Three Pointers: County rival to tip off boys season

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Southridge boys basketball coach Kyle Swafford lays things out for Friday’s practice at Huntingburg Memorial Gym. Swafford is scheduled to make his Raiders debut Tuesday at home against county rival Jasper.

By Herald Staff

Here’s a look to the boys season openers of our teams this week.

Jasper (6-17 in 2020-21) at Southridge (17-11), 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Huntingburg Memorial Gym

Last Meeting: Jasper won, 49-44 in overtime, Jan. 12, 2021

1. These two county rivals were supposed to square off to open the 2020-21 season, but it got postponed to Jan. 12. The Wildcats won, 49-44, after tying it in the final three seconds of regulation and then winning in OT. That was one of only six wins that Jasper recorded a season ago, and this year, with a lot returning back, the Wildcats are going to try to redeem themselves in 2021-22.

2. The Raiders, meanwhile, went and remain on the opposite path. They went to semi-state last year, but only senior Carter Whitehead returns among last season’s starting lineup. Southridge also features a new coach in Kyle Swafford, who’s part of the change that he is leading. The 2019 sectional champion at Monrovia is getting his first taste of the county rivalry for his Raiders debut.

3. “I think our kids are hungry and they want to beat Jasper,” Swafford said before coaching practice on Friday. “But they also know it’s not going to just show up and beat Jasper, that’s never going to happen — and my kids also have a tremendous amount of respect for Jasper, and they know they’re good and they know what they’ve got coming back — we’re five miles apart. So, it’s no secret.”

Crawford County (3-17 last year) vs. Forest Park (16-6), 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Buechler Arena

Last Meeting: Crawford County won, 83-66, Nov. 25, 2020 

1. The Rangers graduated three key pieces from last year’s rotation in Simon Jacob, Wade Leonard and Blake Hagedorn. This year’s team has a pair of senior starters returning in Landon Nalley and Drew Howard. The Rangers will rely heavily on the latter in offense, defense and transition. It will be the last basketball go for the 1,000 point scorer after signing Wednesday to continue his baseball career at the University of Evansville.

2. The Rangers have opened their season against the Wolfpack every year dating back to the 2009-10 campaign. Crawford County might’ve won only three games last season, but one of those was an 83-66 victory against the Rangers. This year, the Rangers are placing an emphasis on the defensive side. They can test that early against senior big man Keith Brooks of the Wolfpack, who scored 20 points on the Rangers last year.

3. “Crawford County is a big team,” Rangers coach David Welp said. “They’re a very scrappy and physical team. I love playing Crawford County first because they will challenge us in so many ways that maybe we’re not prepared for, and it will help lead us to get better later down the road. This game is a good game to learn what we are doing well at and also learn what we need to improve on.”

Pike Central (3-18 in 2020-21) at Northeast Dubois (8-15), 7:30 p.m., Wednesday

Last Meeting: Northeast Dubois won, 47-27, Nov. 27, 2019

1. Last season proved to be a down stretch for Northeast Dubois after winning a sectional championship in 2019-20. Their season-high was a four-game win streak that was part of six wins in an eight-game stretch. They graduated some notable players in Lane Knies and Logan Mehringer. Leading the way last year amongst returners this year is senior Colby Pieper, who averaged 8.8 points per game.

2. Pieper is the only senior the Jeeps have on a team that is going to be dominated by juniors. They have one sophomore in Grant Goller, while eight of them are in their junior years. Some of the more experienced juniors on the squad include Gaige Schepers (5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists), Peyton Betz (2.2 points, 2.5 boards) and also Ty Kalb (3.4 points, 0.9 rebounds a season ago).

3. The Jeeps will have to have some players step up this season, but there are things that 16th-year coach Terry Friedman likes out of this squad. He noted that they get along well together and work well with one another. However, with not a lot of varsity experience from a year ago, Northeast Dubois will have to look to some players who played at the junior varsity level last year to become full varsity players this year.

Heritage Hills (19-4 last year) at North Harrison (18-4), 7:30 p.m., Nov. 27

Last Meeting: Heritage Hills won, 56-38, Nov. 28, 2020

1. Patriots coach Nate Hawkins and Cougars coach Lou Lefevre have both done a lot of winning in their careers. Both coaches have won exactly five sectional championships and two regional titles to date. Hawkins is 98-22 entering his sixth season at the helm of the Pats. Two more wins would give him 100 dating back to taking over in 2016-17, and is 162-48 altogether.

2. A lot is gone from last year’s sectional championship team in Blake Sisley, Jake Johnson, Logan Krzykowski and Adam Guth. But also back are a lot of key pieces in seniors JT Smallwood and Alex Schaefer, plus junior Marcus Becher. The Pats also have highly touted freshman Trent Sisley, who’s already been offered by Purdue University, fellow freshman Hunter Meredith, whom Hawkins is high on and sophomore Jesse Weatherholt.

3. It’s not the offense that Hawkins is concerned with. He believes it’s defense that’s going to win them games, and he wants to know if the Pats will be able to get those stops when they need to do so. Last year’s team mostly kept opponents beneath 50 points, and lost no games when an opponent scored 51 points or fewer. However, all four losses the Pats took saw them allow 52 points or more.

Evansville Mater Dei (3-0) at Forest Park (4-1) (Girls), 8 p.m., Tuesday, Buechler Arena

Last Meeting: Forest Park topped Evansville Mater Dei, 35-26, Feb. 6, 2021, in the sectional championship.

1. These two teams know each other quite well, having met in the last two sectional championship games together. Mater Dei escaped, 56-52, to leave Forest Park heartbroken in 2020, but the Rangers got their revenge last year. Both teams also have good records to start the 2021-22 campaign, and Forest Park earned a bounce back win, 62-23, Thursday against Perry Central after taking a 63-52 loss two nights prior at Gibson Southern.

2. It should be noted, also, that Forest Park has won the last two regular season matchups against the Wildcats, and the regular season games came in larger margins than the sectional games did. The Rangers won last year’s regular season matchup, 48-36, Nov. 24, 2020 at Mater Dei, and also topped Mater Dei, 54-42, Nov. 26, 2019 at home. The Rangers went undefeated at Buechler Arena last year.

3. The Rangers were already off to a 3-1 start on the season and ranked No. 4 in Class 2A, but now, they look even more potent with senior Ali Welp in the fray on a team loaded with juniors. Welp made her first start of the year on Thursday after missing the opening games due to hyperextending her knee prior to the opener. She provides a lot of experience, having played in both sectional championship games against Mater Dei.

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