Heated neighbor-vs.-neighbor rivalries, like the one Harrison and West Lafayette will contest at May Gymnasium Friday night, can provide lifelong memories.
Such was the case the past two seasons, with West Lafayette winning in overtime two years ago and Harrison winning at Berberian Gymnasium last season, 60-59.
Yet this annual non-conference meeting has taken on greater importance in recent years. The student councils at both schools organize a fundraiser called Hoops for Hope, which has raised more than $90,000 since 2008 to benefit area families either directly or through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“I’ve been a lot of different places, and this is one of the neatest things I’ve seen two schools do in all my experience,” Harrison coach Mark Rinehart said. “That’s why I think it’s so great for our kids. The slogan is, ‘It’s bigger than the game,’ and it really is. The schools are doing something that has a lot of impact.”
This year, the program benefits the family of Harrison sophomore Rachel Cambron, who was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure over the summer, and 3-year-old Aubrey Deno of Lafayette, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia and dreams of visiting Walt Disney World.
“It’s been a very nice enhancement to this rivalry,” WL coach Dave Wood said. “We’re helping people in the process, and that’s a good thing.”
Harrison already beat the Red Devils once this season, rallying for a 53-44 victory in the J&C Hoops Classic third-place game on Dec. 1. Nearly half of the Raiders’ point total came in the fourth quarter, and Cade Renicker’s 14 points led three players in double figures.
West Side is one of 10 Harrison opponents held to 50 or fewer points.
“I think we’ve got to do a better job of rebounding and a better job of defending them, certainly, than we did in the fourth quarter last time,” said Wood, who is one victory shy of 250 for his career. “Scoring against them is tough. They do a great job defensively. They’re going to make us play for 32 minutes, and we’ve got to be able to play a pretty hard-nosed game for 32 minutes to have a chance to win.”
While Harrison is blessed with decent size across the court, containing West Lafayette big men Justus Stanback (6-foot-7) and Brian Bangs (6-5) is a different challenge. They totaled 24 points and 16 rebounds in the first meeting.
“I think it’s going to be a tremendous matchup,” Rinehart said. “… I challenged our guys today that Brian Bangs is every bit as dangerous at both spots as Justus is.”
Rossville celebrated its first outright Hoosier Heartland Conference championship since 2001 after a 60-56 victory over Sheridan last Saturday. Hornets coach Dave Mosson then offered his team some perspective.
“I asked them on Monday, ‘How did that feel Saturday?’ and they said, ‘It felt really great,’ ” Mosson said. “I told them, ‘Multiply it times 10, and that’s how it feels to win a sectional.”
Rossville sees how it measures up in the sectional Friday night when it entertains Class A No. 10 Central Catholic. The Knights are the 11-time defending sectional champs, and last season they knocked the Hornets out in the semifinals.
CC held Rossville to 37 points that night, and reproducing that feat could be a challenge.
“We’ve got to figure out how to keep (Brandon) Tonsoni and (Austin) Miller from going off from 3, and we’ve got to keep (James) Baker from getting to the basket,” CC coach Dave Barrett said. “We just have to play solid defense.”
Besides defending on the perimeter and rebounding well on defense, Mosson sees another key to his team’s chances.
“I told the kids the other day, sometimes we see Central Catholic on the front of the uniform and think they’re bigger than life,” Mosson said. “We have to get over that mental hump of them being just another team on our schedule.”
The game will be webcast by MTC Sports at mtcsports.net.
Lafayette Jeff will be without leading scorer and rebounder Tyler Buchanan again Friday night at Brownsburg. Bronchos coach Scott Radeker said Buchanan is being held out for precautionary reasons due to concussion symptoms the junior experienced during Jeff’s game at McCutcheon last Thursday.
Devin Haney will start again, as he did in Tuesday’s 60-52 loss at Western.
“Obviously it’s a big loss, especially going into a game against Brownsburg, as physical as they play,” Radeker said. “It’s like I’ve been telling our guys: other guys have to step up. The positive side is it’s getting more guys some experience and more games.”
In the Hoosier Heartland Conference, records can be deceiving. In McCutcheon coach Rick Peckinpaugh’s opinion, such is the case with Avon, whose 9-10 record includes losses to current Class 4A No. 3 Hamilton Southeastern, No. 4 Carmel and No. 5 Pike.
Though the Orioles don’t boast the tremendous height of past seasons, they still have decent size in 6-6 Aaron Bode and 6-3 Connor Funkhouser. Carter VanWanzeel leads the backcourt.
Mavericks senior Nathaniel Acree returned to practice Monday. He left last Thursday’s victory over Lafayette Jeff in the third quarter due to a mouth injury.
In the sectional, Frankfort will have home-court advantage when it tries to win tough games on back-to-back nights. This weekend, the Hot Dogs travel to Tipton (18-1), which just took over the No. 1 spot in Class 2A, and Southmont (13-4).
Frankfort has won five straight and nine of its last 10, a streak interrupted only by a home loss to Central Catholic on Jan. 19.
“I don’t think you’d want to enter the sectional any other way,” Frankfort coach Tom Weeks said. “The more competition and the tougher it is, the better you’re going to be come tournament time.”
Friday night, the Hot Dogs will contend with St. Louis University-bound 6-5 senior wing Mike Crawford. On Saturday, they face Devon Burton, currently leading the area in scoring (21.8) and among the leaders in assists (6.0).
After Friday night’s home game against Frontier, Delphi (13-4) travels to Class A No. 4 Pioneer (14-3) on Saturday. The Panthers have won six straight, including road victories at Carroll and Rossville.