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Trojan boys in regional for first time in decade

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New Castle’s Mason Gillis (32) blocks the shot of a Delta player as teammate Blake Burris (5) and the Eagles’ Wesley Woodin (4) watch during last Saturday night’s boys basketball championship game of Class 3A Sectional 24 in the Fieldhouse. Gillis leads the Trojans in both scoring and rebounding and hopes to help lead Class 3A No. 1 New Castle to a Marion regional title this Saturday.
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New Castle’s Luke Bumbalough (3) fires up a three-pointer against two Hamilton Heights players during the opening round of boys basketball Class 3A Sectional 24 in the Fieldhouse Feb. 27. Bumbalough’s skills will be needed if No. 1 New Castle desires to win the championship of the Marion regional this Saturday.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

With 10 years of sectional frustration without a championship having ended, the Class 3A No. 1 New Castle High School boys basketball team will travel to Marion Saturday to take the next step to what it hopes will be a state championship.

The Trojans (25-2) will face Angola (17-8) at approximately noon after host Marion (19-6) faces NorthWood (18-5) at 10 a.m. in the opening game of the semifinals.

Playing a regional game at Marion is not a new experience for a New Castle basketball team. Back in 2008, the Trojans won the Class 4A sectional they hosted in the Fieldhouse and then traveled to Marion for the regional. New Castle defeated Lafayette Jeff 49-46 in the semifinals before losing in overtime to the host Giants 42-40 for the regional title.

The Trojans could face Marion again in Saturday night’s championship game, but first they must get past a bunch of Hornets from Angola. New Castle never has faced Angola on the hardwood.

The Hornets do not exactly play racehorse basketball, as they come into the regional averaging 45.8 ppg while giving up 38.6 ppg. Angola has not put together any long winning streaks this season (longest is five games), or has it absorbed a long losing skein.

After suffering three losses in a row in late January to early February, the Hornets have won six of their last seven contests coming into Saturday’s action. One of those losses in that three-game skid was to Fort Wayne Concordia 39-34, and Angola turned the tables on the Cadets in last Saturday’s sectional championship game at New Haven, winning 51-44 in overtime.

Because of the distance between Angola (located in the far northeast corner of the state) and New Castle, the two schools did not play any common opponents. Like some schools around the state, Angola does not place any individual statistics of its players on the MaxPreps website. 

The Hornets belong to the Northeast Corner Conference, composed of Class A Hamilton and Fremont, Class 2A Central Noble, Westview, Prairie Heights, Churubusco, and Eastside, and Class 3A schools Garrett, Fairfield, West Noble, and Lakeland. Angola was 8-3 in its conference in 2017-18.

Hornets Coach Ed Bentley has a record of 90-55 in his sixth year at the school. Before this season, Angola last won a sectional in 2016 and lost to NorthWood 44-40 in the regional.

New Castle comes into the regional averaging 70.2 ppg while giving up 51.2. The Trojans won the Hoosier Heritage Conference with a perfect 7-0 record (composed entirely of Class 3A and 4A schools) and also won the Raymond James Hall of Fame Classic on their home floor in late December.

As folks around here know, New Castle is led by juniors Mason Gillis and Luke Bumbalough and senior Niah Williamson, all of whom were named to the All-Hoosier Heritage Conference Boys Basketball team for 2017-18.

Gillis averages a double-double of 21.1 ppg and 12.8 rpg, and has produced 2.4 apg and 1.1 spg. Bumbalough averages 19.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.7 apg, and 1.4 spg. Williamson has come through with 11.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, and 2.8 apg.

Other starters for New Castle are junior Nicholas Grieser (3.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg) and senior Bryce Webb (2.7ppg, 1.6 rpg). the jobs for Grieser and Webb primarily are to defend, rebound, and set screens for the shooters.

Senior Bryce Huntley and juniors Blake Burris and Mason Hardwick are the first players off the bench. Huntley is a good defender and Burris and Hardwick are very capable three-point shooters. In the Mississinewa game this season, 10 different Trojan players made a three-pointer, and New Castle has hit 16 three-pointers in a couple games this season.

Coach Daniel Cox is 77-42 in his fifth year at the school and has won two HHC titles during that span of time.

Do not look for Angola to try to run with New Castle. The Trojans have played, by far, the superior schedule and have proven that they can play at any pace. The Hornets probably will hold the ball looking for good shots and try to keep the score low. If the New Castle defense creates turnovers, contests every shot, and controls the tempo, look for the Trojans to be playing in Saturday night’s championship game.

Saturday’s first semifinal game also seems to be one involving contrasting styles. Marion is a team that likes to get up and down the court while NorthWood prefers a more deliberate pace.

New Castle fans are somewhat familiar with the Giants as the Trojans used to play them every year when both teams were in the North Central Conference. New Castle and Marion last played each other Feb. 1, 2013 in the Fieldhouse with the Giants winning 51-49.

Marion did not play NorthWood this season. The Giants average 75.8 ppg and give up 66.8. Although a Class 3A team, Marion plays a schedule loaded with Class 4A teams, which is not unusual given that most teams in the NCC are in Class 4A. Coach James Blackmon is 85-41 in his fifth year at the school.

Among their 25 games this season, 17 have been against Class 4A squads. Marion is 11-6 against those teams and finished 6-3 in the NCC, losing only to McCutcheon by a point, Lafayette Jeff by two in overtime, and by 13 at Indianapolis Tech. The Giants are undefeated (7-0) against Class 3A teams and are athletic.

Like New Castle, three Marion players average in double figures. Freshman Jalen Blackmon, the coach’s son, leads the team in scoring at 22.2 ppg and also contributes 3.2 rpg, 3.3 apg, and a steal per game. Sophomore Jakylen Thomas is next in scoring at 15.6 ppg, and junior Latrell Simpson averages 10,9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, and 1.1 spg.

Junior Dre Aguilar is the Giants’ leading rebounder at 8.2 rpg and also averages 9.3 ppg, 1.9 apg, and 1.6 spg. Senior Tyrese Cobb scores 5.0 ppg and senior Zachariah Randolph is at 4.6 ppg.

Marion won the Class 3A state championship two years ago over Evansville Bosse 73-68. The Giants had a modest 17-7 record entering that tournament but ran the table, including a 66-62 victory over NorthWood (Saturday’s semifinal opponent) in the regional championship game.

NorthWood comes into the regional riding a 10-game winning streak. The Panthers have played only 23 games because two of its home games against Manchester and Elkhart Central late in the season were cancelled. Coach Aaron Wolfe had a recor4d of 184-76 in his 11th year at the school.

NorthWood is averaging 54.8 ppg while yielding 39.8 ppg to opponents. The Panthers play a mixture of teams from all classes, but primarily Class 3A and 4A schools. There’s really not a particular win that jumps out at one.

NorthWood plays in the Northern Lakes Conference and was 4-3 in that league this season. Like Angola, the individual statistics for the Panther players were not available on the MaxPreps website. Before last season, NorthWood had won three sectional titles in a row.

If one were a betting person, he or she would be inclined to go with Marion because the Giants have played the better schedule and have the home court advantage.

If New Castle and Marion do meet in Saturday’s championship game, it would mirror the regional title game of 10 years ago. The Giants won that one by two points in overtime, and Trojan fans would be hoping for a different final result.

If the Trojans end up playing NorthWood in the championship game, it would be the first meeting for the two teams on the basketball court.