By Nick Goralczyk
BOURBON – “Just relax.”
That was the message that Triton head coach Jason Groves gave his team as it went into the second overtime against Caston in the first semifinal game of Saturday’s Class 1-A Triton Boys Basketball Regional at the Trojan Trench.
Relaxing seemed like it might be a challenge in a game that had featured 12 lead changes and six ties up to that point. Add in a rowdy Caston fan base that arguably outnumbered Triton’s vocal supporters and you had a fantastic Hoosier hardwood postseason scene in the middle of its climatic glory.
“Relax” almost had to be said in jest! But it wasn’t. Groves calmed his team before the game’s final four-minute stretch, even after Triton had come up empty on the final possessions of both regulation and the first overtime. A calmed and focused Trojan squad closed out the Comets in that second OT to earn a 64-52 win.
“It was just about relaxing and to keep battling,” Groves explained further. “I think we had to keep it up on the defensive end, keep fighting and prevent (Caston) from scoring. Prevent (Caston) from getting rebounds.
“I was proud of what our kids did. They kept fighting, kept battling, got stops when they needed and scored when we needed them to.”
Saturday morning’s game was truly a battle between the two Hoosier North Athletic Conference rivals. Caston, the only team in the Triton regional with a losing record (10-16), was not trying to show off any glass slippers as a Cinderella. Instead the Comets came in wearing combat boots looking to avenge a 56-37 loss to Triton on Feb. 6. They may have pulled it off, too, if Triton was not such a resilient squad. That, or if the Comets could have slowed down Ashton Oviedo at any point.
Oviedo had a game-high 33 points, team-high four steals, and played 38:10 of the 40-minute contest. Oviedo scored the only basket, a three, for Triton in the first overtime period to keep the Trojans alive. After going into that second overtime, tied 50-50, Oviedo put the team on his back offensively.
Oviedo scored the first four points of the second overtime and then the final eight to help close out the Comets. Oviedo outscored Caston 12-2 in the final period, going 8-9 from the charity stripe along the way. Oviedo’s offensive efforts will show up in the stat book for that final four minutes but Triton’s team defense was just something that you had to see.
The Trojans (20-5) held Caston scoreless from the floor in the second overtime, the only Comet points coming from a pair of free throws from Bryce Rudicel. Triton forced 18 turnovers and turned those into 17 points. The Trojans had to scrape, claw and fight for the win but they answered the call every time to earn a chance at a regional title.
After playing the extra eight minutes of basketball to clinch its win, Triton will definitely focus on relaxing before Saturday night’s championship which tips at 8 p.m. But Groves is not concerned with who his team will play. It is all about what Triton does that determines who moves on.
“Right now it’s about getting rested, getting fluids,” stated the coach. “Tonight it’s about effort. You have to defend again. You have to take care of the ball. Both Fremont and Kouts can make you turn it over. So we’ll have to really take care of the ball. That and play with confidence, relax and enjoy it.”
Tyson Yates tallied nine points, six rebounds and three steals for Triton. John Gardner and Cole McKinney each scored eight points for the Trojans while Gardner led all players 13 rebounds. Bruce Johnson rounded out Triton’s scoring effort with six points. Caston was led by a 17-point effort from Sam Smith.
No. 3 Kouts (26-2) will likely be the last road block for the Trojans to get to next week’s semi-state. The Mustangs were up 32-15 on Fremont (12-11) late in the first half, the winner set to take on Triton at 8 p.m. tonight at the Trojan Trench.