TERRE HAUTE —
This column was falling into place nicely until about 1:15 p.m. Saturday. Then youth and inexperience reared up to bite it.
Its theme was going to be how the chief beneficiaries of this year’s Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic (just 363 days until the next one, if my math is right) were the three high school basketball teams from Vigo County.
Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South, by making it to the championship game together for just the second time in 14 Classics, both made strong statements about how they’ve improved, and West Vigo — after a very good win at Brown County, a solid showing against a good Owen Valley team, then a brilliant game against Shakamak — was going to make it three for three.
I don’t think Viking fans need further reminders of what happened on Saturday.
Besides the Braves and Patriots, however, the big winner was probably the Classic itself. After last season, when maybe a half dozen teams came into the tournament looking like state-championship hopefuls, there was apprehension that this year’s affair might pale by comparison. Sullivan and Linton were top-10 teams in Indiana’s Class 2A and Casey had a sparkling record of its own, but there weren’t many other bragging points — or many records above .500.
Let’s just say that the last two nights, particularly the four games involving North, South, Sullivan and Northview, were pretty good, and so were the crowds. I’ll still call it my best four days of the year, and here are some other observations, in no particular order.
• Good omen? — For the second straight Classic, Linton got knocked into the losers’ bracket. Last year, however, the Miners went on to the Class 2A state championship game, and coach Joey Hart’s rebuilding job seems to have been a good one.
• Pleasant surprise — Linton could be in the running for this prestigious honor too, but I’m going with Rockville. The brand-new Rox are way better than I expected, not to mention a lot of fun. For me, of course, fun and Keiontre’ Wilkey are pretty much synonymous.
• Freshmen to watch — I could segue here into Rockville’s Lance Hopkins, who looks like a star on the rise. But that’s another diversion, because my favorite pair are Marshall’s big, wide, athletic Spencer Shaffner and its penetrating guard Brock Finkbiner. I also like Josh Dieball of Linton; a foursome from Northview led by Dylan Hyatt and Drew Lumsdon; Jordan Lowe of Riverton Parke; Dylan Dirks of Robinson; Chandler Russell of South Vermillion; Jaylen Minnett and Josiah Wallace of South; and Tyler Kernstein, Ty Lautenschlager, Austin Sappingfield and Corey Vickers of West Vigo.
• Fans of the Classic — Folks from Rockville and Sullivan were there at the crack of dawn (figuratively speaking) on the first day, even though their respective teams played the last and next-to-last games. Nobody topped Lynn Branz, South Vermillion’s scorekeeper and team dad, however; he saw them all, and I think he was still there Sunday looking for a television to watch the Bears. He’s worthy of joining the top-row gang of Lew Drake and his buddies.
• Why the shirts? — If you were wondering why everyone from Marshall wore shirts on Thursday with “KB” on them, they were supporting coach Tom Brannan’s son Kobe; he’s awaiting his second heart transplant.
• Also special — Casey could have been reprimanded for having two players wearing No. 22, but no one seems to mind when the Warriors’ Taylor Yocom enters the game.
n Keep them on the floor — If there’s a record for players getting two first-quarter fouls, much to their coaches’ consternation, I would think that Sappingfield and North’s C.J. Brown are in contention for that mark.
• Sight I wasn’t expecting — Turkey Run’s 5-foot-6 Noah Nevins opening the Warriors’ first game guarding Sullivan’s massive Jake Kinnaman.
• Most unnecessary accoutrement — Linton’s Miner mascot is Micaela Hazlewood, and she wears padding to look muscular. Look up her discus and shot put stats to see what I mean.
• Trendy defense — The 1-3-1 zone isn’t exactly new, but no one solved Linton’s version the last three days of the tournament (Joey played in the same defense for his dad, when Joe’s Dugger Bulldogs nearly stole a Terre Haute Sectional about 20 years ago) and South (with 6-6 Timmy Herrin at the top) and North also used it effectively at times. There were other appearances of it as well.
• Worst stat-keeping job — That would be keeping track of minutes played for Linton (yes, I knew there’s a lot of Miner stuff in here; they are pretty fun too) because Joey subs a lot. Speaking conservatively, I’d say senior guard Ryan Woodward was in and out of the Miner lineup 100 times in four games.
• Interested spectator — Cloverdale’s Pat Rady was in attendance the first two days, perhaps hoping some other team would drop out so his Clovers — very good now, potentially loaded next year — could rejoin the Classic field.
Rady, of course, has passed Howard Sharpe on the all-time list of wins by a coach (even though I remain in the camp that says Howard’s own totals were more accurate than the “official” ones). I had a chance to talk with one of the Gerstmeyer players last week too, and Jack Smith (if I have to explain who he is, you haven’t lived in Terre Haute long enough) made it a point to say that Bill Welch should get some of the credit for those 700-plus victories by the way he prepared the Black Cats in practice.
Those are the best and most printable of the stories I came up with this time. Remember, less than 52 weeks and we can do it again.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at 812-231-4277 or 1-800-783-8742; by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at 812-231-4321. Follow TribStarAndy on Twitter.