By Mike Deak
BOURBON – It’s been a minute for the Triton Trojans.
Despite winning 49 games from 2017-20, Triton boys basketball had a grand total of zero sectional championships. That all changed in 2020, as the Trojans’ win number 19 was that elusive sectional championship, knocking off rival Argos Saturday night at Culver.
The Dragons had the Trojans’ number in recent years, winning four of the last five matchups, including the sectional championship over Triton in 2019 and 2020, and the regular season contest this past February. But a hot start helped Triton get over the hump, and blessed with the opportunity to host the regional.
Triton (19-5) has shown the ability to handle adversity in the 2020-21 season. After a late start due to COVID, Triton opened winners of six of its first seven games. But a shocking loss at LaVille with the Hoosier North Athletic Conference title on the line looked like a back breaker. However, less than 16 hours later, Triton scored the most points it had recorded in 30 years, hanging 109 points on Clinton Christian. A solid home win a week later over Tippecanoe Valley was then followed by a convincing loss to Argos.
That Argos loss has fueled a now five-game win streak, where the Trojans have won by an average of 25.8 points per game and rolling into the Triton Regional this weekend.
“We definitely had our ups and downs and had to fight through some adversity throughout the season, especially late in the season, but that’s the case with every team,” said Triton head coach Jason Groves. “It’s just a matter of how you respond to it. Our kids just decided to learn and grow from it, which I feel has made us stronger now than we’ve ever been.”
Triton has had several individuals make big plays in big moments, and Saturday night it was Ashton Oviedo’s turn. The guard had 14 points, three rebounds, six assists and five steals against Argos. Tyson Yates had 17 points and four steals and John Gardner had 15 points and six rebounds.
Cole McKinney, Bruce Johnson and Cole Shively also have made key contributions along the way, to which another HNAC opponent is awaiting in Caston. The Comets (10-15) come in after upsetting North White, 55-54, in the Tri-County Sectional championship.
While Triton is the favorite on paper, including owners of a 56-37 win over Caston on Feb. 6 at the Trojan Trench, Groves is heeding the usual amount of caution a postseason setting presents.
“It is a blessing that we get to play in a familiar gym for sure,” said Groves. “I definitely would not trade that. However, we need to be careful because I’m sure Caston is approaching this game the same way we approached our second Argos game. We knew we were a better team than we showed the first time we played them.
“We were more prepared the second time, we played with more energy, passion, and determination, and we just played better basketball. Our kids are experienced players; hopefully they know by now that the second time you play someone, the results aren’t necessarily going to be the same. Trust me, I will let them know that this week!”
Caston has been led this season by the duo of Kade Zeider and Sam Smith. Both are scoring 10.3 points per game and combine to pull in over seven rebounds. Jake Paschen had 11 points and four rebounds for the Comets in the first matchup.
Oviedo and Yates both had the shooting touch for the Trojans against the Comets in the first go-round, combining to go 17-28 from the floor and hang 41 points. The two also had nine of Triton’s 17 steals as the Comets gave away the ball 25 times in the contest.
The morning winner, which start at 9:30 a.m., will watch No. 3 Kouts (26-2) take on Fremont (12-11). Kouts owns impressive wins over Linton-Stockton, Marquette Catholic and Washington Township along its way, and are led by twin senior Cole and Cale Wireman. Cole scores at a 27-point-per-game clip and Cale at 16 a night, and the two combine for eight rebounds, six assists and steals per night. Another senior duo with the same last name, Parker and Hunter Kneifel, are averaging almost 20 points on their own as Kouts is scoring almost 77 points per game. Fremont comes to the regional as the championship representative from the Bethany Christian sectional.
“We are definitely the underdogs in this regional even though it’s at home,” offered Groves. “Kouts is the clear favorite, but that’s why you play the games. We feel we are a good team, and we are going to enjoy and try to take advantage of this opportunity that we have.”