Raiders’ regional exit places future in focus

Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Southridge senior Paxton Combs was comforted by coach Greg Werner after the Raiders fell 66-51 to seventh-ranked Madison in Saturday’s Class 3A regional basketball semifinals at Jasper. Combs is the only senior graduating from a team that won the program’s ninth sectional. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — First came the tears. Then the clarity.

The fall of the Southridge girls basketball team’s season brought the rise of a couple notions for the Raiders. One, that they’re not going to be pacified with merely a regional appearance in the coming years. And two, to reach that point, they want to become more like the type of team that extinguished their season Saturday morning.

Seventh-ranked Madison and its stable of scorers excused Southridge from the Class 3A regional in a 66-51 defeat at the Jasper High School gym. For the Raiders, there was no denying a sense of pride about a tourney run accomplished a year after Southridge was bounced in the first round of the Class 2A sectional with four senior starters, then bumped up a class and grabbed a sectional crown in 3A behind four sophomore starters. Enjoyable as the ride was, it also got the Raiders pondering the future and the measures they can install to potentially extend their postseason stay the next time around.

“We have a lot of talent and we’ll grow and we’ll show what we can do,” said Raider sophomore Kadie Dearing, who supplied a career-high 15 points while limiting Madison’s Whitney Wynn 11 points under her average with zero field goals and two points.

“I knew we had the potential to do great things, and I’m just hoping we can continue to grow and make great things next year.”

No one — not even Princeton or Evansville Mater Dei, the top two ranked squads in 3A — had posted more than 55 points all season on a Raider defense allowing slightly more than 40 per contest. But while the Raiders (16-6) muted Wynn, 6-foot-2 Olivia Crozier struck for 27 points and nine rebounds, Macky Hecox added 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Madison’s bench combined for 20 more points.

Southridge’s defensive mission was clear: blanket everyone behind the arc except for Hecox and Crozier. Neither had hit a 3-pointer all season. Practically dared to shoot without a defender in sight when they caught the ball behind the arc, Crozier and Hecox took the bait. And they combined to sink 4-of-5 treys, including two in the second quarter when the Cubs (17-3) outscored the Raiders 21-12.

“I thought they played better than they’re capable of playing,” Raider coach Greg Werner said, “but that happens when you have a group of seniors that want something badly.”

Explaining the matchup difficulty further, Werner didn’t want to extend pressure to Hecox and Crozier on the perimeter, because the Cubs were capable of driving the ball to the bucket, which then could’ve potentially lodged the Raiders in foul trouble. Not the optimum situation for a team that played primarily six players.

Generating depth will be the chief priority going forward, assured Werner. Three players accounted for all of Southridge’s 51 points; in addition to Dearing, Kayla Voegerl poured in 24 points and Aubrey Main added 12, with both also gathering six rebounds.

Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Kayla Voegerl drew contact on a drive to the bucket as the Raider sophomore finished with 24 points.

The math didn’t benefit Southridge against a team that wielded a rotation of nine girls and seven capable scorers by Werner’s count. He came into the game knowing that no matter how well the Raiders defended, “we had to hope they didn’t shoot well.”

“We have to have five scorers. We’ve had mostly three scorers and been able to survive off of that and been able to survive off our defense. ... The next step is develop more scorers,” Werner said.

“They’re not that far away, but they can really take off and become a lot better. It’s just, ”˜Let’s go to Big Man Camp with our post players, let’s go to Point Guard College and become (better).’ ... They have to develop their overall game a lot more. I would like to be as dominant as the Madison team was in terms of all seven of their players.”

As for the element of fight, the Raiders figure there’s no issue with that. Voegerl and Werner both noted the Raiders kept churning when the deficit reached 57-36 in the fourth quarter. The continued push was because “we were playing it for Paxton,” Voegerl said of Paxton Combs, the only senior who’ll graduate from a team that seized the second sectional title in Werner’s 10-year tenure.

“It sucks losing, I’m not going to lie. Our coach told us we’re not human if it doesn’t suck,” Voegerl said. “But it was a great season.”

And even as the Raiders flourished, wiping out fourth-quarter deficits in all their sectional wins, Dearing could recognize how this season was a staging area for future upgrades.

“I think we’re going to work on more molding together,” she said. “This year, we worked on more growing individually on fundamentals. So molding more together as a team will really help us, I think.”

Werner noted how certain teams possess that “it” factor; he saw it in Madison, a seasoned team that led by seven points in the third quarter of the championship later Saturday before Mater Dei surged to a 54-45 win.

Madison had six seniors, and Southridge’s days of being that brand of commanding veteran group could be a year or two away. But that’s no guarantee, stressed Werner, who told his players they can choose one of two directions.

“One, they can get a big head and think that they’ve accomplished everything that they want to accomplish. Or they can take it for the fact that it hurts to lose and not be the best. And are you going to become committed in the offseason and become a better basketball player and a better basketball team?” Werner said. “It needs to be, ”˜I’m serious about becoming better and fuel off of it and go for something more than just a sectional championship.’ What (the attitude) has to be is ”˜We want something more.’

“If your leadership is not committed, then it won’t happen. But I think I have a group of kids — I know I have a group of kids — that will stay committed to becoming better.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at

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