NAPPANEE – It may not be as balanced as the girls version of the Class 3-A sectional, but the NorthWood Boys Basketball Sectional may serve up similar drama as the girls grid did at Fairfield a month ago. Interesting matchups are set for opening night, where Wawasee and Lakeland renew acquaintances ahead of the marquee showdown between heavyweights Fairfield and the host Panthers. Where there is plenty of tape of common opponents, it may be momentum coming in that helps decide matters. The opening game between Wawasee (6-16) and Lakeland (14-9) saw the Lakers run past Wawasee 54-30 in January, but looking deeper into the box score, Wawasee was on the second night of a back-to-back where they played Concord into overtime the night before and was playing its third game in five days. Lakeland also came into the game on a back-to-back, but had played six home games in a row to that point. The trio of Cameron Bontrager, Brayden Bontrager and Cole Harp dropped 44 points on the Warriors, and will have to be contained if Wawasee wants to live another day.
“We’ve scouted about eight of their games, so we know exactly what they want to do,” said Wawasee head coach Jon Everingham of Lakeland. “It goes back to team basketball. We don’t have one guy that can stop Brayden Bontrager. We don’t have one guy who can stop Cameron Bontrager or Cole Harp. “But we have shown that we can share the ball better, and when Trevon’s presence is known on the inside, it opens up everything for our shooters on the outside. I think at this point of the year we are playing very well and looking forward to the matchup.” Wawasee has tried several different looks this season to try to ignite its offense, and generally reverts to either Trevon Coleman or Jacob Hand sending the ball towards the rim. The two are averaging over 16 points combined for a team that’s scoring just over 36 a night. Of late, Jairus Boyer and Aaron Evans have had scoring binges, and Ryan Edington has provided some lift off the bench after missing the first half of the year with an ankle injury. The primetime game pits the top two teams in the bracket, Fairfield at 19-4 against NorthWood at 15-5. A season riddled with injuries saw the Panthers start 3-0, but fall back to 3-2 after Fairfield beat NorthWood at The Pit. Another three-game Northern Lakes Conference losing streak had NorthWood at just 8-5 overall and really missing a healthy Caleb Glick. Since then, however, NorthWood has rattled off seven straight wins including against Tippecanoe Valley, who will get the Fairfield-NorthWood winner in Friday’s semis. NorthWood had its final two games lost to flooding against Manchester and Elkhart Central last week. Caleb Lung and Kaden Gongwer have both picked up serious slack for NorthWood, both over 10 points a night, and Lung is grabbing six boards per game. Gongwer has been sensational in his first full year of varsity, adding over 50 assists and 30 steals and is hitting 38 percent of his three-point attempts. Brad Delio has also been solid at the guard position, leading the team in assists and adding 10 points per game. “We are excited about the sectional,” said NorthWood head coach Aaron Wolfe. “It is a special time of year in Indiana. Fairfield has a good team and we will have to play well in order to have an opportunity to win. We need to be ready to play and hopefully the Sectional Tournament is enough motivation. Our players are healthy and we are more comfortable in our roles. This is a very fun group to coach.”
Fairfield has been riding the wave of excitement since last March when it stunned then No. 2 NorthWood at the Wawasee Sectional. After starting the year 2-2, including a loss to Lakeland, Fairfield has only lost to a one-loss Westview team in the Northeast Corner Conference tourney – to which Fairfield beat the following weekend – and to a one-loss East Noble team. That wave of momentum, however, is in serious jeopardy after an injury to Luke Stephens. The dynamic senior guard was hurt in Friday night’s game against Central Noble and left with a knee injury. His status is up in the air for the tournament, and either way, changes what Fairfield will have to do to succeed. The play of Stephens at the point dictated the pace, Stephens pouring in 16 points per game. The emergence of Tyshawn Knight (10 ppg) and Peyton Faldoe (9 ppg) along with the frontline work of Cordell Hofer (10 ppg), make it difficult for teams to hone in on one or two options. Add in Shandon Miller, who missed the first quarter of the year with an injury, and the Falcons are stout all over. West Noble (11-11) will get the game one winner, setting up either a rematch between NECC foes, which Lakeland has won both games, or with Wawasee, where West Noble won the game by six in the second week of the year. West Noble features some options as well, with Takota Weigold, Mason Stover and Nick Franklin at guard and Josh Gross and Cade Barhydt at forward. Tippecanoe Valley is an interesting play, just 5-17 on the season but unafraid to shoot from anywhere and everywhere. Valley had won three of four coming down the stretch before losing two straight to Maconaquah and Wawasee to end last week. The Vikings still have over 800 games of experience sitting on its bench in Bill Patrick, now the assistant to Chad Patrick, whose change in philosophy may finally be catching on. Valley took over 900 shots in its first 20 games, 379 of those from three-point range. If the likes of Tanner Trippiedi (11 ppg), Cam Parker (8 ppg) and Parkur Dalrymple (6 ppg) can hit them, Valley can be dangerous. The development of an inside presence, namely Alex Morrison (7 ppg, 6 rpg) and Jace Potter (4 ppg, 3 rpg) will help against either NorthWood or Fairfield’s front line. “You are going to have to play them some time,” Patrick said of the semi-final matchup. “I kind of like where we play them because whoever wins that game Tuesday likely has the tendency to look past to maybe Lakeland on Saturday night. So we’re sitting in a good spot to play them. And if we happen to beat them, we’re sitting in the championship game and no one will give us a chance to win that, either. So we’re in a much better spot than we could be.”