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Thoughts from a regional title well-earned (and other stuff)

Members of the Class 3A No. 1 New Castle High School boys basketball team celebrate with the regional championship placard after defeating tourney host Marion 77-70 Saturday night in Bill Green Athletic Arena for the Regional 6 title. The Trojans will play Culver Academy Saturday at 1 p.m. at Lafayette Jeff for the Class 3A northern semi-state championship.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

If any of you readers were among the throng of New Castle High School basketball fans who ventured to Marion High School last Saturday for Class 3A regional action, many of your experiences were similar to mine.

One nice thing about Marion High School is that it’s pretty easy to get to. I drove up Saturday morning after completing Sunday’s sports pages and expected a large crowd. That’s what I found, as all the spots in the parking lots were taken and I had to park near Valley Street and walk a little distance to Bill Green Athletic Arena.

I really don’t mind walking, especially on a pretty nice, but chilly, day. As I’ve stated in previous columns, I hate to pay for parking. That’s probably what kills a lot of shopping in downtown Indianapolis - the outrageous fees for parking. I’d rather park and walk a mile for free than to pay $20 to park close by.

The second half of the first game had just started when I arrived. One nice thing about being a media member is sometimes there is a door just for you and you get to eat in the hospitality room. That was true at Marion.

The hospitality room there was quite nice with a large variety of food. A television was tuned to the Marion vs. NorthWood game and the Marion radio station did the broadcast of it was piped in. I ate and watched the rest of that first game, won by the host Giants 66-51.

Accommodations for the press vary at different sites for IHSAA state tournaments. I was told that a place had been reserved for me next to John Harp and Lorenzo Pettiford from the New Castle radio station, but that was near the end on the second level. I was told I also could sit right in back of the scorer’s table close to the floor. Since it was closer to the action, I chose the latter and got a seat almost at center court.

To be honest with you, I didn’t think New Castle would have much trouble defeating Angola in the second semifinal game.

As I stated in an article last week, I expected the Hornets to hold the ball, be patient, and try to control the tempo. The Trojans have faced this before, so it would be nothing new.

What I didn’t expect was for New Castle to shoot 5-for-19 from the field the first half (26.3 percent) and score just 18 points. The Trojans still led, but just 18-15, and thoughts of another game similar to Beech Grove entered my mind.

But the Green and White came out and did what they have done all this tournament, which is to have a strong third quarter, gain a comfortable lead, and win going away, and that’s kind of what happened in that semifinal contest.

With a lot of time left between the end of the semifinals and the start of Saturday night’s championship game, I decided to drive back to Muncie to watch New Castle freshman Samantha Ward compete in the remaining part of the IHSAA gymnastics state finals in Ball State’s Worthen Arena.

I arrived just after Samantha completed her second rotation, which was on Balance Beam. She told me later in an interview that she had fallen off the Beam and suffered a case of the jitters, which is understandable as she was competing against gymnasts who were juniors and seniors who had been there before.

I have stated before that I think gymnasts are the best athletes and use all of their bodies when performing. How girls can do the things they do on a beam that (I think) is four inches wide is amazing. I don’t think guys could do it. That’s why male gymnasts do pommel horse rather than beam, I guess.

The girls at Worthen Arena Saturday were Indiana’s best of the best in gymnastics and I think Samantha held her own very well. I watched her perform her final two routines in Floor Exercise and Vault, and she did quite well in Vault, finishing with a score of 9.400, her best of the season and good enough for 14th out of 42 competitors.

It seems like the power in high school gymnastics right now sits primarily in Porter County and Columbus. There are no gymnastics teams at all in Indiana south of Seymour, which is kind of amazing. It would be nice if the entire New Castle team competed at the gymnastics state finals in the not-too-distant future.

I drove back to Marion afterward for Saturday night’s regional championship game. I still had some time to kill and messed around in a couple of stores there, buying  a couple items at Dollar Tree.

I got to the Marion High School parking lot at 6:15 p.m., 45 minutes before the doors opened and an hour, 45 minutes before the start of the game, and already the parking lot had started to fill up. I read part of a chapter in a book about the LA Lakers I had gotten a few months ago at Dollar Tree until the sun went down.

By that time, the doors had opened and I went to Door 10 (for media) and didn’t have to wait in line a single second. I got my seat at the table back of the scorer’s table and the place already had started to fill up. Eventually, we were kind of packed in like sardines.

What a great atmosphere! It was like the old days of packed gyms for tournaments. You had the Marion Purple and Gold on one side and the New Castle Green and White on the other. From my vantage point, every seat had been taken and people were standing up on the second level.

I expected a good game, and that’s what it was. I was wanting to see Marion freshman Jalen Blackmon, who was averaging over 22 ppg, to see if he was as good as his dad, Marion Coach James Blackmon, or his brother James Blackmon, Jr. 

The youngest Blackmon is a good player, like his dad and brother, and probably will only get better as he goes through his high school days. He did lead the Giants in scoring in the title contest with 25 points, but took 23 shots in order to get them (8-of-23 from the floor).

New Castle shot out to a 17-point lead in the first half, increased it to 24 points in the third quarter, and then bent but didn’t break when Marion closed to within 72-66, and actually had a chance to get to within four but missed a couple free throws. 

But after getting that large lead, I never felt the Trojans would lose, and they held on for a 77-70 win. Many of the Giants will return next year, so perhaps the two old NCC rivals will square off again in the 2019 regional.

But attention now turns to Culver Academy in the Class 3A northern semi-state Saturday at Lafayette Jefferson High School. I’ve done a little research on the Eagles and gotten some information from their local newspaper, and they appear to be a formidable opponent for the Trojans and shoot 52 percent from the field as a team. My preview story of that game will be in Thursday’s edition of The Courier-Times.

I hope this trip to Crawley Center will be better than the other two times I’ve been there. In 1971, New Castle shot 56 percent from the field but still lost to the host Bronchos 87-79 as a tremendous number of fouls were called on the Trojans. In 1983, I saw Steve Alford score a “quiet” 40 points in an 80-70 loss to Jeff. Both of those Trojan teams made the state finals and the elite eight, respectively, back in the one-class tournament days.

But New Castle isn’t playing Lafayette Jeff on its home floor this time. It’s taking on an opponent it never has played before.

On a final note, I wish to thank all of you readers who have sent cards, plants, or expressed your condolences face-to-face to me on the passing of my Mom. It means a lot to me and what’s left of our small family, and I really appreciate them.

It is said that people grieve in different ways. What I’ve tried to do since my Mom was buried was to keep busy and try to bring to you stories you enjoy. I hope I’ve succeeded in that endeavor.

David Risley is sports editor at the Courier-Times