Raider defense shines bright on the big stageMarch 3, 2018
By BRENDAN PERKINS
HUNTINGBURG — Everyone who took the mic for Southridge explained it with a slightly different spin. But the unifying thread for the Raiders was unmistakable: Friday night was all about bringing out their best on a stage where they’ve sometimes struggled to shine.
Raider coach Ted O’Brien led off by calling it the best rebounding effort by any team in his four years at Southridge. Jaden Hayes graded it as “the best defense we’ve played all year” in shackling an 18-win Sullivan team to nearly half its season scoring average. And Garrett Voegerl chimed in with another superlative fitting of Southridge’s 47-32 victory in the Class 3A sectional semifinals.
“I think that was our best game this year,” Voegerl said. “And I think we can bring that same intensity back tomorrow. I think we can do it.”
Southridge (11-13) hopes there’s some staying power to Friday’s comprehensive effort as the Raiders return to Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium at 7:30 tonight to confront Vincennes Lincoln (17-8) in the championship. Arriving there required altering a few trends.
Over the past six seasons, the Raiders had been tripped up in their sectional opener five times. That included four one-and-dones on their home floor. Friday, though, Southridge enjoyed a mature finish with an immaculate closing stretch, going turnover-free in the fourth quarter with six different Raiders providing points in the final period.
“It has been tough,” O’Brien acknowledged. “We’ve had some struggles in the tournament here, not just in my four years but over the last 10 or 12 years, we haven’t won too many sectional games, so this was a very good win for our program.”
Scoring struggles were the culprit of some of those early exits, but Friday, Southridge made that Sullivan’s problem.
Averaging a touch over 61 points a game on the season, the Golden Arrows (18-7) managed just 11 first-half points, shot 32 percent on the night and struggled to make up ground after Jayce Harter’s 3-pointer midway through the second period pushed Southridge’s cushion to double digits at 18-8. Kevin Figg stacked up a game-high 17 points for Sullivan, but the Arrows were without two primary scorers who sat out injured while leading scorer Ty Drake netted just seven.
O’Brien lauded Joe LaGrange and Matt Price for their stuffy coverage that limited Drake — who’s had five games this season of 25 or more points — almost 10 points below his average. And with that, O’Brien has growing evidence of his team’s sudden defensive renaissance over the last 2 1/2 games.
“We really have 10 quarters — the second half of the Jasper game (holding the Cats to 17 points), the Boonville game and this game — have really locked down and starting to develop kind of this edge and this identity,” O’Brien said of his defense, which allowed a season-low Friday with Voegerl, Colson Montgomery and LaGrange combining for seven steals.
“Our struggle (in the regular season) was putting four quarters together and really buying into defense. We’ve got a very young team that is more talented than probably any of the teams I’ve had here, and sometimes we just get lost in wanting to score points and doing it themselves, instead of buying into we’ve got to work for each other and we’ve got to buy into playing defense every night. It’s clicked now and we’re starting to do that, and we’re putting together some really good performances. We’re not just that team that can go out there and, ‘Hey, if they have a good shooting night they can win.’ We’re now that team going out there that’s giving ourself a chance every night because we’re guarding.”
Pretty much every Raider played a part, from the playmaking of Montgomery (10 points, 11 rebounds, three assists) to Hayes (13 points) to Jacob Masterson, who provided an instant boost off the bench with a slashing bucket shortly after entering for the first time in the second quarter.
And while Southridge’s plus-5 rebounding advantage may not suggest dominance, O’Brien loved the voracity, fundamentals and teamwork factoring into an uptick in another realm.
“It’s great to hear that we’re finally attacking the glass,” Hayes said. “Those rebounds are huge. Sectionals are a dogfight, and you can’t give up those easy ones off offensive rebounds. Defensive rebounding effort out there was amazing — Colson was big, Garrett Voegerl was out there flying all over the court going for rebounds. We held ‘em to one shot.”
And now, it’s down to one more win for a breakthrough.
Hayes knows how long it’s been since the Raiders last clutched a sectional trophy, since he often examines the championship board in the gym’s upper reaches. The last time was 2007. Hayes figures that’s been long enough.
“I always look up at that board,” Hayes said, “and want to put another year up there.”
“It gives us an opportunity,” Voegerl said of the Raiders clearing that initial sectional hurdle. “We need an opportunity and we’ll show everybody what we’re made of. We’ve just got to come out with a defensive mindset like we did (Friday) and have everybody up and going, be excited for each other. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
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