GREENFIELD — The basketball gods were watching over Hancock County on Sunday afternoon when the 2016 sectional pairings for boys basketball were announced.
Split on opposite sides of a loaded Class 4A Sectional 9 bracket, Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon, which are currently playing some of their best basketball, could potentially meet in the sectional championship March 5 — although this rivalry needed little added hype.
The Cougars (18-4), who have won nine straight games with one left on the schedule, enter the New Castle Sectional as the hottest team in a deep field but must overcome the defending champs in Richmond (9-14) in the first round Tuesday.
“Our kids are committed to each other, the system and getting better each day,” Greenfield-Central head coach Michael Lewis said. “I think the winning streak is a byproduct of how competitive our practices have been and how hard our kids have worked.
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“We need to keep that mindset as we prepare for the sectional. Every team is capable of making a run in our sectional, so we need to be prepared to play.”
Winners of nine of their past 11 contests, the Marauders (17-4) aren’t far behind Greenfield-Central, if at all, in terms of peaking at the right time.
The teams are 1-1 in their past two head-to-head meetings, with Mt. Vernon winning earlier this season 47-40 on the road.
The Marauders received a first-round bye and will play the winner of Pendleton Heights (12-9) and New Castle (14-6) on March 4 in the second semifinal game of the evening. The Arabians recently routed the once conference-leading Trojans 84-53 at home.
“The goal is to win the championship and in a sense, we are one game closer,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said of the bye. “I think there is a lot of value you get from playing on night one. They will probably have some of the butterflies out of their system.”
Connersville (18-5) will be waiting for the winner of Greenfield-Central and Richmond in the first semifinal game.
Senior wing Tate Hall has been at his best of late, averaging 18.4 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per for the Cougars.
Senior guards Blake Robertson and Chandler Bean have been just as good, with Robertson scoring 11 ppg. Bean contributes 4.7 ppg and 4.7 assists per game.
“I think the reason we are playing so well is because of our confidence right now,” said Robertson, who recently committed to Hanover College. “We have said all season that we need to start expecting to win and stop hoping to win. We have finally gotten to that point.”
Senior forward Kirill Schoellman (9.4 ppg) and sophomore Will O’Connor have been steady, too, with senior guard Drey Jameson adding energy in his defensive role.
The most recent time Greenfield-Central won a sectional championship was during the 1997-98 season under head coach John Hamilton.
The Marauders are led in scoring by junior guard Michael Ertel’s 16.6 ppg. Teammate Erick Shepherd, a junior big, is having a solid campaign, as well, chipping in 13.4 ppg and 5.7 rpg for a well rounded starting five.
Each one of Mt. Vernon’s starters is averaging at least eight points per game.
Senior forward Michael Thompson (9.3 ppg) and junior forward James McCloud (8.0 ppg) do a little of everything for the Marauders while senior guard Miles Wayer (9.4 ppg) has been a consistent threat from the outside. He has hit 53 3-pointers this season at a 48 percent rate.
“Defense is still our main focus, however, lately as a team we have been working on sharing the ball more with each other and helping each other get good shot opportunities,” McCloud said. “We know we are hard to stop offensively when we do that.”
Mt. Vernon last won a sectional crown in 2013, when it advanced to the semistate.
Class 3A Sectional 27
New Palestine enters the sectional in a bit of an odd spot. It never hurts to play on your home court; however, the Dragons will be hosting several teams they have yet to encounter this season.Head coach Trent Whitaker and New Palestine (5-16) will play on the second day of the sectional, March 2, against Indianapolis Crispus Attucks (16-5) in the first game of the evening.
Although their records might be different, both teams share a similar style of play.
With the Dragons at full strength for the first time since the beginning of the year, Whitaker likes the first-round matchup.
“That is kind of the strangle thing. We don’t play any of them during the regular season,” Whitaker said. “We are just now getting a chance to look at them the last few weeks.
“Attucks is good. They are very athletic, they are going to press us the entire game, force us into turnovers. They are very guard orientated.”
After missing nine games midway through the season, senior forward Cody Long (11.1 ppg) has produced four consecutive double-digit outings, including a season-high 23 points against Shelbyville on the first night of his return.
With him and junior guard Jalen Qualkinbush (8.6 ppg) back in the mix after an ankle injury, New Palestine has a full head of steam moving towards tournament play.
“It’s great to be back from my injury and also great to have Cody back; it’s gonna help us a lot through the tournament,” Qualkinbush said. “It’s a tough team, they’re going to be quick, but we have played a lot of tough and quick teams.”
The only team New Palestine has faced in their sectional field is Indianapolis Marshall (1-18), which it beat 71-52.
Nine players average at least four points per game for the Dragons, who last won a sectional title in 2012.
Class 2A Sectional 42
Opening tournament action against one of the top teams in Class 2A doesn’t scare Eastern Hancock head coach Aaron Spaulding. In fact, he is embracing the opportunity.And why not? His team already beat the other state-ranked team in the sectional, No. 6 Shenandoah.
The Royals (7-14) are set for a rematch with No. 8 Indianapolis Howe (17-6) in the first game on Tuesday, March 1. The Hornets beat Eastern Hancock 87-53 at the beginning of the year.
“To be honest, I think drawing Howe gives us the best chance; we have over a week to prepare for them,” Spaulding said. “It is a lot more difficult if you play them on Saturday after playing a game on Friday.
“We are looking forward to the challenge and to see how much ground we’ve covered this year.”
Sophomore guard Addison True has been a force on the offensive end for Eastern Hancock, staying near the top in the county in scoring at 16.8 ppg.
Backcourt teammate A.J. Muegge has been as reliable as any player in the area, too, scoring 13.3 ppg in a Robin role to True’s Batman.
The pair has combined with senior guard Ryan Speas (9.5 ppg) for 131 made 3-point field goals this season.
“I think that we have been playing well as of late and can compete with anyone,” True said, who added extra muscle over the summer. “It’s going to take our best, but it’s definitely something that we can do.”
Five players average more than 7.5 ppg for the Royals, who score 57.9 per game on the season. The most recent time Eastern Hancock claimed a sectional championship was during the 2007-08 season.
Sectional Pairings for Hancock County
4A Sectional 9 at New Castle
1 Tue. Richmond (9-14) vs. Greenfield-Central (18-4) 6 p.m.
2 Tue. Pendleton Heights (12-10) vs. New Castle (14-6)_
3 Fri. Connersville (18-5_ vs. Winner Game 1, 6 p.m.
4 Fri. Mount Vernon (Fortville) (17-3) vs. Winner Game 2
5 Sat. Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7:30 p.m.
3A Sectional 27 at New Palestine
1 Tue. Brebeuf Jesuit (13-8) vs. Indianapolis Herron (5-14) 6 p.m.
2 Wed. Indianapolis Attucks (16-5) vs. New Palestine (5-16) 6 p.m.
3 Wed. Indianapolis Marshall (1-18) vs. Indianapolis Manual (14-7)
4 Fri. Indianapolis Chatard (11-10) vs. Winner Game 1, 6 p.m.
5 Fri. Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 3
6 Sat. Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 7:30 p.m.
2A Sectional 42 at Shenandoah
1 Tue. Indianapolis Howe (17-6) vs. Eastern Hancock (7-14) 6 p.m.
2 Tue. Triton Central (5-17) vs. Irvington Prep Academy (9-11)
3 Fri. Knightstown (11-9) vs. Winner Game 1, 6 p.m.
4 Fri. Shenandoah (18-2) vs. Winner Game 2
5 Sat. Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7:30 p.m.