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Thunderbirds grind out sectional victoryPosted Tuesday, March 9, 2010, at 7:48 PM
SWITZ CITY -- Going into the championship game of the Class A White River Valley boys basketball sectional here Saturday night, I don't think I was alone in believing that North Central would likely have to score in the mid-50s or into the mid-60s to have a chance to upset No. 12 Shakamak.
But the Thunderbirds, known for their desire to play at a faster pace than a lot of area teams, proved me and probably a lot of Greene County basketball fans wrong by grinding out a 36-35 victory over the Lakers, claiming their second sectional championship in
four seasons after going 40 years without one.
"I thought if they were in their 2-3 (zone), it was probably going to be in the 30s," said NC coach Ryan Kamman. "We had a mindset that we were going to be a lot more patient than we have been in the past. I think maybe that was one of the things that hurt us a few times this year -- quick shots. We have been talking about that.
"If you're playing well and hitting on all cylinders, that's how they need to play. But if we are having trouble scoring and playing against a really good team defensively that's big, we are not going to get penetration or those kind of things, we've got to look at slowing it down a little. Other than the last couple of minutes of the first half, we did a good job of that."
I don't know if it was because of the officiating, or lack there of, but the title contest was one of the most physical games I have watched in recent memory. The shorter, slimmer North Central kids did not back down one inch from the taller, bigger Shakamak team.
"You knew going in playing Shakamak that it was going to be physical," said Kamman. "Anybody that plays us is going to want to be physical with us..
"It was a tough match-up for us on the defense end, but it was a tough match-up for them on the offensive end. They want to play 2-3 zone, but we've got four guys out there that can shoot it. If they want to go man, we've got four guys that can drive. So it is tough to play their big guys that way."
It wasn't as if North Central had one of those nights where they shot out of this world in edging the Lakers. They were 14 of 33 (42 percent) compared 33 percent (12 of 36) for Shakamak. They did have 11 assists, six more than the Lakers.
North Central was outrebounded 26-14 and missed 8 of 12 free throws and was outscored 10-4 at the foul line.
But this was a far cry from the 49-for-67 that Shakamak shot from the charity stripe in two regular-season meetings with North Central, who had a combined 13 of 18 in those two setbacks.
The Thunderbirds hit some key 3-pointers and had a 12-3 advantage from distance.
Even before the start of the game when the teams gathered in the tunnel, observers told me that North Central seemed focused to avenge two regular-season losses to the Lakers -- 72-64 in double overtime at the Greene County Invitational and 63-56 at Jasonville. They led throughout the first quarter and was up 17-10 midway in the second quarter.
But even after the Lakers rallied for an 18-17 edge at intermission, North Central would not go away. After getting down 30-27 in the fourth quarter, the Thunderbirds went through a six-minute stretch where they only allowed two points.
"They played better defense than we did," said Shakamak coach Steve Brett.
North Central countered with eight points during that stretch to take a 35-32 advantage after a key putback by Ethan Stanifer on a missed free throw.
It was almost 24 hours earlier that Shakamak's Billy Newton did the same thing to WRV, scoring off of a missed free throw in the second overtime, part of a 44-42 victory.
"I have seen more close games won or lost by not blocking out than anything else," Brett said after that semifinal win.
Both semifinals on Friday night went down to the very end. North Central had to rally from a 52-42 deficit in the final three minutes. They used an 18-5 outburst to pull out a 60-57 win over Clay City.
"It was just a battle. Shakamak is a good team. It took everything we had. I know they were tired from last night. We were tired from last night," said Kamman.
"Jordan Stefancik was at the hospital today (Saturday) getting an I-V because he was dehydrated. We were on the guys to make sure they drink plenty of fluids as soon as the game was over last night. Make sure they were taking care of themselves and hopefully that is what paid off for us. I don't know."
Brett echoed the same sentiments about his Lakers.
"Looking back, I think the double overtime probably took a little juice out of us," he said. "I don't think we were quite as quick in our step tonight as we were last night."
Stanifer said they had confidence after that Clay City win.
"I think everyone on our team thought this is how it's supposed to happen before we came to the tournament," he said. "We were all confident that we would have what it would take to win the tournament."
North Central pushed, shoved, scratched and clawed their way to a sectional title, including bumping and banging Newton, holding him to 13 points.
"You are lucky if you can keep Billy under 20. He is such a good player," said Kamman. "Defensively, we really stepped up there at the end with Robert (Horn) and Ethan getting a couple of big steals.
"We did a good job of taking away what they wanted to do. I was really proud of these guys."
With South Knox holding off Bloomfield to win the Class 2A North Knox Sectional for the third time in four seasons and the T-Birds prevailing at WRV, Greene County was left without a sectional champion for just the second time in 88 seasons since host Lyons won the 1923 sectional. The other year was 2007, when South Knox and North Central also won.
Kamman said that North Central could have won more sectionals, but it just wasn't their fate.
"North Central's had it rough at the sectional before we had class basketball," Kamman said. "Glenn (Andrew, long-time T-Bird coach) had a lot of good teams. If they go to any other sectional in this area, they would have won several more. They got sent to Vincennes Lincoln when Lincoln was really good or to Terre Haute when North or South was really good.
"But they've just had those kind of things happen, but we're glad we could do it the last couple of years."
B.J. Hargis is sports editor of the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext 12 or at email@example.com.
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