By Pedro Velazco
— The Mid-Indiana Conference boys basketball season isn’t structured for a championship game, but it gets one tonight when Hamilton Heights (11-8) invades the Tig-Arena to face Peru (10-9) in a title tilt. Both teams have 5-1 records in loop play and every other team has at least two losses. The winner gets the championship, and a boost heading into sectional play next week.
“Our kids are excited about it. It’s been a while since we’ve been in that kind of position to win a conference,” said first-year Peru coach Jim Metcalfe. The Bengals last won the league in the 2009-10 season. “It has a tournament feel for it where it’s a winner-takes-all mentality.”
Six-foot-6 wing forward Alex Etherington leads Heights in scoring at 18.2 points per game. His favorite spot is the left corner, where he can shoot or line up drives. Sophomore point guard Grant Weatherford adds 9.8 ppg and inside worker Bo O’Laughlin adds 7.9.
“They’re as physical as any team we’ve seen, very talented,” Metcalfe said.“Everyone knows about the Etherington kid. He does quite a lot of things to make them very good. He’s a kid that’s capable of going for 25 a night on you. We have to know where he is at all times and limit his touches as much as possible. Each opportunity that he gets has to be as difficult as we can make it.
“On top of that they have two or three really good guards. The Weatherford kid is tough, athletic, really manages the game well. He’s a drive-first kind of guy. We need to keep him from being able to get tot he rim and create. The [Hunter] Crist kid, the freshman, is very talented.”
Metcalfe noted that Heights puts five kids on the floor who can score, making it harder to give enough attention to the key weapons.
Sophomore wing Logan Primerano leads Peru in scoring at 15.6 ppg and has shown himself to be especially dangerous when going coast to coast. Power forward Joe Comerford is second in scoring at 12.4 ppg and leads the team at 7.7 rebounds per game.
Peru will be challenged to get through Heights’ defense.
“They use their physicality and athleticism on the other end of the floor to make things extremely difficult,” Metcalfe said.
F.W. Northrop (16-6) at Kokomo (18-2)
The Class 4A No. 8 Wildkats have won six straight and wrapped up only their second-ever unbeaten run to a North Central Conference championship with an intense win over Richmond last week.
“That game, I thought really reiterated, solidified, that we’re a tough team,” Kat coach Brian McCauley said. “We understand the importance and value of taking care of the basketball, we understand the importance and value of defensive transition. We were down five [rebounds] at the half and outrebounded them by seven in the second half. That was a big key.
“With all that being said, we need to play a lot better. As good as Richmond is, I think Fort Wayne Northrop is just as good if not better. That’s not to take anything away from Richmond, but Northrop, they’re older, stronger, they’re skilled, just as athletic if not more athletic.”
Northrop is led by twin guards Bryson Scott and Brenton Scott. Bryson is averaging team highs of 23.4 ppg and 6.7 rpg, while Brenton adds 19.5 ppg. Forward Cory Womack adds 8.2 ppg
“It’s challenging enough to face a team that has one Division I player, let alone two. Then the other guys complement them well,” McCauley said.
“Brenton Scott, going to Indiana State, [is] just a prolific 3-point shooter, and Bryson Scott’s the best open-court player in the state. It’s appropriate he’s going to Purdue. When he gets a defensive rebound, he’s like a train going to the rim. He’s like a locomotive running over anything that’s in his way. He draws a lot of fouls because he’s so strong and fast and physical.”
McCauley noted that the Bruins like to push the tempo, scoring in the 80s three times and the 90s three times.
“They just flat out score,” he said. “They’re a good 3-point shooting team, they’re a good driving team, they’re a good offensive-rebounding team. They’re very fast and athletic on defense. They rebound probably better than any team we’ve faced, and they turn teams over.”
Junior guard Tayler Persons leads the Wildkats at 17.4 ppg, followed by guard/forward LaBradford Sebree at 15.1, and forward Erik Bowen at 9.9. Bowen leads on the glass at 6.6 rpg.
Tipton (19-2) at Western (12-7)
The Blue Devils took the No. 1 spot in Class 2A last week but fell to Frankfort in their opening game as the top-ranked team, then rebounded to beat Cass.
With attacking wing Mike Crawford leading the way at 28 ppg, and point guard Blake Hoover adding 11 ppg, the Blue Devils have rolled through the regular season. Tipton owns a win over Class 4A No. 8 Kokomo and its only losses are to the Hot Dogs and Class 4A No. 2 Columbus North.
“They’re a very impressive team,” Western coach Bart Miller said. “The Crawford kid, outstanding player. He’s going to keep our hands full all night. [Tipton has] good complements around him. Hoover and [Mason] Degenkolb, the guards, they’re able to knock down 3s and put it on the floor and drive, and they’ve got good complements inside in [Nate] Friend and [Luke] Shively.”
Western enters on a two-game happy streak with close wins against Lafayette Jeff and Cass.
“They seem to be really coming together as a team,” Tipton coach Brad Dickey said. “They’ve got great talent. They’ve picked up a couple of extra scorers over the last couple games which makes them more dangerous. [Western has] good guards, and they’ve got the size they need.”
The Panthers offer good offensive balance. Guards Evan Warden (13.8 ppg) and Des Balentine (12.5) lead the team in scoring, followed closely by center Ronnie Smith (10.9) and forward Austin Townsend (10.2).
Tipton will test Western’s improvement with fast guards, and front line where each player is 6-4 or taller.
“No. 1, you’ve got to take care of the ball against their pressure defense, and you’ve got to limit their second-chance points,” Miller said, noting Western has improved in those areas lately. “Hopefully, they’ll continue that way against Tipton.”
Tri-Central (8-11) at Eastern (3-16)
The Trojans take a four-game happy streak into Eastern. Both teams are coming off overtime games. TC beat Clinton Prairie in OT last Friday, while Eastern lost at Wabash in a bonus session on Tuesday.
Tri-Central took a 53-46 victory last year in this matchup, snapping Eastern’s string of three wins in the series.
Clay Smith leads TC in scoring at 9.8, followed by Kolby Thomas at 9.7 and Garret Dick at 9.5.
Josiah Marx is the Comets’ go-to player. He score a career-high 33 points on 15-of-23 shooting against Wabash.
Around the area
Carroll (12-8) takes a four-game winning streak into a home date with a Lafayette Central Catholic squad (11-8) that has won three in a row.
Clinton Central (1-19) visits Frontier (7-13)