BOURBON — What a fitting send-off for a senior class not many thought would be in this position.
After nearly avoiding disaster in the morning session against Fort Wayne Canterbury, No. 10 Triton got its Trojan horses back on track in the Class 1-A Triton Boys Basketball Regional, pulling away from Pioneer, 53-41. And, of course, it rode its stud right to the title.
As he has done all season, and for the second time in the course of Saturday’s do-or-die scenarios, Clay Yeo was a class above the rest. Yeo shot an outstanding 13-for-17 from the floor, including three from long-range, to finish with 35 points. In another do-it-all platform for Yeo, each passing opportunity warranted another chance to offer more than just chucking the ball at the hoop and seeing what happens. Yeo added five rebounds, three blocks, two steals, an assist and sent the partisan crowd into hysterics after throwing down his first dunk of the playoffs.
“Oh my God, this is awesome, it’s great. Just look at it, people are everywhere,” Yeo said, reminding us he is still a kid after performing like someone past his years thus far in the tourney. “I know everybody and I’m going to get a thousand hugs. This is going to be awesome.”
Yeo’s dunk was actually a key moment in the second half, as the sequence had Yeo flush a steal for two, then come back down a trip later and spin to the hoop for two more. After being fouled on a made bucket, Yeo put Triton up 31-26 and the separation between the Trojans and Panthers had officially begun.
Five points from Yeo fresh into the fourth quarter put Triton up 38-32 as Pioneer would soon go ice cold from the floor. The Panthers, which rode the hot and of Matt Dorris in the second half, stuck around for a while but eventually faded as Dorris fouled out with 19 points.
No other Panther would score more than six points, which included the outputs of Carter Skaggs and Brandon Scruggs. The duo torched Gary 21st Century in the morning semis to the tune of 43 combined points and Scruggs hauled down 16 boards against the Cougars. Against Triton, the two had just eight points on a combined 3-of-18 shooting and were 0-for-10 from three-point range. Scruggs had four rebounds and committed five turnovers.
“Our kids are good defensively,” said Triton head coach Jason Groves. “We take pride in that, we work on it in practice. That’s not an accident. It’s not necessarily a game plan, it’s something we focus on each and every day in practice. Our kids know if they don’t play defense, they aren’t going to get to play. That’s our mindset, and we feel like we can hold any team down.”
Triton’s defense has been its benchmark this postseason, and the works of Yeo and Cody Shively inside and out were glaring Saturday night. Shively wasn’t shy to take credit for the hard work.
“We just really picked it up in practice and were getting after it,” Shively said without hesitation. “We take a lot of pride in our defense. That’s all we focus on is our defense.”
With Yeo on fire, and in the case of Saturday night, not in foul trouble, Triton didn’t need to rely heavily on its bench. But it did get several lifts from its role players, including five first quarter points from Skyler Reichert and six points from point guard Joey Corder, all coming on layups.
“I just feel we are coming together as a team,” Reichert said. “We are playing a lot better and have a lot more energy. We are just outworking other teams.”
Pioneer bows out of the tournament with a 21-4 record while Triton (19-5) will begin its semi-state prep week focused on Lafayette Central Catholic (18-8), which knocked off Liberty Christian 77-68 to reach the 1-A Final Four.
The Trojans will face No. 6 Lafayette Central Catholic on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Class 1-A North Semistate game at Lafayette Jefferson High School.
No. 10 Borden (22-3) and University (15-11) will play in the South Semistate contest Saturday at 4 p.m. at Seymour High School.
The semi state winners will then meet March 23 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 10:30 a.m. to play for the Class 1-A state championship.
When asked if Groves thought his team was a semi-state level squad, he chuckled and offered, “In the beginning of the year I did not. I started to think that towards the end of the year. I don’t tell too many people, but I told my wife that this team was starting to get it.
“They come in each day, don’t complain and work hard in practice. I can’t say that about every team and this team is doing that. I really think they are starting to get it down the stretch. Down the stretch, this has been a pretty good basketball team. This is becoming a reality.”
Triton’s win Saturday night gives the program its sixth regional title, adding to recent titles in 2011, 2009 and 2008. In each of those three seasons, Triton won the semi-state as well and capped the 2008 season with a state title. In the 2008 and 2009 semi-states, Triton knocked off Lafayette Central Catholic, the 2008 game on a last-second shot by Colton Keel.
LCC have won 10 regional titles including this year, and have won four semi-state and three state titles. The last semi-state win for LCC came in 2003, when it won its last state title.