I remember the old days of Roller Derby, when the San Francisco Bay Bombers were down a couple of points on the very last jam, and Mike Gammon, “The Fastest Man on Skates,” would cruise around the track and then, with the help of Charlie O’Connell, zip past to score the winning points.
Of course, it was all scripted.
Those who controlled Roller Derby knew that spectators needed an “America’s Team” to score improbable victories in the final seconds to keep ratings up.
Not so with Indiana high school basketball.
Improbable last-second victories are the norm, and there certainly is no favorite team.
Take a look at the final 16 Class 4A teams as they head into the regionals Saturday and you won’t find a real favorite. Sure, Munster (25-0), Evansville Harrison (22-1), Carmel (21-2), Pike (22-3) and Columbus North (23-1) stand out. But none of those teams is a lock to win even their first game on Saturday morning. These teams are all four victories away from a state championship, and they all are worried about getting to the round of eight.
It’s just the nature of the game right now in Indiana that there is no steamroller that flattens the competition. Most nights, the games aren’t decided until the final moments, even if there seems to be a large talent disparity between the teams. Why is that the case?
“Can I pinpoint that?” asked North coach Jason Speer. “I don’t know. I would lean toward the kids working so hard and the coaches preparing them so well.”
While Munster is unbeaten, it struggled to win its sectional, beating a 15-8 Lake Central team 43-41 in overtime. Five of Evansville Harrison’s wins have been by five points or less, and Pike has six victories by five points or less. Carmel won its sectional title game by 20, but only beat Noblesville 43-40 in the semifinal game.
North’s 49-48 victory against Franklin during the regular season probably prevented it from moving from the No. 2 ranking to No. 1.
As Speer said, Columbus North has become a sectional champion partially by learning how to
win when it doesn’t play great basketball.
Anyone who has followed the team through its season has seen it. It always seems that somebody different steps forward to take control when things are out of sorts.
Now, though, the stakes are higher. Not playing great is not an option.
Not playing great means the season will be over.
North already has made its community proud with a terrific regular season and its first sectional title since 1997. Each step now is calculated with multipliers. Did you reach the final eight? Was it a magical final four season? Did you cement a slice of Indiana basketball lore with a state championship?
Speer is confident that his players will be up to the task. He said that one reason that North has played out of sorts at times is that his coaching staff puts players in tough spots.
“We have put guys in positions that make them feel uncomfortable,” Speer said. “Tori (Jackson) takes up so much space on the block.”
Speer was talking about the fact that with the 6-foot-8 Jackson roaming the paint, 6-foot-7 Josh Speidel and 6-foot-8 Elliott Welmer often are playing the perimeter and handling the ball.
That might make for a few extra turnovers as Speidel and Welmer have worked on their skill sets, but it creates problems for the opponent. “We try to make the other team match up with us,” Speer said.
While it might be a no-brainer to think that teams would press the Bull Dogs when they have so many big men on the court, Speer explained that North’s superior height allows his team to throw the ball “over the top” of a press. “No team has been able to press us,” he said.
Speer also has been forced to make tough decisions regarding his personnel. Some players who started have seen little time and others who had key roles might have had their minutes reduced.
“Basically, there are 32 minutes out there,” Speer said. “Someone always is going to play more. It’s up to the people who play more and play less how they figure the season will go.”
Speer said it’s never easy to decide playing time when a team is stocked with talent.
“You need to have communication on the front end about what it is going to take to achieve your goals,” he said. “You have to be up front and honest.”
Then when you get it all down, a team with a .500 record takes your team to the final seconds.
No. 3 North opens regional play at 10 a.m. Saturday against Franklin Central, which has an 11-10 record, at Seymour High School. Considering the way things have gone with Indiana basketball, you can expect it to go down to the final seconds.
You might want to be there when it does.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 379-5632.
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