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OSSIAN – Norwell's boys basketball team has no designated go-to player, little size and minimal weight of postseason expectations. That might just make the Knights the loosest team still alive in the Class 3A tournament.
Led by productive, but unassuming seniors, the Knights (19-6) ran away with their own sectional last week and face perennial power Muncie Central (10-11) around noon Saturday in the semifinals of the Blackford Regional. The winner plays the Bishop Dwenger vs. NorthWood winner Saturday night.
“I would say we are a very much a team in the fact we don't have one guy who does everything,” senior guard/forward Drew Shively said. “We have multiple guys and any of us on a given night can go off. You can't focus on one guy. One night it might be me. It could be David. It could be Austin.”
Shively, senior David Vogel and junior Austin Hayden are the team's leading scorers. Shively and Vogel, both thin, lanky players with great shooting touches, have statistics so similar, they could be called the Slim Twins. Shively averages 16.8 points per game and shoots 45.2 percent from three-point range. Vogel averages 16.5 points per game and hits 45.6 percent from three-point range. Lesson: Don't leave them open on the perimeter.
Hayden, a junior guard, averages 11.4 points per game, senior point guard Brent Bales 8.7 and junior center Piercen Harnish 6.9.
“The key to this team would be our senior leadership,” coach Randy Hawkins said. “It's been great this year. You look at David Vogel and Drew Shively, they've had a lot of experience in the past. Brent Bales is a tremendous kid and a great leader as well, and Jordan Dickey comes off the bench. Those four guys have done a tremendous job for us. They're great leaders, on and off the court.”
Success has been a given for Norwell over the past few years. The team finished runner-up in Class 3A two years ago and reached the regional final last season. But the dynamics of the team had to change when point guard Josh VanMeter graduated last spring. The San Diego Padres baseball prospect had put his name in Norwell's record books as a basketball player, too.
Bales stepped in at the point guard spot as a first-year starter as a senior. Bales might be the fourth option on offense, but he can hit the three-pointer, too (41 percent).
“I knew coming in I wasn't going to replace all the scoring (of VanMeter),” Bales said. “But I could do the little things like passing, ballhandling, knocking down open jumpers and focusing on playing tough defense. I knew if I could do the little things, that would help our team the most.”
Bales' reference to defense is a good one. Norwell is allowing opponents only 50.9 points per game.
That defensive strength is somewhat surprising, given that the 6-foot-4 Shively is the Knights' tallest regular player. Harnish mans the post with visible muscle, but he's usually giving away a few inches in height to opposing players.
“It doesn't matter about size, it's about getting your position on the court,” Hawkins said. “Piercen is 6-1 but he plays more like 6-4 or 6-5, he's so strong inside and positions his body well and blocks out well. Drew's a guard, but he's getting better in the post defending someone bigger than him. If you look at our rebounding, it's more than just one guy. In the past, we had Kyle Fillman and Brandon Gerber. It's been more of a committee type of deal with everyone working together.”
Vogel, the only player who saw significant action during Norwell's run to state two years ago, said the team needed a couple of weeks to find its rhythm but then became a cohesive team.
Once again against Muncie Central, the Knights will be at a size disadvantage, but they can counter that with their full-team effort.
“We definitely have to stop Muncie Central's big man who is 6-8 and plays well around basket,” Vogel said. “If we can spread the rock around and shoot well, that will be really helpful for us.”