By BRYAN GASKINS Kokomo Tribune
---- — WALTON — The Keisling family came away from the weekend with stories to last a lifetime.
Austin Keisling is a senior guard on Lewis Cass’ boys team. He led the way as the Kings won their first sectional title since 2007. In addition, he reached the 1,000-point career milestone during the Kings’ semifinal victory over Manchester.
His father, Chris Keisling, is the coach of the Western girls team, which won the Class 3A state championship. Western upset Evansville Mater Dei 38-35 in the title game.
Word of Western’s championship win reached Austin Keisling at halftime of Cass’ 69-53 victory over Oak Hill in the Class 2A Manchester Sectional title game.
“I came out of the locker room and my coach told me, ‘Your dad won.’ I looked at my mom and started fist-pumping,” he recalled. “My mom was tearing up. That got me even more energized. I kind of felt the feeling of being in a state championship because my dad is the coach. You get that tingling in your whole body. It’s just great. I want that for my team.”
No. 7-ranked Cass (20-2) is one of 16 teams remaining in Class 2A. The Kings will face No. 3 Wapahani (22-1) in a Lapel Regional semifinal Saturday.
“We’re probably showed as the underdog. My dad’s team was showed as the underdog in the state game,” he said. “When you’re showed as the underdog, you feel like you have nothing to lose. I’m going out there guns firing. It’s my senior year, nothing to hold back.”
Keisling is making the most of his senior season. The 5-foot-11, 169-pound guard is scoring a team-high 18.3 points per game. He also contributes 5 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.2 steals per game.
Most of all, the 2013 KT All-Area player is enjoying the Kings’ success, which includes an 18-game winning streak. Cass was 6-15 his freshman season, 11-12 his sophomore season and 10-11 last season.
“First three years were a struggle for me,” he said. “We just could never get going. We had the talent, but talent is not everything. My team this year is not big, but we play great together. The 20-win season shows we play great together.
“At the end of last year, we lost to Wabash, and that feeling of losing in the first sectional game killed us. We worked so hard on our shooting over the summer. Right after our banquet, we decided we wanted to work on our shooting and our skills.”
The Kings’ hard work has paid off. They average 75.2 points per game, which ranks No. 3 among Class 2A teams and No. 10 in the state overall. Guards Keisling, classmate Blake Hadley (15 ppg) and sophomore Ryan Bixler (13.7) lead the go-go attack. The Kings’ full-court defensive pressure makes it all go.
Third-year Cass coach Jon Kitchel loves having Keisling as one of his leaders.
“He’s a very smart basketball player. He’s played a lot of basketball in the summer. Probably the thing that separates him the most is the individual workouts that he does year round. He is a guy who devotes endless hours to improving himself as a player,” Kitchel said.
“He’s just been a monster in the weight room. You look at his development over the last four years, but especially from last year to this year ... he’s one of the stronger kids at Cass, even with the football players. It’s been nothing but hard work on his part. That’s the kind of kid he is.”
Keisling knew he needed to hit the weight room after last season with 6-4 Ryan Aldridge and 6-5 Jordan Miller both graduating.
“That was already a goal I was planning on because I know you have to grow as a player, both physically and mentally,” he added.
Keisling certainly has grown into a 1,000-point scorer. As a freshman who was listed as 5-3 and 112 pounds, he scored 3.8 points per game. As a 5-8 sophomore, he was the team’s second-leading scorer at 11 ppg. As a 5-10 junior, he scored a team-high 15.8 ppg.
Keisling entered last week’s sectional needing 25 points to reach the milestone.
“I wasn’t going to push it, I just wanted to win,” he said.
He scored 18 in an opening-round victory over Wabash, then reached 1,000 with an eight-point flurry in the opening quarter against Manchester. He scored 24 in that game and followed with 23 against Oak Hill in the title game.
Keisling is the 10th member of the Cass boys’ 1,000-point club — and the first in his family to accomplish the feat.
“It felt great being that I have a brother who never did it and I got to do it,” he said with a smile.
Keisling and his classmates have left their marks on the program, according to Kitchel.
“The sectional was big for us. We kind of feel like we have our program turned around now and heading in the right direction,” he said. “From the third grade all the way up, we have good numbers and good people who are in charge of that. I attribute most of it to the senior class we have, the work habit they have put in.”