By RICK CONRAD For the Kokomo Tribune
---- — NORTH MANCHESTER — Prior to the start of the season, Lewis Cass boys basketball coach Jon Kitchel knew his team was lacking size and would have to rely on speed and strong leadership for a successful season. The Kings relied on that formula throughout the regular season with good results, finishing 17-2 heading into the state tournament.
Going up against Wabash in their opening game at the Class 2A Manchester Sectional on Wednesday night, the No. 7-ranked Kings once again relied on the things as they turned away the Apaches 74-60.
The final score doesn’t reflect how close this game was as the Kings led by just five after three quarters of play. Solid shooting from the free throw line helped Cass pull away in the final quarter for its 16th straight win.
The Kings came out of the gate running. Offensively, the Kings pushed the ball up the floor and on defense their full-court press gave the Apaches fits time and again. A Ryan Bixler steal and a feed to a streaking Austin Keisling gave the Kings an early lead of 13-6 at the 2:51 mark of the first quarter. Moments later, Evan Ohman was fouled on a 3-point attempt and hit 2 of 3 free throws making it 15-6 game. But the last 2:23 of the quarter, the Apaches held Cass scoreless while dropping in six points to make it 15-12 after one quarter of play.
Cass quickly went on the attack in the second quarter and within a minute went on a 5-0 run before the Apaches found the basket. The Cass guards started breaking down the Apaches’ defense and were able to penetrate deep into the lane for easy baskets or dumping the ball off for an open shot as the Kings went on for a 36-24 halftime lead.
The third quarter started off just fine for the Kings as both squads made short runs on each other with the Kings maintaining their lead. However,midway through the quarter the Kings started playing in a way that is uncharacteristic of their season. One of the keys to their season has been composure and midway through the quarter it went out the window. When it did, the Apaches cut the Cass lead to just four points and by the end of the quarter it stood a 49-44 Cass lead.
The quarter break was just what the Kings needed as Kitchel was able to settle his troops and get them back to the game plan. In doing so, the Kings regained control of the tempo and slowly put some distance between them and Wabash. Around the 5:00 mark, Cass slowed its offense and began using the clock forcing the Apaches to eventually start fouling. With the Kings hitting their freebies and not letting up on the defense, they came out on top 74-60 and advance to the sectional’s semifinal round.
Leading the balanced Kings attack was Kiesling with 17 points. Blake Hadley and Bixler followed with 16 each. Owen Ohman had 12 and brother Evan finished with 10.
Leading Wabash was Roger Davis with 17, Cody King with 11 and Christian Hall with 10.