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Lakers go through Eels, Wolverines, T-Birds to win sectional

Posted Monday, March 3, 2008, at 7:04 PM

SWITZ CITY -- After losing to Shakamak Friday night in the semifinals of the Class A White River Valley sectional, WRV boys basketball coach Gene Hall had an interesting comment about the Lakers.

It was not as if he was bragging on his own team, but Hall said, "They would have to beat the three best teams (Clay City, WRV and North Central) to win the sectional."

Sure enough, the Lakers capped off its second sectional championship in three years with a victory over that third team -- North Central -- here Saturday.

"Shakamak definitely had to go through the toughest road to win the sectional," said Hall.

There was a sense of symmetry as the Lakers won three games by four, five and six points. They edged Clay City 56-52 Feb. 26; WRV 34-29 Friday; and North Central 50-44.

The Laker victory avenged a 56-54 overtime loss to the Thunderbirds in the sectional semifinals a year ago. North Central then beat WRV in the title game in 2007, winning its first sectional title in 40 years.

Just as the T-Birds denied Shakamak a shot at back-to-back titles last year, the Lakers did the same to North Central this year.

In the seven seasons since North Central moved down from Class 2A to Class A and was placed at the WRV Sectional, the Lakers and Thunderbirds have met five times in the post season, including 2002 and the past four years. Shakamak has won four of those games, with last year being the lone exception.

On Saturday night, North Central came out and made a statement early. They led 7-0 early as center 6-7 center Donnie Abrams had five points, including a trey and two blocked shots.

They were ahead 15-10 after the opening eight minutes and you knew that this game was not going to be anything like the 70-49 Laker blowout win over the Thunderbirds at Jasonville on Jan. 26.

But Laker guard Ethan Stanifer hit two jumpers, including a 3-pointer, as the Lakers scored the first nine points of the second quarter to take a 19-15 cushion. But an 8-4 run by North Central left the issue deadlocked at 23-all at intermission.

Three quarters of action did not leave much decided as Shakamak led 34-33 with eight minutes remaining.

Stanifer, who finished with 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting, hit a 3-pointer to put the Lakers ahead 41-35 with five minutes and 36 seconds to play. It was their largest lead, only matched by the final margin.

Shakamak coach Ernie Maesch said that at times Stanifer was able to take over the game and came up with big shots at very crucial times.

North Central trailed 46-43 after a basket by Abrams with 1:29 remaining. After a time-out by NC coach Ryan Kamman, the Thunderbirds tried to go for the steal, but inexplicably let precious seconds continue to tick off the clock before trying to save time by committing the unintentional intentional foul.

Lakers sophomore Billy Newton got behind the defense for a basket with :29 to play and then it became just a matter of free throws and seconds before Shakamak would claim its sixth sectional champion in boys basketball (1964, 1966, 1988, 1980). Shakamak hit 7 of 11 foul shots in the fourth period and was 11 of 17 overall. North Central missed 14 of 25, including six freebies in the fourth.

Considering that Laker center Justin Cox missed the first 20 games of the season after ACL surgery and then Jaret May did not play in the last two games after breaking his arm on a dunk attempt against Clay City, the Laker title might have been a little surprising.

Maesch got the most out of his bench as Jordan Langford and James Marlow gave him valuable minutes in relief roles. Cox finished with 10 points and four rebounds in 28-plus minutes.

"Cox was absolutely exceptional," said Maesch. "There was no way that I thought he was going to play this year."

As voted on by the media, the all-sectional team consisted of Stanifer, Newton, Cox and Tyler Richardson of Shakamak and Abrams and Michael Woodsmall from North Central.

Shakamak will play the winner of Monday's University vs. Indianapolis Lutheran sectional championship game at noon Saturday in the second game of the Class A Martinsville Regional. That sectional contest was moved because University's girls team played in the state championship game Saturday.

The first game at Martinsville at 10 a.m. Saturday will feature Waldron against South Decatur, who knocked off No. 9 Jac-Cen-Del 51-49 Saturday. The title game is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday.

Regional tickets, $9 for both sessions, are on sale at SHS through 2 p.m. Friday, or until the allotment is gone.

Single session tickets, which cost $5, are only available at Martinsville High School.

Good luck to the Lakers, who have now won 10 games in a row and take a 19-5 record into the regional.



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