By MIKE BLATT Kokomo Tribune
---- — WALTON — Back in December, the Lewis Cass boys basketball team handily defeated Pioneer in the consolation game of the Cass County tournament. Friday night, the Panthers visited the Kings for a rematch, but the rematch turned out to be a mismatch as a more experienced and deeper Cass team overwhelmed the visitors 80-26.
As in the first meeting, the Kings’ full court press took the Panthers out of the game early. Cass forced Pioneer into 13 first-quarter turnovers as the Kings built a 27-2 lead and never looked back. By the half, it was 48-11, and at the end of three periods when the last Cass starter left the floor for good, the Kings were up 65-13.
Cass coach Jon Kitchel couldn’t find much to criticize with his team’s performance.
“We came out from the very beginning and played real aggressive and played smart,” he said. “Offensively, we did a good job of penetrating and kicking. It was unselfish play from the beginning to the end, and then we just played really hard on defense and were able to turn them over and turn some of those errors into baskets.”
In all, the Kings forced Pioneer into 23 turnovers while committing just seven themselves. In addition to its smothering defense, Cass also shot the ball well, hitting 50 percent from the floor (34 of 68) including 8 of 13 from behind the arc, a 61.5 percent clip.
Four Kings reached double figures, led by Austin Keisling, who notched a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs. The senior guard had plenty of help, though, as Blake Hadley scored 14 points, Jake Martin came off the bench for 12, and Ryan Bixler added 11.
For Pioneer coach Austin Cowley, it was a disappointing night for his young squad.
“Lewis Cass is a very good team,” he said. “We were not able to handle their pressure. We knew that was going to be one of the main keys coming in. Honestly, we were just looking to take some steps. Pressure has been our No. 1 nemesis all season long. Hard to find some positives in this one.”
With one freshman, three sophomores, and one senior starting, the Panthers simply couldn’t handle the press by the senior-laden Kings, and the errors prevented Pioneers from being able to establish any rhythm offensively. In the first half, the Panthers had more turnovers (15) than shot attempts (14).
In addition to solid play from its starters, Cass continued to receive solid minutes from its bench. Martin, in particular, scorched the nets, nailing 5 of 7 shots from the floor including 2 of 3 from 3-point land.
“We’ve been getting solid play [from the bench] all year,” said Kitchel. “We’ve got nine varsity guys and then we kind of save the last couple of spots for some JV players who have earned time.
“You’ve got Jake Martin who comes off [the bench] and knocks it down. He’s been doing that all year. Destin Irwin gives us solid minutes, [Drew] McRae comes in there and really bangs, and then Evan Ohman, who, when we put him in there, we don’t miss a beat. We’ve got nine guys that are kind of interchangeable, and I’ve got complete confidence in all nine of them. If we get in a situation in a game, I don’t hesitate on putting any of them in.”
Even JV player Josh Rankert had a great night for the Kings, scoring seven points in the fourth quarter on 3-for-3 shooting, including one triple.
For Pioneer, sophomore Sam Kiser led the way with nine points.