It seemed destined to be Southport’s year. The core of a team that won 23 games returned, including standouts Joey Brunk and Paul Scruggs. The Cardinals were ranked No. 1 in the state in the preseason.
Then reality hit. A 7-6 start. Five losses by a combined 11 points. It bottomed out with a 20-point loss to Franklin Central at home on Jan. 8.
“We had a meeting after our game against Franklin Central that we’d better get this ship turned around,” Brunk said.
That loss dropped the Cardinals to 5-5. A week later, Southport lost to Lawrence North 53-52 in the semifinals of the Marion County tournament. Two months later, the Cardinals have not lost another game. A 74-44 win over Terre Haute South in the regional championship on Saturday marked the 15th consecutive win for Southport and the program’s first regional title since 1990.
“Last year we went 12-0 to start the season and probably peaked in mid-January,” Southport coach Kyle Simpson said. “We had nine guys play football this season, including Paul Scruggs. It takes time. Everybody was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re losing all these games.’ But five of those games came down to a possession or overtime or a last shot. At the end of the day, we just had to stay patient with the process and learn from it.”
Simpson pointed to those close losses as a learning point that paid off on Saturday. Southport was locked in a struggle with Connersville in the regional semifinal, leading 26-25 at the start of the fourth quarter. The Cardinals pulled away for a 42-35 win.
“If we hadn’t experienced some of those games, we probably would have folded,” Simpson said.
IHSAA sets semistate schedule
The Southport-New Albany showdown will be played in Richmond on Saturday.
On Sunday, Indiana High School Athletic Association announced the boys basketball semistate sites and times for Saturday’s games.
Class 4A ninth-ranked Southport (22-6) will play No. 1 New Albany (25-1) at 3 p.m. at the Tiernan Center in Richmond. That game will follow the Class 2A semistate between seventh-ranked Howe (22-7) and Providence (19-7), set for 1 p.m. in Richmond.
Tri-West (22-6) will make its first semistate appearance in Seymour. The Bruins will play Evansville Bosse (18-10) in a Class 3A semistate at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Class A third-ranked Bloomfield (25-3) and West Washington (20-8) meet at 4 p.m. in Seymour.
The other remaining local team, Lapel, will play at Huntington North on Saturday. Second-ranked Lapel (24-4) will play Fort Wayne Canterbury (16-10) at 3 p.m. in a Class 2A semistate. The first game at Huntington North is a Class A semistate between No. 7 Gary 21st Century (20-6) and top-ranked Liberty Christian (24-4), at 1 p.m.
The fourth semistate location is at Lafayette Jeff. Third-ranked Griffith (25-3) will play Marion (21-7) in a Class 3A semistate at 4 p.m., followed by No. 4 McCutcheon (27-3) vs. No. 5 Warsaw (25-1) in the 4A game at 6 p.m.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.