The Class 2A Greenfield-Central Regional was set up to host four state-ranked teams Saturday. Then Triton Central crashed the party.
The Tigers avenged a 17-point loss from earlier in the season to sectional host Milan then stunned South Decatur with a buzzer beater to net the program its first regional championship in nine seasons.
The Tigers (13-8) will continue to embrace the underdog role at the regional where they will face 2A No. 5 Parke Heritage (24-3) at 10 a.m. Saturday in the first semifinal game.
No. 2 Shenandoah (24-3) takes on No. 7 Covenant Christian (22-4) in the second semifinal.
The regional championship game is slated for 8 p.m. Saturday.
“As a coach, and even when I was a player, I like being the underdog,” said second-year Triton Central coach Kyle Ballard. “I know not very many people picked us to win the sectional but games are not won and lost on paper. We played a challenging schedule. The kids understood our schedule was preparing us for the postseason.”
South Decatur knocked off sectional-favorite and fourth-ranked South Ripley in the semifinals setting up a sectional championship battle with Triton Central.
The Cougars took a 65-62 lead with 90 seconds left but the Tigers’ defense clamped down and allowed for one last opportunity to win.
Trailing 65-64 with 3.3 seconds left, TC’s inbounds pass went to Josh Kemper in the corner. The junior forward got into the lane and threw up an off-balance shot just before time expired that went in.
“I had five kids on the floor that I was comfortable with taking the last shot,” said Ballard. “We were not set up for one guy to take the shot. I told Erick (Hebauf) to hit the first open jersey and that guy had two dribbles to score at the rim.”
David Steele and Aiden Lindsey combined for 43 points in the win but it was Kemper who became the instant hero.
Saturday’s regional matchup is the first for TC and Parke Heritage, a new school formed in 2018 from the consolidation of Rockville High School and Turkey Run High School.
The Wolves won a sectional title in 2020 but never played a regional game due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the state tournament.
Sophomore point guard Christian Johnson leads the program in scoring at 16.7 ppg and has seven double-doubles this season. He had 23 points and 11 rebounds in the sectional championship win over North Putnam.
The program has two more double-digit scorers in seniors Connor Davis (14.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Riley Ferguson (12.3 ppg, 2.7 apg).
“They are very physical,” said Ballard. “They do a great job playing inside out. They defend very well. They have great senior experience. They present challenges for us.”
Triton Central will look to disrupt with its length on the court and a deep bench.
Steele leads the offense at 12.8 ppg. Lindsey is the only other double-digit scorer at 11 ppg but five more players average between 4.4 and 7.6 ppg.
“I know nobody expected them to win (that sectional) but once you start watching film on those guys, they are a really good team,” said Parke Heritage coach Rich Schelsky. “They are very similar to us. They are physical. They play good defense. They are hard-nosed kids who compete for 32 minutes.”
Schelsky believes records and state rankings won’t mean anything when the ball goes up in the air Saturday morning.
“Their record is very misleading for how good a team they are,” he said. “I think we are catching a very hot team which is unfortunate for us and fortunate for TC.
“This may not be a game for the casual fan because it’s going to be a brutal, knock-down, drag-out mucky game. As a basketball purist who appreciates good defense and good team play, I think our game is one of the best matchups if you are a basketball fan.”
Triton Central has checked off three goals this season – be competitive in the Indiana Crossroads Conference standings, win the Shelby County Tournament and win a sectional title. The program is playing with “house money” now and won’t get overhyped for a rare regional appearance.
“Our message, as anticlimactic as it sounds, is approach everyday like it’s just another day. We will get ready for just another game. I’m not a rah rah, cliché guy. Every game presents a different challenge,” said Ballard.
Deep down, Ballard knows it is not just another game for a program that has not won a regional game since 2004.
“We are very fortunate to be practicing this week,” he said. “Now we want to add another win to our list.”