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Weekend includes state finals and a regional championship

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Dave McCollough, head coach of the Class 2A No. 2 Shenandoah High School boys basketball team, clips a piece of the net after his Raiders defeated Northeastern 42-37 last Saturday night at Greenfield-Central High School to win the championship of Class 2A Regional 11. Shenandoah plays Linton-Stockton this Saturday in Seymour for the Class 2A southern semi-state championship.
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The Fishers High School varsity dance team performs at halftime of last Friday night's Northern Illinois at Ball State men's college basketball game at Worthen Arena, so there's more than just basketball to entertain crowds at Cardinals games.
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New Castle sophomore Samantha Ward performs her Floor Exercise routine during the third rotation at last Saturday afternoon's IHSAA gymnastics state finals at Noblesville High School. Ward received a score of 9.000 on Floor which contributed to her All-Around score of 35.825, good enough for 15th place among 27 competitors.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

Even though four members of my family have died in the third month of the calendar year, including my mom last year, March still remains one of my favorite months because of all of the sports events going on during it.

Last weekend was a case in point, as I ventured to three different sites (one twice) to cover sporting events, starting with a short trip north to Ball State's Worthen Arena on Friday night to see the Cardinal men's basketball team play its regular season finale against Northern Illinois.

During the 2018-19 season, I attended three BSU women's basketball games but had not attended a men's game until last Friday. That will change come next season when New Castle's Luke Bumbalough will be a member of the BSU men's team.

I hope to cover as many Cardinal men's games as I can during the 2019-20 season, and I hope Luke gets a lot of playing time so that I can have photos of him in games to place in The Courier-Times.

The last BSU men's basketball game I had attended was when the Cardinals hosted Purdue a few years back. I was a C-T sports correspondent at the time and got to use the C-T media pass to get in free. Since the Boilermakers were in town, the place was packed. I think Purdue won that game, but I'm not 100 percent sure on that.

Wouldn't it be great if Purdue played BSU at Worthen Arena during the next four years? I could cover both Mason Gillis and Luke Bumbalough in the same game even though they would be on opposing teams in college.

The Cardinals raced out to an 18-4 lead over the visiting Huskies in last Friday's game, but hit a lull and eventually lost 64-57. I had a good time nonetheless and took some photos that appeared in Sunday's paper with the story about the game.

I'm happy the Cardinals righted the ship Monday night with a road win over Eastern Michigan in the MAC Tournament and will be playing Bowling Green in Thursday night's quarterfinals in Cleveland.

Saturday morning, I clocked in at the C-T at 7:45 a.m. to finish Sunday's sports pages. I often don't know how long I'll be in the office on Saturday morning, as I don't know how many sports items will come through via e-mail overnight, but I did finish after 2 1/2 hours and made the journey over to Greenfield to cover the Shenandoah boys basketball team in Class 2A Regional 11.

When I got to Greenfield-Central High School at 11 a.m., the regular parking lot was full, so I had to park in the overflow lot a bit northwest of the football field and walk a little longer, which was OK because walking is good exercise.

GCHS has no hospitality room for the media, as such, but it does give media a "coupon" for a free drink item and two free food items, which is just as good. In fact, at times it can be better, because if you don't consume the items on the premises, you can take them home and enjoy them at your leisure. Candy bars last longer than pretzels or popcorn.

I got there near the beginning of the fourth quarter of the first game between Northeastern and Monrovia, which eventually was won by the Knights 58-54.

I was fairly confident that Shenandoah would defeat Heritage Christian in the second semifinal, but one never knows when a public school goes up against a private school who can recruit. The Eagles were good, but the Class 2A No. 2 Raiders were better and won 62-55.

I was really impressed with the game Shenandoah sophomore Andrew Bennett had—a game-high 30 points plus six rebounds. Bennett already was a strong candidate to make the C-T All-Area First Team this year, and that performance certainly solidified his chances to do so.

It started to rain after I concluded my interview with Raider Coach Dave McCollough, but I didn't get soaked on the way back to my car. I then ventured northwest to Noblesville to cover the rest of the IHSAA gymnastics state finals in which New Castle sophomore Samantha Ward was performing.

The rain intensified as I drove to Noblesville High School for the state finals, and it was downright pouring when I got there, so much so that I needed my red-and-white golf umbrella to avoid getting soaked by rain when walking from the parking lot to the gym.

I got there during the second rotation, just a bit before Ward performed on Balance Beam. I'm always amazed how girls can stay on that beam (which isn't very wide). I never criticize a girl for falling off the beam, because I know I couldn't stay on it when I was 16 and I definitely know I couldn't stay on it at 65.

Ward didn't fall off Beam, and had a pretty clean routine on it as she did for Floor Exercise and Vault which followed. Ward performed on Uneven Parallel Bars before I got there and achieved her highest placing in any event on them, 16th. Ward's All-Around score was the best she had this season and good enough for 15th place out of 27 competitors.

If you've never been to an IHSAA gymnastics state finals, I'd suggest you go at least once. These girls can do some amazing things. Personally, I consider gymnasts girl or boy, women or men, to be the best athletes in sports because they use every muscle group in their bodies while keeping their bodies under control when performing events.

After interviewing Ward and NCHS Coach Tina Hittson, I drove back home to New Castle to get a bite to eat, as all I had to eat Saturday up until then was a box of popcorn. After being home for about an hour, I drove back to Greenfield to cover the Class 2A Regional 11 championship game and got to park in the regular lot.

One interesting tidbit about this game was that it featured Northeastern, undefeated in the Tri-Eastern Conference at 8-0, against Shenandoah, undefeated in the Mid-Eastern Conference at 9-0, against each other.

Both the Raiders and Knights have played better this season, but it was a tough, tense, and tight contest that went right down to the wire as a regional championship game should. No last-second heave for a winning basket was needed, though, and Shenandoah emerged with a 42-37 victory for its first regional title in 18 years.

The crowd in support of the Raiders was huge, as it was for the Knights, and I tip my hat to the fans for that support and for having no ugly instances in the game.

After taking the traditional pictures of the winning team and conducting interviews with SHS Coach McCollough and some of his players, I left, filled my Fusion's tank with less-expensive gasoline at Speedway in Greenfield, and headed home, arriving back a bit before 10:30 p.m. It was a long, but satisfying, day. 

Sunday on TV, I watched IU defeat Rutgers 89-73 for its fourth straight win. The Hoosiers are fun to watch again.

The only drawback to all this "fun" is that it put me a little behind the eight-ball in getting the mid-term grades in for the classes I teach at Ivy Tech. So I stayed up until 3:45 a.m. Tuesday grading accounting tests and homework papers and getting the grades figured and entered into the system to beat the deadline.

I did accomplish that, and if you see any errors or misspellings in today's column, it might be due to a little fatigue. But at least I didn't fall asleep typing this, as it was about as much fun to write as the events I covered and witnessed this past weekend.

David Risley is sports editor at The Courier-Times.