‘Best Of All Time’ down to Final FourApril 13, 2020
By HERALD STAFF
The Final Four has been set in The Herald’s Best Of All Time basketball bracket.
Hundreds more votes were cast last week as readers continued to help determine the best high school boys basketball team in Dubois County history by whittling the competition from eight to four teams.
After reading about the four remaining teams below, it’s time to vote once again to decide who will make it to the final matchup. Cast your vote through 11 p.m. on Thursday, April 16, on the contest website at DuboisCountyHerald.com/BestOfAllTime.
1. Northeast Dubois (1977)
Northeast Dubois entered the 1976-77 campaign with a seasoned group looking to do what no team did before them — win a sectional championship. They had some senior pieces who previously established success on the court before getting to high school. Mike Archer, Leon Wehr, Steve Sander and Bernie Merkel were all part of a team that won a tournament at Shoals when they were eighth graders, but this was their final chance to be the ones to do it.
“I think we just all knew what our roles were, even at that age,” Merkel said. “We had guys that could score. We had guys that could rebound. We had play makers. It was a group that really complemented each other well. It wasn’t like one guy had to do all the scoring. It may have been one or the other of the four that led the team in scoring from one game to the next. We just had a good balance, and I think that carried on all through high school.”
“The senior group was a very tight group, all of us were,” said Terry Friedman, the current Jeeps coach. “We had had some success in junior high and at the JV level. So, we had pretty high expectations, although I’m not sure the community and then the fans had the same high expectations as what we did.”
The Jeeps had seven seniors on their roster that season. Most of them were homegrown, but moving to Dubois from Louisville his junior year was Greg “Hotdog” Wineinger, who had a prominent role on the 1976-77 squad. His father, Harold, previously played for the Jeeps in the 1950s. Wineinger worked his way into the lineup with the other seniors who had been around, but in no way did he negatively impact the team’s chemistry. He likened how well the Jeeps starters to the University of Michigan’s Fab Five.
“I’m a pretty easy-going guy,” Wineinger said. “All I want to do is play basketball.”
They got off to a 2-2 start, but caught fire the rest of the regular season. Archer went down to injury in a 61-56 loss to Crawford County during the regular season, but the Jeeps were balanced enough to win their final five games of the regular season and finish 15-4. Archer was the team’s scorer, but Wehr averaged 12.4 points per game, Sander 11.2, Merkel 9.7 and Wineinger 9.3 points.
Friedman said the consensus among the team and the doctors was there was no chance Archer would play in the sectional. The team’s preparation was almost exclusively without him there. Friedman thinks Archer saw the success the team had without him, and he wanted to be a part of that. Archer came off the bench both in the semifinals against Forest Park, and the championship against Jasper to help the Jeeps win their first sectional ever.
“It was nothing short of a medical miracle,” Friedman said.
It was one big party in Dubois after the Jeeps bested the Wildcats for the sectional crown. Merkel remembers how surreal it was as the final few seconds wound down for the 60-55 overtime win, and it was one of the longest parties he had ever seen. Northeast Dubois finally broke through, and continued all the way to the semistate championship.
“It’s something that nobody can take away from us,” Merkel said. “We always will be remembered as the first to get it done. I guess it also broke through the glass ceiling and showed for all others that followed that, yes, it can be done.”
3. Southridge (1986)
Southridge enjoyed its best season ever in 1984-85, going 23-5. The Raiders had never won a regional championship, but got all the way to the Final Four at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.
Many teams that go on a run like that would lose key pieces to graduation, but not this bunch. Everybody was back for another shot for the 1985-86 season.
Southridge encountered some early adversity, however. Todd Jochem, a key cog who had the highest points per game average in Dubois County the year before, sustained an injury during football season, and the Raiders had to play part of their season without him.
However, Jochem being out hardly doomed Southridge. The Raiders began the season 5-0, and had the luxury of hosting the Hall of Fame Classic that year. They took down Floyd Central, 54-44, before falling, 58-48, in the championship game against Muncie Central.
“These were large schools,” said Gary Duncan, the team’s coach at the time. “You saw a different style, more run-and-gun, more quickness, definitely Muncie Central, they played a conservative type. They spread you out and we just couldn’t handle them one-on-one.”
Duncan knows how hard it is to go undefeated, and the Raiders bounced back, reeling off eight consecutive wins after that loss. They suffered a couple of setbacks when Northeast Dubois and Heritage Hills bested them in back-to-back games, but those two losses came by a combined total of five points.
However, this setback, in the scheme of things, had no impact. The Raiders finished the regular season 18-4, and locked horns with Jasper in the sectional championship. The Wildcats led as late as 51-50 in the game.
“They had us on the ropes, no doubt about it,” Duncan said. “They had a good game plan and executed it very well.”
However, Jochem was back by this time. Ted O’Bryan, the man who filled in for him, missed a shot, that Jochem put back to give the lead to the Raiders for good, 52-51, and they held on, 55-53, for another sectional championship.
O’Bryan, who was a junior that season, had earned his spot, and was a big reason the Raiders made it back to the Final Four by winning regional and semistate championships again. He averaged 17.5 points in those games of the semistate tournament. His 27 points carried Southridge in a rematch against Floyd Central, 69-57, in the first semistate game it played that day.
“He was consistent all year once he started getting in the lineup full time off and on, and I kept him in the lineup,” Duncan said of O’Bryan. “I can remember, to this day, he couldn’t miss, during especially the Floyd Central ballgame, if I remember right. He just had a phenomenal game.”
The Raiders got their chance for revenge with a rematch against Marion in the Final Four. However, the Giants stormed off to a commanding lead in the first half. Duncan tried to get the Raiders to slow the tempo down because he thought they couldn’t play Marion for 32 minutes while trying to run up and down the floor.
He thinks it might’ve worked in the first half if some of their shots went in. Duncan thought things went better when they ran up and down the floor. It was a closer game, but Marion again stamped out Southridge’s season, 63-54. The Raiders ended the year at 24-5.
In Duncan’s opinion, the 1986 team has its advantages against the 1985 team due to the experience the 1986 squad had.
“I just felt like we were maturing, and physically, we were just a better ball club,” he said.
7. Holland (1968)
Holland entered the 1967-68 season having won just its second sectional in school history the year before, but dealt with turnover going into the year.
The Dutchmen lost Jerry Bueltel, Phil Luebbehusen and Rick Barnett to graduation from the previous year. The only returners were Don Buse, Gerald Hilsmeyer, both seniors, and Steve Henke, a junior. It would be up to those three, and a new cast of varsity characters to try to make a repeat happen.
“We didn’t realize, I think, at that time, the talent that we did have because they really outperformed my expectations,” said Woody Neel, the coach of the Dutchmen that season.
Neel described himself as fair, but demanding. He told of how hard Holland worked to get ready for a rugged season. The Dutchmen spent a lot of time working on defense, and mixed things between the man-to-man and different types of zone defenses. They held opponents to an average of 49.5 points per game in the regular season, by far the fewest of the Dubois County teams.
The Dutchmen started the season by knocking off Ireland, 60-38, and just kept going from there. Some of their games were routs, while others they had to get by, but they found a way to win each time.
“The longer you go and the further you go and not lose a game, that puts a lot of pressure sometimes on the team that’s undefeated, and I did everything in my power to try to keep that pressure off the boys,” Neel said.
However, the Dutchmen encountered their challenges that season, too, especially from Ferdinand. Holland bested the Crusaders twice in the regular season, but the Dutchmen had to work for it. Their first win came in overtime, 63-60. The second was 54-53 in the county tournament. They also escaped with a 60-59 win against Tecumseh. Their 53-35 win against Haubstadt in the season finale made them just the second undefeated team in county history after the 1943 Dubois Jeeps, a tidbit that not even Buse knew until just this weekend.
“I really didn’t feel any pressure as far as going undefeated,” Buse said. “I wanted to win every game I played. I’ve always been that way. I didn’t accept losing very good.”
A main goal of Buse’s growing up was to win a sectional, and he tried to win another as a senior in 1968. However, the Dutchmen had Ferdinand standing in their way again, but once again, etched out a win, 57-53, for the sectional repeat.
Holland was tested again in its first regional game against another 23-0 team in Oolitic. The winner of this game would be the last undefeated team in the state of Indiana that season. The Dubois County Daily Herald reported in its March 4, 1968, edition that the Bearcats were the slight favorite going into the game.
“I think anytime others think that you’re an underdog, you’re probably going to be even more inspired to show and prove people wrong,” Henke said.
However, if people saw Oolitic as the favorite, they were nearly proven right. The Bearcats led, 55-46, with 4:51 to play. However, Hilsmeyer and Phil Meyer led Holland to tie the game at 57. A bucket by Buse, then a Hilsmeyer free throw, carried them past the Bearcats, 61-59.
The Dutchmen met Jeffersonville in the regional championship and led, 32-22, in the second quarter, but struggled coming out of the locker room at halftime. The Red Devils went on a run in the third quarter, and never relinquished the lead. The Dutchmen trie a comeback, ultimately falling, 72-70, ending their season at 24-1.
“It was a good, good group of guys, and we all worked really hard together and all really worked hard to get to that point,” Henke said.
13. Southridge (1985)
Gary Duncan could see just how special Southridge’s Class of 1986 was when he brought them up to compete on varsity when they were underclassmen. After all, they had a lot of success before they even got to high school. But Duncan had a message to them when they were sophomores at the start of the 1983-84 season.
“‘I’m not going to chew you out one time,’’ he told them. “‘I’m going to help you. I’m going to criticize you, but as far as getting upset with you, that’s not going to happen.’”
Things changed when the 1984-85 season rolled around and the Raiders were the reigning sectional runners-up. Duncan told them they had their time to learn, and now they were all his. It was his time to express the feelings the way he felt, and the next two years, beginning with the 1984-85 campaign, was their time to shine.
“We done well,” Duncan said. “That’s all I could say.”
Southridge enjoyed a 15-4 regular-season record. One of its juniors, Todd Jochem, averaged 16.7 points per game, the highest of anybody in Dubois County that season. Jochem and the Raiders got their revenge on Northeast Dubois from the 1984 championship in that year’s opener with a 73-45 rout. The Raiders survived Perry Central, 51-47, to meet Forest Park for the title, and their home fans at Huntingburg Memorial Gym got to see sectional title No. 5 in a seven-season stretch. They downed the Rangers, 57-37.
However, a regional championship still eluded the program entering that year. Southridge won its sixth boys basketball sectional in school history in 1984-85, but hadn’t even won a game in the regional since 1979, despite subsequent appearances in 1980, 1982 and 1983.
“I was always nervous going into the regional,” Duncan said.
Those juniors who had success before high school, though, made sure to carry things over to the prep level. The Raiders got off to a 25-8 lead at one point in the regional championship against North Harrison, but the Cougars rallied. Southridge had its troubles shooting from the free throw line, but did just enough to hang on for a 51-48 win, and the first regional championship in program history.
However, even though the Raiders won some squeakers in the tournament, no such thing happened against No. 3 L&M in the March 16 semistate championship. Duncan thought they had a good game plan for their opponent, and had seen them play before. He praised the Raiders for being on top of their game that night, as Jochem led the way with 20 points.
“They tried to trap us and the shot was open in the middle of the lane, and Todd Jochem just went nuts to say the least,” Duncan said. “He just had his way, and it was just a phenomenal game on our part.”
The Raiders also became the first team in state history to make the Final Four without having a senior, and this was before class basketball. No team from Dubois County had made it this far since Jasper’s state championship team in 1949. Nobody from Huntingburg had made it since the Hunters were the state runner-up in 1937. To make it that far was a dream come true for Duncan.
“I always tell everybody I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.
However, it all came to an end in the semis against Marion. The eventual state champions eliminated the Raiders, 76-52, ending their season at 23-5.
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