Local rivalries set stage for tournament time

Photos by Jimmy Lafakis/The Herald
Heritage Hills senior Jake Johnson dribbles the ball during the second quarter of Friday evening's game against Southridge in Huntingburg. Heritage Hills held on, 48-46.


HUNTINGBURG — Back in November, I wrote a column about my appreciation for Indiana basketball. There’s no place like this hoops haven, and I felt quite excited to return to my home state and cover basketball again. It just felt right.

I was eager to check out the talent in this area of the state. I knew about Dubois County’s competitive student-athletes, but I yearned to sink my teeth into the games.

Two and a half months later, I’m pleased to report that the local rivalries have exceeded my expectations.

I’ve been fortunate enough to watch some spirited boys and girls games this season. Earlier this month, the Forest Park girls team hosted Northeast Dubois in an intense contest. That game personified the quintessential Indiana high school basketball rivalry — tough, gritty and physical. The Rangers earned the hard-fought victory, and I realized that these games would quench my thirst for hardcore hoops action.

Just a few nights later, I made the trip to historic Memorial Gym for the Northeast Dubois-Southridge boys game. The Raiders found themselves in the middle of a busy stretch of games, which made that particular local rivalry that much more important. Basketball is a game of runs, and the Jeeps made their run late in the contest.

As I took photos on the baseline, I took a moment to catch my breath and smile. I’ve gained a sense of gratitude for the game, and I can tell when certain games just mean more to players. The Raiders stayed strong and captured the win, and I saw their joy in successfully defending their home court.

Memorial Gym hosted another exceptional battle between two local titans on Friday night. The Southridge (6-6, 3-1) and Heritage Hills (10-0, 6-0) boys teams entered the contest with undefeated Pocket Athletic Conference records. I was ready to get back to Memorial Gym and watch those talented squads go toe-to-toe.

The first half showcased the exact intensity I had come to know so well. The Patriots enjoyed an early advantage, but the Raiders stormed right back. It felt like a game that would go down to the very last possession, and that’s exactly what it did.

Heritage Hills junior JT Smallwood nailed the game-winning 3-pointer in the corner with just a few moments remaining. Smallwood’s clutch shot clinched the Pats’ 48-46 victory.

There’s no doubt about it — this year certainly feels different than any other. Even though the customary amounts of fans are not in the bleachers, these programs are still playing at high levels and proving why Indiana is truly the best state for basketball. More than ever, I feel fortunate to have a front-row seat to the action.

Southridge senior Sam Sermersheim looks for an open teammate during the first quarter of Friday evening's game against Heritage Hills in Huntingburg. The Raiders fell shy, 48-46.

Here’s an analogy I’ve thought about over the last few weeks — the high school basketball season takes the form of a full-course meal. These regular-season local rivalries offer some of the most delectable appetizers on the menu. The postseason provides some of the most memorable entrees imaginable.

Taking part in the action is quite the special treat for me. It truly does feel like I am devouring a scrumptious dessert.

I am forever a hoops junkie, and I will never forget this special season.

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