to get his teammates involved. He’s also a 3-point threat. Guys like Lawson, Kantor, and Gordon can step up in big moments. Hammond lost a decent amount to graduation, but that hasn’t stopped the Wildcats. Amiri Young leads the team with over 15 PPG. Harold Woods has been great as a sophomore. Both teams play a similar style. They want to turn up the pace and force teams to make mistakes. This one will come down to whoever controls the pace and turns the ball over less. I like Griffith in this one.
Gavit (4-14) vs Lighthouse (6-10)
Gavit doesn’t have a player capable of taking over a game. While I don’t know much about Lighthouse, they have played in a handful of tight games. Lighthouse should handle Gavit.
Clark (1-20) vs winner of Griffith vs Hammond
This game will be a well-deserved break for the winner between Griffith and Hammond. I expect those two teams to fight hard in the opening game. Clark doesn’t stand a chance against either of them.
Gary West Side (14-7) vs winner of Gavit vs Lighthouse
West Side surprised a lot of people at the start of the season. They’ve got a fairly young squad with only three seniors. But their size helps. Sophomore point guard Quimari Peterson has stepped up as the leader of this team. He can score, but does a great job of getting his teammates involved. West Side lost to Lighthouse by five earlier this season. I’m sure the Cougars are eager to run that one back. I’m taking West Side to move on to the title game.
This team is experienced. They’re playing their best basketball of the season. I like their role players up and down the roster.
Dark Horse: West Side
Like I said, they’ve surprised people this season. Why not continue to do so. If the stage isn’t too big West Side could come out on top.
Class 3A Sectional 18 Calumet
I know the least about most of the teams in this sectional so I’ll keep this one short.
Knox (11-8) vs Twin Lakes (12-11)
Hanover Central (13-8) vs Wheeler (6-15)
Hanover doesn’t have any impressive wins, either way they should handle this game.
Calumet (13-8) vs winner of Knox vs Twin Lakes
Calumet came out of nowhere last year to win this sectional. Now they’ve got most of that team back. Coach Nelson will be the first person to tell you that their record doesn’t reflect the talent on this team. The Warriors do a little bit of everything. They defend. They can go to the post, or score from outside. Davion Davis has been one of the best scorers in the area with 21 PPG. He knows his role and executes it well. Paris Hernandez is a scrappy point guard and the leader of this team. Bubba Johnson can be a force on the blocks. Calumet should get back to the title game.
Rensselaer Central (9-9) vs winner of Hanover Central vs Wheeler
They’re hungry to go past the sectional and even make a push to semi-state. They’ve got the right players to do so. If they play to their potential this is their sectional to lose.
Dark Horse: Twin Lakes
This team made a state run just two years ago. Sure, they don’t have the same team but maybe they can string together some good performances. Maybe not though, I know nothing about this team other than the teams they’ve played.
Class 4A Sectional 1 Crown Point
East Chicago Central (9-10) vs Highland (4-18)
When EC plays to their strengths they can be a solid team. Coach Jefferson hasn’t gotten the most of his team. I don’t even think EC will need its best to handle Highland. These past two years for Highland were supposed to be a step up from mediorcy. Last year they had an impressive regular season only to lose first game of sectionals. The Trojans have some size and scorers they just haven’t put it all together so far. If they can do so against EC this could be a game. I don’t see that happening. EC wins big.
Munster (18-4) vs Lake Central (10-12)
Of course these two teams face each other right from the jump. In my opinion, this is the best basketball rivalry in the Region. The Mustangs looked like the best team in the area for most of the season. They have gone through a 3-game skid recently. But Coach Hackett will right the ship and get his guys playing at high level for four quarters. Jevon Morris has the ability to take over games. Munster’s roster features seven seniors they’re going to be hungry. Lake Central, on the other hand, is young. They started off slow and only won games when they shot well. Heading into the postseason the Indians have picked up some solid wins. They’re not relying on their shots to fall anymore, their defense and rebounding is winning them games. If Nick Anderson and Kyle Blum can spread the floor Lake Central won’t make this easy for Munster. I still think the experience for Munster is the difference maker in this matchup.
Crown Point (12-8) vs Morton (5-17)
Crown Point is in a good spot heading into sectionals. They just beat Morton by 30 and there’s no reason why they can’t do it again. The Bulldogs spread around the scoring and could surprise people in this sectional.
Lowell (11-11) vs winner of EC vs Highland
This is a great draw for the Red Devils. They can handle EC if they play well. Dustin Hudak and Chris Mantis can take turns scoring. So look for them to try and take on the Cardinals themselves. I still think EC will win this matchup, but it won’t be as lopsided as the first meeting when EC won 64-45.
They’re the favorite. Hackett will have his guys ready. Jevon Morris and Luka Balac will be ready to go. LC, CP, and EC could make this sectional very interesting.
Dark Horse: East Chicago
If EC can come into this sectional wreak havoc and take care of the ball. They won’t be an easy out. EC and Munster have had some classic games in the postseason. We might get to see another one next week.
Class 4A Sectional 2 Portage
Chesterton (16-5) vs Portage (9-14)
Chesterton has had a good season up until this point. The Trojans are disciplined. They move well without the ball and defend with consistency. When they play their best they can hang with any team in the Region. Jake Wadding is one of the best wings in the area. In my opinion, he is the best at finishing around the rim. Nick Mullen at 6-8 adds good size around the basket. Portage’s team is filled with upperclassmen. They’re going to need a good showing at home if they’re going to win this game. Maurion Martin has led the way in scoring for the Indians. He could give Chesterton a hard time. But the Trojans should handle their business in this one.
Kankakee Valley (11-11) vs Hobart (5-17)
These teams played each other last week. KV won at Hobart by nine. This game could be close. Both teams only have one player scoring in double figures. I give the edge to KV because they have a more experienced roster.
Valparaiso (18-5) vs Merrillville (11-11)
The Vikings have played the toughest schedule by far out of any team in NWI. Coach Coolman did this on purpose so his team would be ready come postseason. Brandon Newman, Purdue commit, is averaging just under 30 PPG and over 10 rebounds. He can take over games. He set a school record by scoring 49 points last weekend. Nate Aerts is a 6-7 guard and steps up when needed. The Vikings have found some post presence as well. Merrillville doesn’t really have a star player. They will need to rely on trying to speed up Valpo, and create turnovers. The Vikings will be ready for the pressure. They’ll move on.
Michigan City (10-13) vs winner of Chesterton vs Portage
This will be a good matchup if Chesterton wins the first game. These two teams match up well together. The size and athleticism is there for both teams. Rayshaun Howard is a force inside at 6-7. I think he will have an advantage down low. Jayvion Reid is a good compliment at the two spot. The only problem is Michigan City has struggled to close out close games. They are too lax on defense. I think Chesterton will be the more prepared team.
The Vikings are the favorite, but in this sectional the favorite has only won three times in the last 10 years. Brandon Newman isn’t going to let his team go down before they get out of this sectional.
Dark Horse: Chesterton
They had a rough game against Valpo a week ago. If things are clicking for this team they can hang with Valpo. They have a good amount of role players that can contribute. Jake Wadding will have to step up and score at will if this team wants to have a chance.
Thank you for taking your time to read over these picks. Go to WJOBnetwork.com and check out our schedule for TV and radio coverage. We will be at each sectional for at least one evening.