By Nick Goralczyk
DENVER — It was a night of blowouts in the quarterfinal round of the IHSAA Boys Sectional No. 53 Tournament at North Miami High School. Lakeland Christian and Southwood, the finalists in the 2020 sectional field, kept hopes for a championship rematch alive with big wins Tuesday night.
Lakeland Christian 53, Smith Academy for Excellence 33
Following a season-ending loss last Tuesday at Fort Wayne Canterbury, Lakeland Christian head coach Jake Ritchie said his team was focused on the sectional, the proverbial “second season.” The Cougars could not have asked for a better start to their postseason as they bounced Smith Academy in the nightcap of Tuesday’s double-header.
Coming off its worst offensive performance of the season there was plenty to prove for the LCA hoops team. While the Cougars were slow to start, they finished strong. LCA was in a seesaw of a first quarter with the Fighting 54th until a three from Hunter Rice put the Cougars up 9-8 with just under two minutes to play in the period. From that point forward LCA would outscore Smith 22-7 to end the half and lead 28-15 at the break.
The Cougars were cautious with their shot selection in the first half, working the ball around, taking open looks when they came and really not hitting much. But coming out of the locker room LCA was a different team. The Cougars started the third on a 9-0 run and would win the period 20-4.
Silas Gagnon scored seven points in the third and led all players with 13 points. The junior also recorded two blocks in the contest. While Gagnon was doing his damage cleaning up the boards and controlling the paint offensively, the rest of the Cougars were living large from beyond the arc.
Hunter Rice carried LCA in the first half with nine points, all coming from deep. Rice added a fourth three in the third quarter to finish with 12 points. Ben Jackson also hit four shots from the perimeter to finish with 12 points. The Cougars called off the dogs in the fourth, letting the bench mob take control. Rounding out the scoring for LCA were Landon Gause with six points and five points each coming from Seth Martin and Cameron Shepherd.
In last week’s comments Ritchie talked about the key to this second season really being based on his team’s offensive performance. Tuesday night’s showing was all about seeing his team do what Ritchie knew it could.
“Tonight was about confidence,” stated the coach. “This group of guys knows they can make their shots. Our percentage drastically increases when we move the ball together. We moved the ball a little bit better tonight and we were able to pass up a couple good shot to get better shots. I was really happy to see that and it’s something we just have to continue to build on.”
LCA (10-10) will advance to the second game of Friday night’s semifinals. The 8 p.m. tip is a rematch for the Cougars as they will take on Northfield (7-15). The Norse defeated LCA 62-48 back on February 9. But the Cougars know they are a better team now and are eager for the rematch.
“We’re going to be in for a battle,” Ritchie explained about his team’s next game. “We played (Northfield) earlier in the year and played them close up until about the fourth quarter. We let them extend their lead late. But I know we’re looking forward to this game.
“The key to that game will really be about putting the clamps on (Clayton) Tomlinson, defensively. Offensively, (Northfield) switched to a zone on us in that game so it will be about us moving the ball to find better shots. We have to be able to knock our shots down and shoot with confidence.”
Tomlinson scored 16 on the Cougars in the two team’s previous meeting and dished out a season-high 35 points against defending sectional champion Southwood on February 19. Northfield, along with North Miami, received a bye in the tournament.
Smith Academy closes its season at 2-15. The Fighting 54th were led offensively by DeJour Johnson’s eight points.
Southwood 88, Southern Wells 39
It would have been fun to see the defending champion Knights hang 100 on a scoreboard that only had room for double digits, but Tuesday night was not the time. Southwood hung 80-plus points for the third time this season with its 49-point victory over the Raiders in the first game of Tuesday’s double header.
Southwood’s Carson Rich came into the contest averaging just over 21 points per game. But the senior decided to start his final hoops sectional with a bang as he dropped a season-high 40 points to help lift his team to Friday’s semis. The Knights had nine other players score in the lopsided victory. Southern Wells was led by Austin Harris’ nine-point effort.
Southwood (14-10) will take on North Miami (6-16) at 6 p.m. on Friday. The Knights clocked the Warriors 64-32 back on January 29.