By BRYAN GASKINS Kokomo Tribune
---- — Tipton’s boys basketball team came into the season with a new look following the graduation of Indiana All-Star Mike Crawford, who is the program’s all-time leading scorer. He led the Blue Devils to Class 2A sectional and regional titles in 2011-13.
The Blue Devils will look to continue their sectional reign this week when they head to Alexandria for Sectional 39 play.
“With our youthful team and a just-above-.500 record, I think that removed some of the target [as three-time defending sectional champions]. We’re just one of the decent teams over in that sectional that could play well and have a chance to win,” Tipton coach Brad Dickey said.
Tipton (11-8) faces Alexandria (10-11) in the opener at 7 p.m. today on the Tigers’ home floor. Tipton was the sectional host when it won the 2011-13 titles.
The opening round continues Wednesday with Eastern (3-17) vs. Sheridan (3-17) at 6 p.m. followed by Madison-Grant (8-12) vs. Elwood (12-9). Taylor (6-13) received the bye and will face the Tipton-Alexandria winner in Friday’s semifinal round.
Tipton jumped to a 6-2 record early in the season and was 11-5 before falling to Frankfort, Class 2A No. 7-ranked Cass and Western in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Dickey likes how his squad is playing
“I think we caught some people off guard at the beginning of the season and got some good wins. We probably leveled off in the middle of the season. Now here down the stretch, we’ve played very well,” Dickey said. “We’ve been energetic and enthusiastic and our teamwork has improved greatly, but we’ve come up short the past three games against some really good opponents.”
Alexandria enters the sectional with some momentum after closing the regular season on a 5-1 streak. The Tigers’ only loss during that stretch came to Class 2A No. 4 Frankton.
“They’re experienced and really good shooters,” Dickey said of the Tigers. “They have good enough team speed to give you trouble staying in front of the ball. Their inside players are crafty — they dribble and make shots around the goal. It’s just a pretty good opponent. Hopefully our schedule helped us prepare for that. But it’s going to be a challenging experience.”
Sophomore guard Mason Degenkolb leads the Blue Devils. He is scoring an area-best 23.3 points per game.
Eastern coach Mike Springer is upbeat as he prepares his squad for its game against Sheridan on Wednesday. Springer is in his first season as the Comets’ skipper and he has a young squad that endured the expected growing pains.
“One thing we’ve done is we’ve gotten better every time we’ve stepped on the floor,” Springer said. “Even though we’ve won only three games, we’ve battled day in and day out. I think our kids are confident we can go into this sectional and make some things happen.”
Eastern and Sheridan come into the sectional with identical records.
“Sheridan is a big, strong, physical team. We think we can battle with them and come out with a victory,” Springer said. “We have to be good with the basketball and avoid careless turnovers. If we can take care of the basketball, rebound and have a good shooting night, I think we have a chance to be victorious. When we’ve shot the ball well, we’ve been competitive.”
The Tribune will preview Taylor’s game later in the week.
AROUND THE AREA
• The Class 4A Kokomo Sectional opens tonight. Logansport (12-7) faces Marion (17-4) at 6 p.m. followed by Lafayette Jeff (5-16) vs. Harrison (6-15). The Logan-Marion winner advances to face Kokomo in a semifinal game at 6 p.m. Friday.
• No. 7-ranked Lewis Cass (17-2) enters the Class 2A Manchester Sectional as the favorite. The Kings open against Wabash (9-11) at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The Kings handily defeated the Apaches 73-53 on Feb. 15 at Wabash.
Cass coach Jon Kitchel said he hopes his team does not repeat the history of last season against Wabash.
“We have to have a long memory about this game. Last year we beat them by 19 during the regular season and then got beat by them [83-77] in the first game of the sectional,” he said. “We’re taking this game very seriously.”
• The Class A Tri-Central Sectional opens tonight with Carroll (10-11) vs. Clinton Prairie (7-12) at 6 p.m. followed by Tri-Central (9-9) vs. Hoosier Heartland Conference champion Rossville (13-8).
• In the Class 2A Fountain Central Sectional, Clinton Central (4-17) faces South Vermillion (6-15) in tonight’s second game.
– Beau Wicker contributed to this story