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The hype surrounding the showdown between New Haven and Homestead on Saturday night was focused on the two guys in the paint in senior Steve McElvene of the Bulldogs and sophomore Caleb Swanigan.
But most knew that the play of the players on the perimeter would likely be the difference in the NHC showdown.
That proved to be the case in New Haven's 52-51 victory, clinched by senior Jordan Hogue's two free throws with just over 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
“We knew coming in the game had all the hype with two big boys going at it,” Hogue said. “But the guard play would be the focal point of the game.”
It became a bigger focal point for Class 3A No. 4 New Haven (12-2, 6-0 NHC) when McElvene battled foul trouble throughout and scored just two points.
Meanwhile, Swanigan went off for 27 points.
“That's where our versatility and balance comes in handy,” said Hogue about the foul trouble. “We had players step up.”
The Bulldogs will play nine games in February in a back-loaded schedule. So far, they are 2-0 with wins over the Spartans and Norwell.
With losses in its first three games of the season, Heritage certainly did not come out in top form.
But the Patriots seem to be rounding into form now, as they are one of three teams along with Garrett and Woodlan tied atop the ACAC standings with 4-1 records.
“Coming into the year, we had basically two kids who had ever played in a varsity game,” Heritage coach Brad Kiess said. “The rest of the kids had to get used to the speed of the game and what it was like playing at the varsity level.”
With a roster full of inexperience also comes an adjustment process in which the players find their roles over the first part of the season. As the roster has grown into their roles, Heritage has played better.
The Patriots (6-6) have won three straight, including back-to-back victories over league foes Adams Central and Bluffton.
With a road game at Garrett looming this Thursday as well as a visit to Heritage on Feb. 22, the road to a title is difficult, but Heritage controls its own destiny.
“As we have been talking to the kids all year long, even after we lost the first (conference) game to Leo, if we win the rest of our games we have a good chance to come out on top,” Kiess said.
With the postseason beginning this week on the girls' side, what better time to predict who from the area will make it to state finals in Terre Haute?
Look for Homestead to get to the Class 4A finals, with a likely rematch with Bedford North Lawrence looming. The north is not as loaded as the south and the Spartans have played dominant basketball for the majority of the season.
In Class 3A, whoever comes out of the murderous Garrett Sectional has a solid chance of advancing to the state championship game, with Norwell also being a solid choice from the Bellmont Sectional.
In Class 2A, Heritage Christian and Canterbury are on a collision course for a state title game showdown. An upset of massive proportions will be needed to prevent that from happening.
* Huntington North played the toughest regular-season schedule in the area in girls' basketball, playing teams with a .620 winning percentage (194-119).
* If the season ended today, North Side's .952 winning percentage (20-1) would rank No. 1 in the program's history, besting the .900 (27-3) winning percentage achieved in 1978.
*In girls' basketball, Bishop Luers has won the most regional championships among teams in the area with 12, followed by Columbia City, Northrop and Huntington North (eight apiece).
* In boys' basketball, South Side has won the most regional championships among teams in the area with 13, followed by Central, North Side and Huntington North (12 apiece).
* At 7-0, North Side is the first team to go undefeated through the SAC since Snider did it in the 2008-09 season and only the second team to do so in the last 12 years.
Remember to keep in mind that this poll is not based on what a team has done the entire season, but rather in terms of their play right now.
Boys Area Top 10
1. North Side
2. New Haven
9. Blackhawk Christian
Girls Area Top 10 (Final poll)
2. Concordia Lutheran
3. South Side
4. Bishop Luers
10. East Noble