A real sense of accomplishment washed over Triton Central head coach Kyle Ballard as he watched the game tape from Saturday night’s 40-35 win in the championship game of the South Ripley Sectional.
Ballard’s veteran squad made smart decision after smart decision over the final eight minutes to collect the program’s eighth sectional championship and secure back-to-back sectional titles for just the second time in program history – the last time coming in 1997 and 1998.
“Our goal always for us on the court is to compete for championships. We want to be there and have a chance,” said Ballard. “This is the first time we’ve won back-to-back (sectionals) since a few years before these players were born. The players have bought in. The parents have bought in. The last two years have been unbelievable. I’m happy for the kids. I’m happy for the seniors but the kids are hungry for more.”
For the second straight season, Triton Central will compete in the Greenfield-Central Regional. At 10 a.m. Saturday, Southmont (19-6) will face Class 2A, No. 9 Eastern Hancock (20-5). Triton Central (13-11) will take the floor at noon against University (15-9) in the second semifinal contest.
The championship game is slated for 8 p.m. Saturday.
Ballard sees familiarity in University.
“They are comparable to a couple of teams in our conference,” he said. “They remind me of Lutheran in the way that they play. The way they are built.”
The Trailblazers (photo), in their first regional since 2018, are led by sophomore guard Sabien Cain (16 ppg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 spg) and senior forward Larry Pierce (13 ppg, 4.8 rpg) – both Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference First Team selections. Cain was named PAAC Player of the Year.
“They do a really good job spacing the floor and getting to the basket,” said Ballard. “It is not a new experience (for us) playing a team like that. This is where our (Indiana Crossroads Conference) games help us with games like this.”
Ballard talked of a honeymoon experience his team felt after winning a sectional title in 2021 for the first time in nine seasons. The Tigers ended up losing to Parke Heritage, 47-30, in the regional semifinal round. For a team that will rely heavily on five seniors and three juniors to lead the way, Ballard sees a different mindset in place.
“All of them understand there is another job to do this week,” he said. “The second one feels a little bit different. It feels like something we’ve done before. It doesn’t seem different.”
That experience and roster versatility is carrying Triton Central through the postseason. Eight different Tigers have scored at least 15 points in a game this season. Five are averaging between 5-11 points per game.
“They are a really well-coached team. They are really disciplined. It only took me watching about a quarter to learn that,” said University head coach Brandon Lafferman. “As I was watching them more, they play together. They play as a unit. They don’t have anybody that is selfish. They understand how to defend as a team and they definitely understand how to score as a team.”
While the two programs have not met on the hardwood before, there are crossover Indiana Crossroads Conference opponents on their schedule. University defeated Scecina, 77-55, on Dec. 10 and lost to Ritter, 56-51, on Jan. 15. Triton Central also defeated Scecina (65-47) and lost to Ritter (56-44).
The other common opponent is Heritage Christian. The Tigers lost 64-42 on Dec. 30 while the Trailblazers won 50-48 on Feb. 5 and 67-57 in Saturday night’s sectional championship game.
“Being able to watch them play some teams that we also played definitely helps you understand who they are and what their capabilities are,” said Lafferman, who led University to a Class A regional appearance in 2018 where it lost to Morristown, 55-53.
Lafferman agrees his team is young, comprised of mostly sophomores and juniors with almost no postseason experience.
“We are young, and not just young but we have very little experience of guys that have played in the postseason,” he said. “Last year, we got knocked out by Heritage Christian in the first game of the sectional so none of them have played in Friday or Saturday sectional games (until this year).
“But I think young teams also can push through these moments and not even realize how big they are. I think we had a little of that Saturday night because we went out in that sectional final and played one of our best games of the year.”
Triton Central will return to Greenfield-Central Saturday morning with nearly its full roster in good health. Sophomore guard Levi Dewey is clearing concussion protocol and is expected to be available.
Starting point guard Alex Crouse did not play Friday in the semifinal win over North Decatur because of illness and was not yet 100% Saturday night but still contributed six points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal in the win over South Ripley.
“Our preparation this week, the seniors have been here before,” said Ballard. “They are pretty excited to still be playing and they haven’t forgotten what it felt like going out last year.”
Eastern Hancock vs. Southmont
Eastern Hancock is making its first regional appearance since 2008 led by senior Landon O’Neal (16.5 ppg) and the twin sons of head coach Aaron Spaulding.
Six different Royals have made at least 23 three-pointers this season. Neal shoots 44.7% from the arc with a team-high 71 made 3s.
Juniors Jacob and Silas Spaulding follow at 34.7% and 34.2%, respectively.
No player on the roster is listed taller than 6-3. The leading rebounders are Cole Rainbolt (4.6 rpg), Cyrus Burton (4.3 rpg) and Edric Miller (4.1 rpg).
Southmont defeated Parke Heritage Saturday night, 65-48, to secure the program’s second sectional title and first since 1994.
The Mounties are led by 6-6 senior Avery Saunders (19.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.5 apg) and 6-2 senior Logan Oppy (12.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg).
2A Around the State
At the Southridge Regional, Forest Park (14-10) takes on Paoli (16-9) and Providence (17-6) faces No. 5 Linton-Stockton (22-4).
At North Judson-San Pierre, No. 4 Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (22-4) takes on North Judson-San Pierre (21-5) and Hammond Bishop Noll (11-12) will try to upset No. 3 Central Noble (25-2).
And at Lapel, Tipton (17-6) opens against No. 1 Monroe Central (24-0) while Rensselaer Central (12-12) takes on No. 6 Carroll (Flora) (22-1).
Semistate sites in the south are Washington and Seymour. North host sites will be Lafayette Jefferson and Elkhart.