Basketball

Boys hoops: North Central, Pike to meet in Marion County tourney final

North Central Panthers Emmanuel Little (14) reacts to being called for a foul on Warren Central Warriors Mack Smith (32) during second half action between Warren Central and North Central in Marion County boys semifinals, at Southport High School, Indianapolis, Friday, Jan. 13, 2016. North Central won, 69-65.

North Central Panthers Emmanuel Little (14) reacts to being called for a foul on Warren Central Warriors Mack Smith (32) during second half action between Warren Central and North Central in Marion County boys semifinals, at Southport High School, Indianapolis, Friday, Jan. 13, 2016. North Central won, 69-65.

On Dec. 2, Pike lost by 27 points at west-side rival Ben Davis. It was the first loss on the way to an uninspiring 3-3 start to the season.

The same night, North Central was putting the finishing touches on a 54-point win over Richmond. The following weekend, it would defeat New Albany and Hamilton Southeastern, staking a claim to the No. 1 state ranking it has yet to relinquish.

On Saturday night, despite the different paths to get there, North Central and a since-rejuvenated Pike team will play for the Marion County tournament championship at Southport.

“No one’s beat North Central yet,” Pike coach Bill Zych said, “so there’s no recipe for it.”

If there’s a team that can find it, maybe it’s the two-time defending Marion County champion Red Devils. Pike (11-3) won its eighth consecutive game in Friday’s second semifinal, defeating Roncalli 48-41.

North Central won an intense battle of unbeaten teams in the first semifinal Friday, knocking off determined and pesky Warren Central 69-62. Senior Kris Wilkes finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Panthers (13-0) and hold off Mack Smith’s 34-point night for the Warriors (11-1).

There’s no question what a county tournament title means to Doug Mitchell, who hasn’t won one since 2012.

“It’s about bragging rights,” said Mitchell, who has led North Central to four county championships. “If you know guys who have grown up here and played in this tournament, they still talk about it. It doesn’t matter how old they are.”

North Central had to earn its spot against the stubborn Warriors in the first of three potential meetings between the teams this season. The Panthers appeared to be on their way with a 23-2 first-half run and led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter.

But Smith, a 6-2 senior guard, exploded for 18 points in the third quarter (going 6-for-6 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line) to keep Warren Central in striking distance. The Warriors got as close as 65-62 with 36 seconds left on a leaning 3-pointer by Smith, but the Panthers went 4-for-6 from the free-throw line from that point to put it away.

After Warren Central defeated Lawrence North 52-43 in Wednesday’s quarterfinal Smith said, “We want North Central.” The quote quickly made its way to North Central’s locker room, Wilkes said. But despite the loss, Smith and the Warriors backed up the talk.

“We had an opportunity two or three times to quit and we didn’t,” Warren Central coach Criss Beyers said. “I think our kids walked away knowing if we play them in late February or March (in the sectional) that we can play with them. And if we can play with them, we can play with anyone.”

Ty’Riek Johnson added 11 points for North Central and D.J. Johnson had 10.

Isiah James led Pike in the nightcap with a 17-point effort as Pike kept its hopes alive for a third consecutive title, which hasn’t been accomplished since Ben Davis did it from 1993-95. This is the least likely of Zych’s teams to be in this position.

But here they are, after wins over Lutheran, Park Tudor and Roncalli.

“Early in the year we were kind of a shell of what we needed to be defensively,” Zych said. “We lost a lot of scoring the last couple years. So the identity of this team had to be defense. We made a better commitment to it and we have guys who are finding their roles now. It took some time, but to make it to Saturday night is a good accomplishment and we have our chance.”

Roncalli (10-3) was just 1-for-14 from the 3-point line. Senior Christian Stewart, a Marian recruit and the Rebels’ top player, suffered a high left ankle sprain in the third quarter and didn’t return. Roncalli stayed in it without him, taking a 36-34 lead with a little more than five minutes left. But the Rebels didn’t score again until 35 seconds remained.

“(Pike’s defensive pressure) wore us down a bit,” Roncalli coach Michael Wantz said. “Their length as much as anything bothered us. But it helps to see it. If we see them again in March, the guys know we were right there with them.”

Roncalli was playing in the Marion County tournament semifinals for the first time.

Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.

SEMIFINAL: GAME 1

NORTH CENTRAL 69, WARREN CENTRAL 62

Warren Central     17        8          23        14        – 62

North Central       17        17        21        14        – 69

Warren Central (11-1) – Tate 3 1-1 8, Minor 3 0-0 8, Spivey 2 2-2 6, Bell 1 0-1 2, Smith 12 4-4 34, Harper 1 0-0 2, Tyler 1 0-0 2, Hines 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 7-8 62.

North Central (13-0) – Rivera 1 2-3 5, T.Johnson 4 2-4 11, D.Johnson 4 1-3 10, Little 2 4-6 8, Wilkes 9 9-12 28, Bradley 0 1-2 1, Lee 2 1-2 6. Totals: 22 20-32 69.

3-point goals: Warren Central 9 (Smith 6, Minor 2, Tate), North Central 5 (Rivera, T.Johnson, D.Johnson, Wilkes, Rogers).

SEMIFINAL: GAME 2

PIKE 48, RONCALLI 41

Roncalli                12        6          14        9          – 41

Pike                      9          17        8          14        – 48

Roncalli (10-3) – Stewart 1 0-0 2, Owen 1 0-0 2, Gore 5 0-0 10, Hegwood 3 0-0 6, Sonderman 3 2-4 8, Meek 1 0-2 2, Schreiber 2 0-2 4, Schott 0 0-0 0, Kirkhoff 1 0-0 2, McGinsie 2 0-0 5. Totals: 19 2-8 41.

Pike (11-3) – Williams 1 4-4 7, Gary 0 0-0 0, Pennington 0 1-2 1, Porch 3 0-0 6, James 6 4-8 17, Pegues 2 2-2 6, Vernon 3 0-0 9, Robinson 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 11-16 48.

3-point goals: Roncalli 1 (McGinsie), Pike 5 (Vernon 3, Williams, James).