After his team knocked off Roncalli in the Marion County tournament semifinals late Friday night, Pike coach Bill Zych said it would take a “tremendous upset” to knock off unbeaten and No. 1-state ranked North Central.
Consider it done.
Unranked Pike stunned North Central 71-64 on Saturday night at Southport Fieldhouse to claim its third consecutive Marion County championship. After a 3-3 start to the season, Pike has now won eight games in a row. But none were as eye-opening as Saturday’s victory.
The Red Devils led from the outset, using an attacking, efficient offense to gouge the Panthers (13-1) and take a 37-24 lead at halftime. Pike pushed its lead to as many as 19 points in the third quarter.
“We had a great third quarter,” Zych said. “I didn’t know if we could withstand the fourth. I didn’t know if we’d have enough left in us.”
North Central, a strong second-half team all season, kept battling. Pike kept doing just enough — a 3-pointer by Justin Williams, a run-out and three-point play by Isiah James — to keep the Panthers at arm’s length. The Pike lead was 16 with 4:18 left after James completed a three-point play on a perfect length-of-the-floor baseball pass from Ditwan Gary.
Still, North Central kept coming. A quick 6-0 run cut Pike’s lead to 64-54 with 3:29 left. But there were too many missed opportunities along the way. North Central got as close as 68-64 but just 16.5 seconds remained. Pike’s Williams hit 3-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final seconds to put it away.
UCLA-bound Kris Wilkes finished with 26 points to lead North Central and Mateo Rivera scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half.
“They played harder than we did,” North Central coach Doug Mitchell said of Pike. “You hope that’s a lesson learned. They played more together than we did. You hope that’s a lesson learned.”
Williams led Pike with 20 points and played a major role in handling North Central’s full-court pressure defense. Darian Porch, a 6-6 junior, added 15 points and James, a 6-6 senior, had 13 of his 15 points in the second half.
“That fourth quarter lasted a long time,” Porch said. “We were getting tired.”
Pike is just the second program to win three consecutive Marion county championships since the 1950s, joining the Ben Davis teams from 1993 to ’95. It’s only the sixth time it has ever happened since the tournament began in 1919-20, speaking to the competitiveness and balance of the county.
The Red Devils might have been something of an afterthought entering this year’s tournament, though. North Central and Warren Central were both unbeaten and Roncalli, the other semifinalist, also had more experience. In the quarterfinal against Park Tudor, Pike trailed by 16 points at halftime and by 12 going into the fourth quarter before rallying for a 66-62 overtime win.
“We feel like we’ve been overlooked and had something to prove,” Williams said. “We came out hard and played our game. We didn’t let them take us out of it.”
It helped that Pike hit some shots early and played from a lead from the outset. Sophomore Brandon Vernon provided a spark off the bench, making all three of his 3-point attempts. The Red Devils’ confidence seemed to grow with each first-half possession.
“Prior to the last four minutes, when we took some body punches, we were able to hit some big shots,” Zych said. “For a team that is younger than (North Central), we had to make those shots just to stay confident and stay ahead. We’ve come a long way. We’ve grown as a team on and off the floor and I think it’s making a difference.”
What will it mean moving forward? Hard to say. Pike struggled last year after winning the county title, going 4-6 the rest of the way.
“We’ve got to build on this,” Williams said. “If we want to be a great team, we’ve got to come back to practice and keep getting better.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep
PIKE 71, NORTH CENTRAL 64
North Central 11 13 15 25 – 64
Pike 16 21 18 16 – 71
North Central (13-1) – Rivera 5 4-6 14, T.Johnson 1 2-2 5, Little 1 3-4 5, D.Johnson 2 2-2 8, Wilkes 8 9-11 26, Lee 3 0-0 6, Bradley 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 20-25 64.
Pike (12-3) – Williams 6 6-9 20, Gary 3 1-2 8, Pennington 1 2-2 4, Porch 6 3-4 15, James 6 2-2 15, Pegues 0 0-0 0, Vernon 3 0-0 9, Robinson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 25 14-19 71.
3-point goals: North Central 4 (D.Johnson 2, Wilkes, T.Johnson), Pike 7 (Vernon 3, Williams 2, Gary, James).