News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 3, 2013

Matchups set for wide-open Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic field

Sullivan, Casey mentioned among contenders

TERRE HAUTE — Sometimes the ping-pong balls used to draw the high school basketball pairings for the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic have a wisdom all their own, and that seemed to be the case Tuesday at Terre Haute North.

The first day of play Dec. 26 will conclude with a rematch of last year’s championship game between Robinson and Rockville, and there are some other interesting first-round games as well — starting at 10 a.m. with South Vermillion against Riverton Parke.

Last year’s tournament included a multitude of contenders, several heart-stopping finishes and is in the discussion for the best of the 13 tournaments staged so far in the reincarnation of the Wabash Valley Tournament. The field was deep enough that the only team in it to reach a state-championship game, Linton, was stuck in the losers’ bracket.

Most of those contenders in the 2012 tournament were senior-laden teams, but that’s not the case this year — the three Vigo County teams have just four on all three rosters, none at West Vigo, for example — so the 2013 edition promises to be compelling for an opposite reason: at this point, few favorites have emerged.

“Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South are the two favorites,” coach Jeff Moore of Sullivan insisted after the draw paired his Golden Arrows with Turkey Run, but that statement could have been to counter the other coaches picking the Arrows.

“Sullivan,” coach Joey Hart of Linton replied immediately when asked about a favorite. “If they don’t win,” he joked, “they should be kicked out of our sectional.”

Linton, of course, plays in that sectional — and Sullivan’s junior-dominated team is the one that put the Miners in the losers’ bracket last year.

“I like our chances,” Moore admitted. “I’d rather be in that position than having everybody expect you to get beat … we have some experience and we have kids to have been [to the Classic], but there are no guarantees when you throw up the basketball.”

If the 1-0 Arrows, currently ranked sixth in Class 2A, win against Turkey Run — impressive themselves in a season-opening victory — they would run into the winner of the championship-game rematch.

“I was just checking to make sure there are not any more Mahurins [at Rockville],” coach Mack Thompson of Robinson joked Tuesday. “We’re thrilled to be back, and it’s a nice little story line to play Rockville again right off the bat.”

“It’s going to be interesting, with so many new kids [from both teams] on the floor,” coach Ryan Luce of Rockville — who replaced Dave Mahurin — said. “Our young kids relish the chance to play the last game of the evening, and we know Robinson will be well coached, play hard and be a true test for our kids.”

“We lost a lot, [the Rox] lost a lot,” Thompson agreed, “and our side of the bracket looks really tough, just like last year when we had to beat South, North and Northview to get to Rockville. But that’s why we come, to play good competition.”

The first two games of the bottom half of the bracket are Monrovia against Casey and Marshall against South.

“Casey’s one of the favorites,” Moore said. “Robinson is coming off a good year, Terre Haute South is much improved … the bottom [of the bracket] has two or three teams that could win it all.”

The key game at the top of the bracket might be the 11:30 a.m. contest between Northview and Linton. The Illinois coaches — Thompson, Tom Brannan of Marshall and Jason Hanson of Casey, all presumably happy not to draw a morning trip from the Central time zone — seemed to arrive at a consensus that Northview’s tall Knights might be a team to expect.

That came as news to Northview coach Clint Weddle.

“We’re 0-1,” he said. “We can’t be the favorite of anything. Linton lost a couple kids from last year, but they beat us like a drum [in the final regular-season game of the 2012-13 season].”

Even with several starters missing from last year’s team, the Miners — the seventh-ranked Class 2A team — are building tradition, Weddle added.

“Teams and places where people win … there’s a lot to be said for that,” he noted.

“Northview will be a chore for us,” Hart promised, “and coach Weddle does a great job. We’ll have to find a way to defend their size.”

The other two first-round games at the top of the bracket are a Western Indiana Conference matchup at 1 p.m. between Owen Valley and West Vigo, followed by North against Shakamak.

Fans are advised to buy season tickets for the four-day tournament at their own schools, enabling those schools to get a portion of the ticket sales.

n Guest, new award — Tuesday’s special guest who drew the pairings was former Rockville and LSU star Bill “Fig” Newton, who averaged 23 points per game and led the state in rebounding as a senior with the Rox in 1968.

Newton, who played with Pete Maravich at LSU — where he had 1,339 career points and 802 career rebounds — and was an Olympic alternate and a three-year member of the Indiana Pacers, said his first real basketball inspiration came from watching the Rox compete in the 1963 Wabash Valley Tourney.

“Watching them changed my approach to basketball,” he said, adding that 50 years later the defending Classic champions were able to inspire other young players.

School superintendent Danny Tanoos also announced Tuesday that a new award will be presented at the conclusion of this year’s tournament at North — the Gary Fears Most Outstanding Player Award, named in honor of the Pizza Hut executive who helped found the Classic and still serves as its director.

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