Insider: A year after ban, Pike girls 'showing who we are'

Insider: A year after ban, Pike girls 'showing who we are'

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Insider: A year after ban, Pike girls 'showing who we are'

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The Pike team come together for the playing of the National Anthem before the first half of the IHSAA 4A Girls' Basketball Tournament Regional championship game, Feb. 11, 2017, at Decatur Central High School.

The Pike team come together for the playing of the National Anthem before the first half of the IHSAA 4A Girls’ Basketball Tournament Regional championship game, Feb. 11, 2017, at Decatur Central High School.

This time last year, the Pike girls basketball team was sitting at home with its uniforms packed away at the school. The Red Devils didn’t lose in the sectional, or at any other point in the tournament. Pike’s season, along with Ben Davis’, was ended by the Indiana High School Athletic Association after an on-court fight in a regular-season game on Jan. 16, 2016.

It was crushing blow for a Pike team that was 14-4 at the time and would have been shooting for its third consecutive sectional title. Even more, it was a black eye for a program that didn’t want to see itself defined by one — admittedly terrible — moment.

“I learned that it’s not worth it,” said Pike guard LaRae Rascoe, the lone senior who plays a major role on this year’s team. “It’s never worth it. Especially not for your basketball career. I feel for the seniors last year. It shouldn’t have went that far.”

A year later and a lesson learned, Pike is riding high. The Class 4A fourth-ranked Red Devils (23-3) are coming off the program’s first regional title with a dramatic 61-59 overtime win over previously unbeaten North Central in the regional championship. Next up is unranked Columbus North (21-7) in a semistate game Saturday at the Tiernan Center in Richmond.

Bob Anglea is in his sixth season at Pike, but wasn’t the coach last year. He stepped down after leading the Red Devils to back-to-back sectional titles in 2014 and ’15 due to a larger role at his company.

Pike coach Bob Anglea works with his team during a break in the second half of the IHSAA 4A Girls' Basketball Tournament Regional championship game, Feb. 11, 2017,

Pike coach Bob Anglea works with his team during a break in the second half of the IHSAA 4A Girls’ Basketball Tournament Regional championship game, Feb. 11, 2017,

Anglea stayed in close contact with the program when former assistant Jason Hohlt coached the team last year, but he didn’t attend the Ben Davis game. The first he heard about the incident was when assistant Kathy Walters called him, in tears, after the game. Two days later, the IHSAA ruled that it was immediately suspending both teams for the remainder of the season and banning the programs from tournament play.

Anglea made phone calls on behalf of Tyana Robinson and Alyssa Clay, seniors who had no role in the fight. Robinson is redshirting this year at Florida Atlantic while Clay has played in 10 games as a freshman at Akron.

“That was tough,” Anglea said. “I was excited that those kids were able to retain their scholarships and things went OK for them. But when we learned the season was over, that was tough for everybody. After watching the film, it was just a culmination of what had been happening all game. I’d been with them since eighth grade and I knew that’s not who they were on a regular basis.”

Anglea, who originally came to Pike from Speedway before the 2010-11 season, was contacted by the Pike administration about returning as coach. It was a different circumstance, but he took over a program that was in disarray several years ago after former coach Sara Strahm was arrested on two felony counts of child seduction involving a 17-year-old player on the team.

Pike junior Angel Baker (15) cuts down a piece of the net after winning the regional championship against North Central, Feb. 11, 2017. Pike won in overtime, 61-59.

Pike junior Angel Baker (15) cuts down a piece of the net after winning the regional championship against North Central, Feb. 11, 2017. Pike won in overtime, 61-59.

At the time, Pike had a spotty history of success in girls basketball. There were sectional titles in 1991, 2002, ’04 and ’06 mixed in with several losing seasons.

“I believed when I came here that we could help Pike,” Anglea said. “They were in a tough position at that time and we came in and really built the program up from nothing into a top-10 contender. It was tough to see it crumble again.”

Anglea addressed the fight right away with the team after taking the job.

“We said, ‘Everybody makes mistakes,’” he said. “‘If everybody’s mistakes were out there on the table you’d probably be shocked. It’s not the mistake that defines you, it’s what you do after it. You can pick yourself back up and say this is not who I am and not who we are.’”

The IHSAA’s punishment was harsh. Too harsh, some believed. But IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox has said on multiple occasions, even before the Griffith and Hammond boys’ teams had its seasons suspended near the end of the 2015 season (a ruling that was later overturned by a local judge), that the IHSAA member schools wanted a stronger stance on in-game fighting.

Anglea, for one, didn’t disagree with the punishment.

“I think they had to do something drastic in that situation,” Anglea said. “’I think it was warranted. It was tough on the kids but it was not the wrong decision.”

Pike has adopted the slogan “Finish Strong” this season. It seems fitting. All four of Pike’s tournament victories have been close, including overtime wins over Roncalli (55-53 in the sectional) and North Central. The Red Devils also edged Ben Davis, 58-55, in the sectional championship and pulled away from Brownsburg 58-48 in the regional semifinal.

Angel Baker, a junior averaging a team-leading 19.5 points a game, made the play of the season with her steal and game-winning layup in the waning seconds of the win over North Central.

“In last few seconds of the game, coach said we needed one stop,” said Baker, who is getting interest from Indiana and DePaul, among other Division I schools. “We got the one stop.”

Now the Red Devils are just one stop from Bankers Life Fieldhouse and next week’s state finals.

“It’s a big turnaround,” Rascoe said. “It’s a huge turnaround after what happened last year. I think we’re showing who we are.”

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

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