1981-82 title season was historic for RaidersMarch 6, 2020
By JONATHAN SAXON
HUNTINGBURG — They say there’s nothing quite as magical as Indiana high school sectional basketball. Almost everything in the world stops and fans from near and far descend upon the hosting school’s gym to cheer their teams to victory. Competition is fierce as the teams churn out the best basketball they can muster. And when the final whistle blows, the last team standing not only claims a title, but also rides off into the annals of hardwood history. This is a look back at one of those historic squads — the 1981-82 Southridge basketball team.
The late ‘70s and ‘80s were a high point for the Raiders basketball program. Starting in 1979, the Raiders went on a run in which they won seven sectional titles and produced two state title game berths in nine years. The ‘81-’82 team, which featured a starting lineup of Jeff Cochren, Larry Cochren, Dan Scherry, Stan Roesner and Tim Barnett, came along during the middle of that run.
But to understand the impact of their sectional championship, one must examine the previous season.
Southridge had won two straight sectional titles, and the Raiders found themselves back in the championship game against the Jasper Wildcats on Feb. 28, 1981. They had a 10-point lead with a little more than five minutes left in the game. But a Herculean performance from Mike Ballenger — he scored 20 of his overall 38 in the fourth quarter — pushed the Wildcats past the Raiders for a 69-68 finish. The Raiders sat in the locker room devastated they had let that one get away from them.
“The locker room after the game was as tough a locker room as I’ve ever been through,” said Cochren, 56, who was a junior at the time. “I told Coach (Gary) Duncan that night, ‘We are going to win this for you next year. I promise you that.’ Going into that season, that absolutely was at the forefront of my mind. We blew that game in ‘81.”
“I can remember being so upset watching my brother’s team lose,” added Scherry, 55, who was a sophomore in ‘81. “I don’t know why, but human nature lights a fire in you. You just think, ‘That’s not going to happen to us.’”
That following season, the team came back together with the shared purpose of making it back to the sectional final to earn themselves a bit of redemption for what happened in ‘81. Cochren and Barnett were the only returning starters, but Scherry, Roesner and Jeff’s younger brother, Larry, would soon emerge. In fact, Larry started the season splitting time between the junior varsity and varsity teams, but solidified his varsity role after a breakout performance in the team’s third game against the Northeast Dubois Jeeps.
“Coach put me in and I got pretty hot,” said Larry, 55, who was a junior then. “I hit 12 shots in a short period of time and put myself in a position where they weren’t going to be able to put me back on the JV team.”
All five guys in the starting lineup had played ball together for as long as they can remember, so the team’s roles and chemistry came together quickly. Jeff was a forward and the No. 1 gun who scored in a variety of ways from all over the floor. He went on to win the county scoring title that season, averaging 18.2 points a game, and finished as Southridge’s then all-time leading scorer by the time he graduated. He currently ranks sixth overall with 1,023 points. Larry was the team’s long-range scoring threat, as he liked to pull up from the outside even in a time before the 3-point line from the two-guard spot. Scherry ran the point with his top-notch ball handling skills and had an uncanny knack for getting the ball to his teammates at their best spots on the floor. Roesner manned the other forward position and could play with his back to the basket or drift out to the corners in what we know as a “stretch-four” role. Barnett, at 6-foot-4, was the tallest man on the team, and anchored the paint as their center.
The glue that pulled them all together was Duncan, who coached for 19 seasons and won eight sectional titles at Southridge. Duncan, 74, is credited with knowing when and how to push the right buttons with his players to get the most out of them. He wouldn’t hesitate to bench guys who weren’t playing well, and he was a master at managing the grind of a season so that his teams were peaking going into sectional.
“There were a lot of coaches that I think were better at Xs and Os,” he said. “But I had a way of motivating kids. I had a way of challenging them. If I had any, those were my pluses. When it came to motivating, I did that as good as anyone.”
“He was the kind of guy who could chew your face off one minute, and the next minute you wanted to run through a wall for him,” Jeff added. “He knew how to communicate. He knew the athleticism we had and knew he could turn us loose from time to time. Coach’s biggest strength was his communication skills. He was able to connect with his players and get us to play hard.”
In terms of playing style, the ‘81-’82 team was able to do multiple things on the court. Most of their offense came in the half court through a combination of set plays and free wheeling. Scherry had quick hands and used them to force turnovers that resulted in transition points as well. Jeff was the go-to scoring option, but all of the guys had the ability to put the ball through the hoop, so teams had to respect everyone defensively. The Raiders themselves left a bit to be desired in the defense department, but averaging 63.2 points per game helped offset that.
“We ran a motion offense that set a lot of picks,” said Roesner, 55, who was a junior that season. “We had shooters. We had people that cut well to the basket. We moved and shot the ball well. We were solid at putting the ball in the basket, and we scored enough points to get the job done.”
The team’s only loss came at the hands of the Pike Central Chargers in their second game of the year. Afterward, they enjoyed a 20-game win streak that still stands as the longest consecutive win streak in Southridge history. They won big and scraped out close games, which includes a couple of double overtime wins in the course of the season. By the time sectional came around, the Raiders were experiencing combined feelings of excitement, competitiveness and resolve to right the wrong they had experienced in the prior season’s tournament.
“We were very determined,” Scherry said. “That sectional week you felt like you could jump a little higher, your passes were crisper and everything was so sharp. We were excited, and not one time during that week did I ever fret and feel it’s slipping away.”
“We weren’t overconfident, because some of our games with sectional opponents were pretty close during the year,” Larry added. “We had a lot of respect for those teams, but we were confident because all of us had played together. We weren’t worried about any situation that we couldn’t handle.”
The Raiders started sectional play with a revenge game against the Wildcats on March 5, 1982, which they won 66-53. They met the Forest Park Rangers the following Saturday in the championship game. The title game was a low-scoring affair, as the Rangers worked to slow down the more up-tempo Raiders. Jeff fouled out with less than three minutes left to play, but the Raiders had a five-point lead, and he met with his teammates to give them a final word before he went to the bench.
“My message to them was they could win this without me,” Jeff said. “They may not have listened to one thing I said, but I wanted them to think about that.”
From there, Roesner and fellow junior Mike O’Brien nailed five free throws in the last 11 seconds of the game that sealed a 48-44 win for the Raiders. Roesner remembered sharing a special moment with his father and school principal, Ray, while he went on one of his trips to the line to seal the game.
“He would always stand in the tunnel where we came out of the locker room,” he said. “For some reason, when I shot that first free throw, I made eye contact with him. It was a special moment. It was like, ‘Yeah, we finally did it.’”
The Raiders went on to win the next season’s title and a lot more to follow, but they still remember the feeling of cutting down the nets on the ‘81-’82 season like it was yesterday.
“There was a lot of relief,” Larry said. “There were a lot of happy thoughts for our seniors. When you’re an underclassman, you don’t want your seniors to go out with a loss.”
“The feeling was just as good, if not better, being a senior and doing it,” added Jeff, who also played on the ‘80 sectional title team with Barnett. “Knowing the very last time we played on that floor we were able to walk out of there and cut the nets down. It was a big deal to be able to do that.”
All of the members of the team have moved on to bigger and better things with their lives. Jeff will soon take over as the principal at Heritage Hills High School, Larry is athletic director at Washington High School, Scherry is the North Spencer County School Corporation superintendent and Roesner is a manager for Frantz Building Services. But the guys all get transported back to their heyday around this time of year, and they love using that experience to connect with the kids of today as they all gather to enjoy the magic of Indiana sectional basketball.
“The real season starts in the beginning of March,” said Larry, one of the many adages he shares with the Hatchet student-athletes. “At the end of the day, people only remember who wins the sectional. I try to share that no matter what sport it is.”
“That week, you felt like you were walking on air, and the community got behind it,” Scherry added. “There was no bickering about who got more attention. Everybody was in for the same cause. It was such a neat experience. This time period should be such a great experience for kids. I hope they drink it all in.”
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