NAPPANEE – The familiar role of that as sectional favorites is sure not to alter the focus of the NorthWood boys basketball team.
The experienced and tournament tested Panthers will be ready to go come tournament time.
NorthWood, ranked No. 2 in Class 3-A, will once again be the team to beat in the Wawasee Sectional field. The Panthers, sporting a 20-2 mark, will be aiming for the program’s fourth straight sectional championship.
NorthWood coach Aaron Wolfe is confident that his team will be set as postseason play commences.
“We have always tried to focus on the next game,” said Wolfe. “We know we play Lakeland on Tuesday and we need to prepare for them. We do not place much weight on the sectional draw.”
The Panthers open sectional action Tuesday night versus Lakeland (8-14) at approximately 7:30 p.m. in Syracuse. NorthWood topped the Lakers 60-49 in LaGrange back on Jan. 21.
NorthWood is led by star guard Vinny Miranda. The 6-0 senior, who will play at Taylor University next season, is averaging 20 points-per-game for the Panthers. He is also averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. Miranda, who went over 1,000 career points this season, is shooting 50 percent overall from the field and has hit on 55-150 shots from 3-point range.
The Panthers are 4-0 versus the sectional field this season. NorthWood beat Lakeland and also owns wins over Fairfield (69-35), West Noble (77-44) and Wawasee (59-33). The Panthers did not play Tippecanoe Valley, who they beat in the sectional final last year, in the regular season.
NorthWood has won four in a row since a 59-52 loss at Elkhart Memorial on Feb. 10. The Panthers, who went undefeated at home this season, also lost a 54-37 decision at Warsaw.
“I think we have played well over the last two weeks,” noted Wolfe. “Our team battled some injuries and sickness late in the season. This usually helps in the long run as we had to overcome some adversity. We seem to be healthy again.”
The Panthers also count heavily on Luke Zurcher and Caleb Lung. Zurcher, a 6-3 senior forward, is averaging 14.9 points-per-game and is 42-91 from distance. Lung, a 6-2 junior forward, checks in at 10 ppg. and is also averaging 5.6 rebounds per contest.
NorthWood has also gotten big contributions from senior Trey Bilinski, along with juniors Caleb Glick and Brad Delio.
Wolfe, whose team lost in the regional final to eventual state champion Marion last year, says it’s all about focus and not being the favorite.
“We need to focus on things we can control and focus on our standards,” remarked Wolfe. “We need to enjoy the moment as “Hoosier Hysteria” is special.”
NorthWood joined some exclusive company with a 71-27 win at Manchester Tuesday night in its regular-season finale. The Panthers posted a 20-win season for the fourth straight year, joining the Elkhart High School teams from 1950-54 as the only programs in Elkhart County history to achieve the feat.
The Panthers, who are 165-70 in 10 seasons under Wolfe, are averaging 61.9 points-per-game and allowing 46.7 per contest on the season.
The winner of the NorthWood-Lakeland game will face Fairfield (11-12) in a the second semifinal game on Friday night. The sectional finale at Wawasee is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with the champion advancing to the Marion Regional on March 11 to play the Bellmont Sectional winner in the first semifinal matchup.