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Some observations at the start of a new year

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

The Courier-Times is a business, and like most businesses has budget limitations financially on what it can do.

Given that, it was a prudent choice for me to cover the championship games of the Henry County Basketball Tournament this past Saturday night at Blue River Valley High School. Since I am both reporter and photographer, it saved the C-T some money for me to cover those girls and boys county title games and send one of my sports correspondents, Ron Greeson, southeast to cover the New Castle at Connersville boys basketball game.

It also freed up some money to cover some additional upcoming games or sporting events down the road.

After I returned home from covering the Henry County Tourney, I checked John Harrell’s website and found out that the Trojans had defeated the Spartans 70-69 in overtime.

From that score and Ron’s story about it, it sounded like a great comeback victory for New Castle that I didn’t see, very similar to the Trojans’ game at Westfield two years ago when Luke Bumbalough scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to rally New Castle to another overtime win.

But I enjoyed myself just the same at the county tourney. The Courier-Times is not a newspaper just for folks in New Castle, and I like to get out and see the county teams perform as often as I can. I think the C-T was the only newspaper covering the HC Tourney, as I saw no one from the Anderson or Muncie papers there. 

Neither of the county championship games were close and I think this is the first year since reinstatement in which the same two schools were playing in both the girls and boys championship games.

The story of the two games was very similar. Shenandoah played great defense and won the battle of the boards, and Blue River Valley just did not shoot the basketball with accuracy.

The scary thing for Blue River, Knightstown, and Tri is that these Raider teams are relatively young. Next season, barring any transfers, the Shenandoah girls return four of their five starters, including their top two scorers and rebounders, and the Raider boys also return four of their five starters.

The current sophomore class for Shenandoah is very talented on the hardwood, and I see its boys and girls teams being very strong again in 2020-21.

So what will these two Raider teams do in the upcoming IHSAA tournament? I don’t want to put any undue pressure on anyone and my opinion is just that, an opinion. But here is how I see things unfolding for Shenandoah.

The Raider girls have the capability to run the table the rest of the regular season with their stifling defense. They can’t win a MEC title with their three earlier losses in the league, but they can go into the tournament as a hot team (they’ve already won eight games in a row).

Shenandoah’s biggest challenge in the sectional is 16-1 Triton Central, who defeated it in last season’s title game when leading scorer Kathryn Perry was in concussion protocol and didn’t play. That game was at Triton Central.

The Raiders host the sectional this year. Shenandoah isn’t undefeated at home this season, but playing in familiar Von Jameson Gymnasium has to offer some advantage. If the team stays healthy and continues to play like it has (and cuts down on turnovers), I expect the Raiders to give the Tigers a run for their money in this year’s sectional.

I don’t foresee the Shenandoah boys losing many more, if any, games the rest of the regular season. This Raider team is fun to watch as it plays so well together. Shenandoah is a great passing team, and its players are unselfish, giving up a good shot to find a teammate with a better one.

No one appears to have any ego problem on this Raiders boys team, and who does an opponent focus on to stop when all five players on the floor are good shooters and can score? In last Saturday night’s championship game of the county tournament, the top five scorers for Shenandoah tallied 15, 15, 11, 10, and seven points. Now, that’s balance.

This Raider boys team isn’t overly big and flashy and probably won’t impress a lot of folks getting off the bus. It is just fundamentally sound and goes out and beats teams with its positioning, passing, defense, and shooting.

Shenandoah got a really good coach when Noblesville let Dave McCollough go. Look at his record since he became head coach of the Raiders. And the best may be yet to come.

Class 2A Sectional 42 is at Knightstown this year. Nothing against the host Panthers (who won’t play Shenandoah this season until possibly in the sectional), but I don’t see any team in that sectional field preventing the Raiders from winning a third straight sectional championship, provided they continue to play the way they have been.

The regional at Greenfield-Central has been the stumbling block for Shenandoah the past two seasons. There are other good teams around the state, and Heritage Christian (in 2017) and Cloverdale last March ended the Raider seasons.

Maybe Shenandoah has learned some things from those two defeats and a different result awaits if it makes it back there this March.

But I will say this. I saw Westview play twice at the Raymond James Hall of Fame Classic on Dec. 29. Westview was the only Class 2A school among three other Class 4A teams in that event and held its own.

Although not as big as the Warriors, I think the Raiders are as good as Westview with their passing and defense. Blue River Coach Brian Klein said after his team’s 66-35 loss to Shenandoah last Saturday night that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Shenandoah at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in March for the final Saturday of the tournament.

I would have to agree, and wouldn’t it be interesting if Shenandoah’s opponent happened to be Westview?

One final thing before closing. How did Blue River freshman Ally Madden get left off the Girls All-Tournament Team after her double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday night’s 38-24 loss? In addition, she had 11 points and eight rebounds in Friday’s 47-31 win against Tri. Not to take away from anyone who was named to the Girls All-Tournament Team, but Madden deserved a spot on it. Perhaps the Henry County Tournament could take a cue from the Hall of Fame Classic and have six players selected to the All-Tournament Teams and let the media vote.

But again, it’s just my opinion.

David Risley is sports editor at The Courier-Times