Sectional 58 play begins Tuesday with the host University Trailblazers taking on Fall Creek Academy at 7:00 p.m. in a re-match of last year’s title bout. Favorites Tindley kick off play on the opposite half of the bracket Wednesday when they take on the International School of Indiana.
Last year had a definite favorite going into the sectional: University was a top-ten team for the majority of the season and entered the tournament ranked 11th. The Blazers flew through the sectional, defeating Bethesda Christian, Indiana Deaf, and Fall Creek Academy by an average of 30 points, and the tournament proved to be a bit of a formality.
This year is a little bit different, though. The Tindley Tigers (14-7) are the favorites entering the sectional—after all, they’ve recorded wins over each of the other six teams in the field—but they come into the tournament having lost three in a row. Tindley’s wins over fellow sectional favorites University and Fall Creek Academy both came at home, with the 71-47 blowout over the Blazers coming on a night when Tindley honored a former player and assistant coach who had been killed over the summer. More on that night later. The Tigers have the best resumé of any team in the sectional—a win over 4A Floyd Central likely being the most impressive performance—but have only beat three teams with a winning record.
Perhaps the highest praise I can give the Tigers, however, is that they remind me a lot of the 2010-11 Indianapolis Metropolitan team that took out the Blazers in the then-Sectional 59 semi-final en route to arguably the most unlikely state championship in IHSAA history. That Puma team went 15-6 in the regular season and challenged teams deep in the tournament with their athleticism. This year’s Tindley outfit is very similar to the 2010-11 Met team in that sense—especially if they run into the right teams at the regional and semi-state, the Tigers’ athleticism and pressure could cause issues. But first they’ve got to get through a deceptively tough sectional.
In looking at potential opponents for the Trailblazers, we can’t overlook the two teams University would have to defeat to reach a possible championship match-up with Tindley—Fall Creek Academy and Bethesda Christian. FCA (12-9) matches up very well with the Blazers (10-11)—Jeff Sagarin’s ratings have the Blazers rated exactly one point higher—and the athleticism that the Engineers bring could give the Blazers a bit of trouble. Both teams beat Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, and Indiana Deaf on the year while losing to Tindley, but the one differentiating factor amongst common opponents is Covenant Christian whom the Blazers defeated, but the Engineers did not. Fall Creek’s best win on the year has to be over 3A Arlington and are certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Bethesda Christian (4-16) doesn’t look all that good on paper, but have a history of giving the Blazers some trouble. In last year’s sectional quarter-final, the Patriots hung with the Blazers for three quarters with the score remaining tied until the fourth. This year, the Patriots played the Trailblazers tight again, with the Blazers scraping by with a 3-point victory. Bethesda hasn’t had the best of years, but they always seem to give the Blazers some trouble.
The Indiana Math & Science Academy (8-13) could take out Tindley in a potential semi-final matchup, having played Tindley tight early in the year, but they would have to get past a deceptively tough Indiana Deaf (5-16) team first. Tindley takes on International (2-17) in the other quarter-final.
Alright Crash, enough talking about everyone else. What have the Blazers done so far and what will they have to do to take home back-to-back crowns?
Well, I’ll answer the second question first—put together an entire 32-minute-long game. In two of the last three times out, the Blazers have hung with 2A Heritage Christian and the 3A defending state champion Guerin Catholic for one half of play before squandering a chance at the upset with a poor third quarter. In fact, on many occasions (Indianapolis Lutheran, Speedway, Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Howe, and Seton Catholic to add), the Blazers have been close to pulling off a big win. But they still don’t have the defining win that qualifies them as a contender to go deep into the tournament. University has the most talent in the sectional and admittedly are still coming together as a unit (two key pieces, guards Anthony Maranto and Robbie Johnson joined the varsity squad in January). At points in time, the Blazers have looked like a team that despite having 11 losses could make a deep state tournament run (deeper than last year in fact) but have to put together a couple solid full games in a row if they want to take home the title again.
When the Trailblazers visited Tindley in January, it wasn’t a good time to play the Tigers at all. Tindley was coming off of a 12th-place performance at the Bob Wettig Tournament in Richmond and had just picked up their first three losses on the year. The Tigers were also honoring a former player and assistant coach who had been killed over the summer (for the record, the perpetrator of the crime is still at large), packing the gym to the brim on an occasion in which the Tigers were playing for a purpose. Tindley’s gym is the toughest place the Blazers played this year (the school is in a former grocery store with a gym half the size of University’s) and while not an excuse for getting blown out, the atmosphere of the night and the purpose with which the Tiger players played (and the Blazer players, well, didn’t) had a lot to do with the gaudy final score.
But this is where home-court advantage can really come into play. Last year well over 150 University students (that’s over 60% of the school population) packed The U Center for all three sectional games and gave the Trailblazers a competitive edge that quite frankly, they didn’t need. This year’s different though, and the Blazers’ll need all the help they can get in what promises to be a tight sectional. As an overall average, playing at home gives teams approximately a two-point boost – but that’s an average. Last year for the championship game, The U Center was as loud as I’ve ever heard any building (well, with the exception of Yong’s shot on Senior Night) and the acoustics of the place mean we can be in the 98th or 99th percentile when it comes to having a competitive advantage by playing at home. Needless to say, the home fans could be the difference this year between winning the sectional or losing it.
For the Blazers to win, senior center Dominic Dixon will have to continue to lead the team. Dom’s been in double figures in points for 20 straight games, and getting the post game working (Dom’s 6’8″—four inches taller than any other player in the sectional) will free up the perimeter game that’s second in Class A. Senior Eric Wott (a top ten statewide three point shooter), junior Anthony Maranto, and sophomore Robbie Johnson lead the perimeter game with junior Sam Forkin and sophomore Tyler Diehl being able to jump in and knock down a big shot. Senior Kevin Bates and junior Anthony Murdock will be counted to get the gritty points going to the hole (as might senior Jonathan Grubaums), and junior Noah Matthews and sophomore Mikhail Liston will start and contribute in ways not always reflected on the stat sheet.
Sectional 58 promises to be one of the tightest in the state, with any of five or six teams having a legitimate shot to play for the title. Whoever’s on top of their game is most likely to come out with the trophy and in Hoosier Hysteria. Bringing your B game just isn’t good enough.
The Blazers begin Sectional 58 play Tuesday night at 7:00 at the U Center against Fall Creek Academy.
A win over FCA would set the Blazers up for a match-up with rival Bethesda Christian Friday at 6:00.
A win over BCS would send UHS to the championship game, Saturday at 7:30.
Tickets are $6 for a single session and $10 for all sessions. Students are required to purchase tickets to gain admission to the sectional.