BOURBON — Try and find a nervous kid. Go ahead, try.
While nerves are a natural part of sport and spectacle, this group of Triton boys basketball players have shown a poise well beyond their years. From senior superstar Clay Yeo to sophomore role player Skyler Reichert. Everyone has a role, everyone a job. And those combinations have put Triton one game away from playing for a state championship.
The Trojans will face a somewhat familiar outfit opposite them this Saturday in the Lafayette Jefferson Semi-state in 1-A foe Lafayette Central Catholic. The two teams have met twice in the past six seasons, with Triton owning wins over LCC in both occasions in 2008 and 2009. The Trojans beat LCC 50-47 in 2008 en route to its state championship and used a running gasp by Colton Keel in 2009 to upset LCC 52-51. Triton also reached the state finals in 2011, a game the upperclassmen know a little more fondly.
But that all doesn’t matter much to this group of Trojans. These kids are not worried about what happened four years ago, or really, last week against Fort Wayne Canterbury or Pioneer. It’s all about this Saturday.
“It means the world, being a little kid dreaming of going down to state and possibly winning a state title,” began senior Drew Mosson. “Just winning sectional championships means as much to me as the regional. So to get to semi-state is a big deal. Anybody as a kid always dreams of moments like these. You always want to play for a state title.”
Writing their own chapter in the state books will take quite an effort against a very balanced and experienced Catholic squad. The Knights have three scorers in double figures this season in Andrew Hubertz (14.5 points per game), Jake Churchill (14.2) and Timmy Mills (11.1). The threes will likely fly freely as well as No. 6 Catholic (18-8) has made 180 of the 521 treys they have attempted this season. Certainly a different look than the teams No. 10 Triton (19-5) has defended thus far in the tournament.
“Their point guard (Cowen Olinger) he isn’t looking to shoot, he’s just looking to pass,” sophomore guard Joey Corder said. “I’m going to really help off on who Clay is guarding and some of the bigger players, move off screens. I’m not going to worry too much about my guy since he doesn’t shoot. I’ll still contain and contest so he doesn’t get the easy buckets.”
But, as stated throughout the tournament, the Trojans will not stray from what got them here. Defense, and lots of it. Triton is allowing just 43 points a game this season, but just 40 during the four playoff wins. The LCC offense averages 59 points per game. Who is going to budge?
“Defensively, that’s our main focus, we know we have to do that to beat the best teams in the state,” said junior Tanner Shepherd. “They like to get out and go, they like to attack. We just have to force them into our own pace and our game. Take them out of their stuff and make them take bad shots.”
Think its just Shepherd who has bought into the mentality?
“We really have to close out, contest, there is going to be a lot of movement on the floor,” said senior Seth Glingle. “I think what is something people overlook is that Clay does a lot of scoring, but people overlook our defense. That is what we work on every day. If we can do what has got us here, we hopefully should be able to shut down LCC.”
The Knights have quite the résumé this season, winning 10 games against non-1-A opponents, including against 3-A regional finalist Frankfort and 2012 3-A state champion Guerin Catholic. Lafayette Central Catholic is 30-7 in the state tournament under head coach Dave Barrett, who has won 148 in games in his eight years as skipper. LCC also have the luxury of playing two blocks from campus, just a short drive up Teal Road to 18th Street.
Triton head coach Jason Groves has been equally successful, winning 158 of the 199 games he has coached while in Bourbon, and is ironically also 30-7 in the IHSAA state tournament. The Trojans have also won 10 games against non-1-A teams and have rattled off 11 wins in a row, while the Knights are winners of its past 10 games.
What will it take to make game number 200 a happy one for Groves?
“It’s just the mental approach of confidence,” Groves said. “These kids have to realize they are prepared to play a basketball game where they have seen just about every situation. There really hasn’t been one situation we haven’t dealt with, and our kids are prepared for that. That confidence comes when the butterflies go away, they put away the fear and they go back to playing basketball like they always do.”
Tip-off of the Lafayette Central Catholic-Triton game is at 4 p.m., with the 4-A semi-state between Carmel (23-2) and Merrillville (22-3) to follow. The southern 1-A semi-state pits No. 10 Borden (22-3) versus unranked University (15-11) on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Seymour High School. The two 1-A winners will meet on Saturday, March 23 at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for the class championship at 10:30 a.m.