BY PEDRO VELAZCO AND JOSH SIGLER
A light weekend of boys basketball games locally is highlighted by a great pair of matchups for Class 4A No. 6 Kokomo. The Wildkats head to New Castle today in a vital North Central Conference game, then follow that with a game at defending Class 4A state champion Carmel on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a very challenging weekend,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “We’re simply going to have to give our very best effort and win or lose we’re going to get better this weekend. When you’re playing the best, you’ve got to bring your best effort and we’re certainly going to have to do that to be successful.”
Heading into tonight’s contest at New Castle, The Wildkats (11-0) are 2-0 in conference play, while the Trojans (7-3) are 1-0.
“It’s an extremely tough game we face [today],” McCauley said. “New Castle is undefeated at home, they’re just your typical New Castle team. They’re very well coached, very disciplined, they’re very tough, they’re a very good defending team, they’re physical, they rebound well and they’ve just got outstanding skill players.
“Number 21, Steven Bennett, leads them, averages 18 [points] a game and does a great job of rebounding, and Korey Ryan is having a phenomenal year. He’s averaging [19.8]. [Kyle] Goolsby presents a lot of problems, averages about three offensive rebounds a game, does a great job of sealing in the post. The other guys are great shooters. They’ve played a very tough schedule with Mount Vernon and New Palestine and Elkhart Central. They’re well tested.”
The Wildkats are led by Tayler Persons at 17.7 points per game, followed closely by LaBradford Sebree at 15.5. Erik Bowen leads the team in rebounding, averaging 6.7, with Persons a tick behind at 6.2. The Wildkats are shooting a superb 50.4 percent as a team while holding opponents to just 38.6 percent from the field.
The New Castle trip is a boys-girls doubleheader as the Kokomo girls (8-5, 3-2 NCC) play the New Castle girls (6-8, 1-3 NCC) at 6:30 p.m. before the boys tip at 8.
Saturday’s game puts the Kats on the road again at No. 4 Carmel, which is 9-1 with its only loss on the road at Fishers.
“Carmel, they were ranked No. 1 in the state at one point this season,” McCauley said. “They’ve played arguably one of the best schedules in the state. They’re very skilled, very disciplined, very, very similar to New Castle.”
Point guard Michael Volovic leads Carmel at 16.7 ppg, followed by James Crowley (15.7) and post player Zach McRoberts (11.4).
Eastern (3-7, 0-3 MIC)
at Taylor (2-9, 0-3)
The Howard County and Mid-Indiana Conference foes renew their rivalry for the fourth time in two seasons tonight when the Comets visit Center Court.
The two squads split overtime decisions last season, while the Titans scored a 55-49 victory over Eastern this season in the opening round of the Old School Sectional Dec. 18 at Memorial Gym.
Needless to say, the squads — no stranger to one another — have shown they’re fairly evenly matched.
“It’s a good rivalry,” Taylor coach Andy Lewman said. “You’re playing against a school that’s a conference rival that’s only a few minutes apart [travel-wise]. We’re similar in size more so than any of the other schools in our conference. I look at that and hope the kids understand it’s a situation where we are able to push forward and continue to play well against them and put ourselves in a position to try and beat them.”
Each squad boasted a player who enjoyed a breakout performance in the first matchup this season.
Taylor senior Nathan Gotshall torched the Comets for 21 points and 12 rebounds in the narrow victory on Dec. 18 on his way to all-tournament honors.
“I was a little frustrated with the way we handled some of their screens,” Eastern coach Kyle Bedwell said of the first matchup with the Titans this season. “Defensively, if we stay more disciplined it will give Taylor much fewer opportunities this time. Nathan and Challen [Hodson] can shoot, so if we can block out and play hard-nosed defense and make those adjustments from the first game, then I think we have a very good shot.”
Eastern senior Josiah Marx kept the Comets in the game that night with 19 points and 17 boards. He drew eight fouls and sank all 11 of his free throw attempts in the loss.
“We’re going to have to keep Josiah under control in regards to scoring and rebounding,” Lewman said. “I felt like we let him get off to a better start than we wanted him to, but the second, third and fourth quarters we played much better defense. We have to maintain things defensively and take advantage of things offensively and be more efficient.”
Around the area
In Mid-Indiana Conference play, Maconaquah (7-3, 2-0 MIC) visits Peru (4-6, 1-0 MIC) tonight. Another MIC team, Cass (5-3), steps out of league action to play at county rival Pioneer, which is ranked No. 7 in Class A and has an 8-2 record.
Moving to the Hoosier Heartland, Rossville (6-4, 2-0 HHC) visits Tri-Central (4-6, 1-0 HHC), and Clinton Prairie (1-7, 0-1) visits Clinton Central (0-9, 0-1) in a rematch of a Clinton Central Holiday Classic game won by Prairie on Dec. 29. A non-league affair pits Twin Lakes (6-4) at Carroll (6-3) and another sees Sheridan (7-1) at Class 2A No. 3 Tipton (10-1).
On Saturday, Carroll visits Western (7-4), Lapel (5-6 going into today’s game against Hamilton Heights) plays at Tri-Central, Tipton visits Hoosier Conference foe Twin Lakes, and Cass plays another county rival, Logansport (6-5 heading into tonight’s game against Marion).