BOURBON – It’s no surprise that the Triton boys basketball team has gotten better as the season has progressed.
It will be no surprise to anyone, either, if the Trojans add to their sectional championship streak.
Triton, Class 1-A state runner-up a year ago, headlines the field at the Culver Sectional.
Triton drew a first-round bye and will play the winner of the Culver-LaCrosse game in the first semifinal contest on Friday, March 7.
The Trojans, who have won six straight sectional titles, has found its groove late in the season. Coach Jason Groves’ squad, after a 4-5 start with four straight losses on the road to quality opponents New Prairie, Warsaw, Elkhart Christian and John Glenn, won eight of their final 10 games to finish at 12-7.
“I like the direction this team is headed,” said Groves late in the season. “It’s been a team effort where everyone has chipped in and did a great job doing what they can for us.
“We hit that really tough part of our schedule in late December and early January and lost the four and the kids’ confidence was down a little. We were trying everything with them because we were making the same mistakes over and over.
“The kids decided to change and take ownership. They worked hard to correct the things we needed to. Our mantra became create for others and it’s amazing how that team mentality benefits you. We’re sharing the ball, playing better defense and making good decisions. That’s really where we have gotten better as a team.”
The Trojans are not only 3-0 versus the sectional field with wins over Argos (69-39), Culver (64-56) and Oregon-Davis (74-30), but have played a tough schedule. Six of their seven losses were to Class 3-A or 4-A foes. The other one was to an outstanding Elkhart Christian team, which is ranked No. 4 in Class 1-A and has won a program best 16 games this season.
“This year scares me,” said Groves of the sectional field, which includes an Argos team that is 12-7 and the host Cavaliers, who are 13-7. “There are some very capable teams. Argos is very solid and balanced. We played really well earlier in the year against them. Culver is capable, especially at home, and with the Elliott kid. Oregon-Davis has gotten better. You never know what the sectional holds.”
“We also got the bye last year, but you still have to play well. The bye does allow you more time to prepare and to narrow your focus to two opponents. Last year, Culver beat us in the regular season and we beat them in the sectional. We know that we can go in there and win on their court, but we have to be focused. It’s not going to be easy.”
Senior Tanner Shepherd has been the go-to-guy for the Trojans with the graduation of Indiana All-Star Clay Yeo, the all-time leading scorer in Marshall County boys basketball history. Shepherd, a smooth southpaw guard, averages 19 points-per-game and went over 1,000 career points during the regular season. He was the lone Triton player to start all 19 games of the season.
“Tanner has had a great year and a great career,” noted Groves. “But, we’ve had others step up too. That’s been the key to our success that others have scored. Tanner does not have to do it all for us. It’s huge to get balanced scoring and that’s what we need in the sectional.”
Junior guard Skyler Reichert (10 ppg), along with do-it-all classmate Joey Corder and senior Darren Harrell have also provided scoring pop. The trio of sophomore Jordan Anderson, junior Austin Sellers and senior Dillon Meadway have been key too.
The long distance shooting ability of the Trojans has been a big key. Triton had hit 128 treys through its first 17 games.
Groves knows that the combination of state tournament experience and a demanding schedule is a security blanket.
“We take pride in our schedule and it’s definitely a plus to play the teams we do,” Groves remarked. “We know our weaknesses because those kind of teams expose them. We learn and get better from those games.
“With the experience, our kids know what to expect in the tournament. They know the effort that is needed to win championships.”
“I feel good with where we are and I think our kids do too. Our kids are confident and now they think we are going to win every game we play. I think winning six sectionals in a row is an advantage for us and a good thing from a mental edge standpoint. But we know we can’t take anything for granted in the tourney.”