Two boys basketball teams who have won state championships in the past but have been chasing another for over a decade will clash at 4 p.m. this Saturday in Huntington for a shot at the 2014 2A state title.
Westview (22-4) and Lewis Cass (22-2) square off in the 2A northern semi-state game to be held at Huntington North High School. For the Warriors, it is their first trip to the semi-state in six years, while the Kings haven’t been this far in the tourney since winning their lone state crown in 2003.
“We’re very excited about this opportunity and though we’re not quite ready yet, we will be by Saturday,” said Westview head coach Rob Yoder Tuesday afternoon. “Cass is a good team with players who expect to win just like us. So we’ll see who the better team is on Saturday.”
Yoder’s Warriors are still recovering from one of their toughest, yet most rewarding weekends of basketball in their history. Rallying from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit, Westview downed a talented Hammond Noll squad, 75-64 in double overtime in the semifinals. Less than six hours later, the Warriors defeated Winamac, 69-53 to claim their first regional title since 2008.
“We’ve had some good wins here at Westview, but the one over Hammond Noll meant a lot, coming back the way we did,” said Yoder. “The only bad thing was we couldn’t enjoy it because we had to turn around a few hours later and play Winamac. If we can win this Saturday, we’ll be able to enjoy it more.”
If the Warriors are to beat Cass, winners of its last 20 games, they will have to find a way to handle the trio of guards who make the Kings’ offense go. Senior Austin Keisling leads the Cass attack with an 18.4 scoring average. Classmate Blake Hadley tallies 14.9 points a tilt and sophomore Ryan Baxter comes in at 13.3.
“They are three hard-nosed players who take the ball to the basket and draw a lot of fouls,” Yoder said of the Cass backcourt trio. “We must move our feet defensively and get some help from the weak side to minimize their penetration. If we don’t, and they are able to drive and finish or get to the foul line, it could be a long day for us.”
With its tallest player being 6-3 senior forward Drew McRae, Cass relies on its quickness and a 2-2-1 zone press to bolster its defense. “They get a lot of their offense off turnovers from the press,” observed Yoder. “We have to find a way to beat their pressure and get the ball into Chandler (Aspy) and Judah (Zickafoose). Those two give us an advantage on the inside.”
The Kings are directed by Jon Kitchel, who has spent nearly all of the past 30 years coaching in the Cass program, the last three as head coach. He led the Kings to the 1978 Logansport sectional championship. He was an assistant on the Kings’ 2003 2A state championship club.
“Since we aren’t a very big team, we have to play a full-court, up-tempo type of game,” said Kitchel. “Whichever team can establish their tempo of play will have a big advantage in the game.
“Westview is a solid, well-coached club with a terrific point guard (Jordyn Bontrager), a good post player (Aspy), an athletic forward (Zickafoose) and a great wing shooter (Jamar Weaver),” Kitchel added. “Having all those elements on offense make them very difficult to defend.”
Though Cass starts its spring break this Friday, Kitchel expects a lot of Kings fans to make the trip to Huntington, hoping to counteract the throng of Warrior supporters anticipated to attend. “I understand that Westview always brings a lot of fans to its games, so there should be a big crowd Saturday,” said the Cass mentor. “Both our schools enjoy a lot of support from the community. It should be a great game.”
The large contingent of Westview fans will be hoping for a better outcome than the ones suffered by the Warriors in their two most recent trips to the 2A semi-state. In 2006, Harding dealt Westview a 64-48 at Kokomo. Two years later in Warsaw, Fort Wayne Luers and DeShaun Thomas rolled to an 83-70 victory over the Warriors.
“We were very young in 2006 and Harding was an outstanding team,” Yoder recalled. “In 2008, Luers was probably one of the top five teams in the state, regardless of class. Cass isn’t on either of those teams’ level, but they will be tough to beat.”
The winner of the Westview-Cass battle advances to the 2A state championship game set for March 29 at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Their title game opponent will either be Park Tudor (24-2), winners of the 2011 and 2012 2A state crowns, or Clarksville (23-2). Those teams tangle Saturday at Seymour.