Times Sports Editor
Not only is Christmas a time to spend with friends and family as well as reflect on the most important things in our lives, in the state of Indiana it means basketball as well.
Holiday tournament play has become ingrained in Hoosier culture and three of the four county basketball teams will take part in some of the best competitions the state has to offer.
The most well known of the tourney takes place in our backyard as the Northview boys will see action for the 11th time in the new edition of the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic held at Terre Haute North High School.
The tourney, which was reincarnated in 2000, has been won twice by the Knights (2001 and 2002). Terre Haute North is the defending champion, with the Knights claiming runner-up honors after a 52-38 Patriot win in the championship game.
Northview returns four of the players that started in that game as Damon Hyatt, Dillon Reynolds, Chance Talbot and Bryant Pestoff all return. Jacob Ninesling, Dallas King and Ethan Whitson also played in that game and return to this year's roster.
The Knights are nursing a couple of injuries as Whitson missed the Knights' overtime win against Edgewood with a broken kneecap and won't likely play in the tourney as he recovers. Ninesling also missed the win over the Mustangs, but could return after the 11-day break between games.
Northview will have the spotlight on the opening night, playing in the finale at 8:30 p.m. against Shakamak, which comes in with wins over two other tourney teams (Bloomfield and Linton-Stockton). The Lakers are led by the high scoring duo of Brock Dowell (18 ppg.) and Brodie Crowe (16.8 ppg.) with Justin Crody close behind at 15 ppg. Shakamak, coached by Steve Brett, who is in his 34th year of coaching (437-323 record), has put together a 3-1 mark this season. The lone loss was to another tournament team in Sullivan (59-42) back on Dec. 3.
In last year's tournament, the Knights also opened against the Lakers and came away with a 60-51 victory. Ninesling was second to Trent Lancaster's 16 points in the victory. The 6'4 senior had 14 points in that game and added five boards. Crody poured in 20 points to lead the Lakers.
Overall the Knights have won two of the three Wabash Valley Classic meetings between the two schools with a victory in 2004 (43-32) and a loss in 2009 (64-60).
The winner of Tuesday's opening round match-up will take on the victor between South Vermillion and West Vigo. The second round winner's bracket game will also take place at 8:30 p.m. The losers of the opening night's games will play at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Heading into tournament play, depth is a key component in making a successful run through the winners bracket as the Wabash Valley Classic gauntlet can mean three games in three days. Without the production of the 6'5 Whitson (10.6 ppg., 7.6 rpg.), the Knights will rely on some of its bench players to play important roles. Pestoff, a 6'4 senior post player was key in the Edgewood win and will be relied on along with 6'5 sophomore Daniel Kimball and 6'2 senior Chance Talbot.
One of Northview's strong suits this season has been the 3-point shot as the Knights have shot 40-percent as a team (32-of-80). Reynolds has hit 52 percent (11-of-21) of his shots from behind the arc to lead the team and Damon Hyatt (8-of-23), Craig Peters (8-of-22) and Dallas King (5-of-9) have all shot well to help the Knights spread out the floor.
Reynolds leads a balanced scoring load at 11.7 ppg., followed by Whitson, Hyatt (9.8 ppg.), Peters (7.8) and Ninesling (5.2 ppg.).
The 16-team field starts play at 10 a.m. with a contest between Marshall, Ill. taking on Bloomfield.
The Clay City boys' basketball team has double the tournament fun as the Eels take part in the Graber Post Buildings Classic for the second time at North Daviess High School from Dec. 28-30. The Eels will take part in the Greene County Invitational at White River Valley High School beginning on Jan. 4 with a match-up against Shakamak at 6 p.m. The length of the eight-team tourney runs from Jan. 3 through Jan. 7.
The Eels are a much different team this season and bring an unbeaten record into the tournament along with some confidence that was lacking last year when Clay City bowed out after two lopsided losses, 64-37 to Forest Park and 49-32 to Washington Catholic and a narrow 38-37 defeat by South Knox.
Clay City will be tested right off the opening tip against first round opponent Barr-Reeve (6-1), which is ranked 5th in Class A this season. The 13th ranked Eels will take on the Vikings at 3 p.m. The lone loss by Barr-Reeve came in the season opener to rival Washington (58-48) on the road.
The Vikings are led by senior guard Ashton Wagler (17.9 ppg.) and his freshman brother Addison (11.7 ppg.). The duo leads a team that has outscored its opponents by 23 points per game this season. Six different players average at least six points per game. Jonathon Gingerich has hit 52-percent (13-of-25) from 3-point range and Jamal Wittmer has sunk 11-of-21 (52-percent) as well from beyond the arc. Matt Swartzentruber averages more than seven assists per game and better than three steals.
The Eels boast their own balance led by senior Ben Denker, who has averaged 18.6 ppg. this season and already has 15 3-pointers in five games. The Clay City guard has hit a 3-pointer in all but one game going back over the last 27 contests.
Denker has plenty of company this season as senior forward Brylan Jones averages 12.6 ppg. and nearly double-digit rebounds. Terre Haute South transfer Blake Cesinger has been a welcome addition and posts averages of 14.4 ppg. and already has several large rebounding games. Senior Jake Tiefel is another weapon and has averaged more than eight points per game with Tyler Allen adding more than five points per contest for the Eels.
The second game of the tourney will feature one of the two new teams to the tourney as Class A No. 10 Orleans (5-1) takes on South Knox at 4:30 p.m. The other new team to the field, North Posey, plays the host Cougars (7-0), who are Class A's top-ranked team. The final game of the night will pit defending tourney champion Forest Park against Brownstown Central at 7:30 p.m.
The Clay City girls' basketball team will try to build upon its three-game winning streak with a repeat appearance in the Toby Yoho Tournament that takes place at both Eastern (Greene) High School and the middle school.
The tough field is split into four pools as each team plays two games in their pool before being seeded for place games.
The Eels open against Forest park on Tuesday afternoon at the middle school beginning at 2:45 p.m. Clay City will take the court for it second game that same night at the high school against Class 3A No. 2 Edgewood. Second round games start at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
The Rangers of Forest Park are hoping to build upon a four-game win streak that has improved coach Marty Niehaus' squad to 6-3 overall. Niehaus has compiled a 307-140 record in 21 years at Forest Park.
Clay City senior Brielle Drelick is just 36 points shy of reaching 1,000 career points. Carmela Roeschlein just became the school's all-time leading scorer last week, surpassing Whitney McWilliams' total of 1,234.