TERRE HAUTE —
When it comes to boys high school basketball in Indiana, reaching a level of sustained excellence shouldn’t be described by that familiar phrase — the gold standard.
For the last four seasons, you could just as easily call it the Golden Arrows standard.
Sullivan continued its mastery of Wabash Valley teams as it opened postseason play with a 61-29 victory over Sullivan County rival North Central in the opening round of the Class 2A North Knox Sectional on Tuesday.
In opening its postseason account with a relative ease, and with its 13th straight victory, Sullivan clinched its fourth consecutive 20-win season. In those four seasons, only three other schools in the state — Brownstown Central, Munster and Tipton — have reached the 80-win threshold.
Sullivan (20-3) is 84-14 in that period and its .857 winning percentage is the fourth best in the state over that span.
“It says a lot about program. We’ve had a lot of good kids come through here in the last four years,” Sullivan coach Jeff Moore said.
In the previous three seasons, Sullivan had current Indiana State forward Rhett Smith to lead the way. What’s impressive about the current crop of Arrows — and what’s scary for their opponents — is that they’ve maintained serve with different contributors and by altering their style of play accordingly.
“We’re a different kind of team than we were last year. They both rely on the same things, but we’re more balanced than we were last year. These kids have done a great job. We knew they’d be pretty good, but they’ve kind of exceeded our expectations,” Moore said.
Against the young Thunderbirds, Sullivan wanted to use ball pressure and its size advantage in the paint to carry the day. After an 11-11 first quarter, it was an open question as to whether that plan of action would work.
Sullivan big man Jake Kinnaman scored nine in the first quarter to keep the Arrows pointed in the right direction.
In the second quarter, Sullivan’s plan took hold with a vengeance. The Thunderbirds (7-15) committed nine turnovers in the period, several leading directly to Arrows’ points. Sullivan also got hot from long range as four different Arrows buried 3-pointers in the quarter.
“We didn’t hit some shots in the first quarter and I didn’t think our press was very effective, but our press became very effective and we knocked down some shots,” Moore said.
By the time all was said and done, Sullivan had outscored North Central 24-3 in the quarter and the Arrows had a 35-14 halftime advantage.
“We lost focus on what we were supposed to do against their pressure in the second quarter. We were trying to go four guys along the baseline and look to throw over the top. We did a pretty good job in the first quarter, but we got going crazy in the second,” North Central coach Ryan Kamman said.
The deficit was too large for the Thunderbirds to dent in the second half. Three Arrows finished in double-figures, led by Kinnaman who scored 15 points. Ian Perkinson and Michael Hutchcraft each had 10.
Tod Lebeda — the Thunderbirds’ lone senior — led North Central with 11 points. Andrew Nikirk added 10 more.
Though the Thunderbirds took their knocks Tuesday, Kamman thinks North Central will grow in the offseason, literally and figuratively.
“It was tough to tell tonight, but we’ve improved in every area. Defensively, we’ve come a long way. Offensively, what we’re trying to do and what these guys are good at, we’re not necessarily good at at the varsity level right now because we’re not there physically yet. If we can get in the weightroom in the coming year, we’ve got a bright future,” Kamman said.
Sullivan plays Bloomfield in Friday’s North Knox Sectional semifinal. Sullivan defeated Bloomfield 58-42 on Feb. 12.
“Against some teams here, we might not be able to press the whole game. Our half-court, man-to-man defense has to be good. I thought it was tonight. I think defensively, we’re pretty good,” Moore said.
Linton is in action at North Knox tomorrow. The Miners play South Knox at 6 p.m. Eastern Greene plays North Knox in the 7:30 p.m. nightcap.
NORTH CENTRAL (29) — Stanifer 1 1-2 3, A.Jewell 1 0-0 2, Lebeda 4 3-3 11, L.Drake 1 0-0 2, Stucker 0 0-0 0, Peterson 0 1-2 1, Nikirk 4 0-0 10, Greene 0 0-0 0, Vire 0 0-0 0, P.Drake 0 0-0 0, Howard 0 0-0 0, Adams 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 FG, 5-7 FT, 29 TP.
SULLIVAN (61) — Weszely 2 2-2 7, Willis 1 0-0 2, N.Pirtle 3 0-0 7, McPhail 0 0-0 0, King 0 0-0 0, Gregory 3 1-2 8, Perkinson 5 0-0 10, Kinnaman 7 1-2 15, Hutchcraft 4 1-1 10, J.Pirtle 1 0-0 2. Totals 26 FG, 5-7 FT, 61 TP.
North Central 11 3 10 5 — 29
Sullivan 11 24 13 13 — 61
3-point goals — Nikirk 2, Weszely, N.Pirtle, Gregory, Hutchcraft. Total fouls — NC 9, S 11. Fouled out — none.
Next — Sullivan (20-3) plays Bloomfield at 6 p.m. Friday in the North Knox Sectional. North Central concluded its season with a 7-15 record.