Senior staff writer
Southport ended the Pike jinx last week and went on to claim its first basketball sectional championship in 16 years.
The Cardinals’ march began March 1 when 6-10 senior Joey Brunk exploded for 13 points in the fourth quarter for a 53-48 win over sectional nemesis and No. 10 Pike. The Red Devils had ousted the Cards from the sectional the past two years to extend their string of 17 straight wins over Southport.
Southport then overcame Roncalli’s zone defense for a 60-57 semifinal triumph Friday and claimed the Sectional 11 championship by defeating Ben Davis 63-52.
The No. 9-ranked Cardinals (20-6) remain at Southport Fieldhouse for a 4A regional matchup Saturday against Connersville (21-5) at noon. No. 4 North Central (22-3) meets Terre Haute South (21-6) in the opener at 10 a.m. The two winners meet at 7 p.m. All three games will be aired on the Indiana Sports Radio Network at www.IndianaSRN.org.
The Cardinals are trying to reverse the events of the 2014-15 season, when they were ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season, only to lose to Pike in sectional action. This year Southport was No. 1 when the season began but dropped five of its first 10 games and fell from the rankings.
“My dad pointed out to me that we were ranked No. 1 at the end of the (regular) season, what did that get us? Nothing,” Southport coach Kyle Simpson said. “That’s been our focus this year; it’s how you’re ranked at the end of the tournament.”
Simpson also explained the team’s surge since putting together a 13-game winning streak after losing in the semifinals to Lawrence 53-52 in the Marion County tourney in putting together a 13-game winning streak.
“It’s taken time to get to this point,” Simpson said. “We had to change things around; we had some guys who weren’t buying into what we needed from them. We made some roster changes and made adjustments.”
The Cardinals’ tourney run began against Pike.
Southport and Pike played a sporadic first half that ended with a 24-22 lead for the Red Devils, coached by former Center Grove and Perry Meridian mentor Bill Zych. The pace picked up in the second half with Pike leading 30-24. Southport knotted it at 35 on a Paul Scruggs jam off freshman Harold Bennett’s fast-break miss.
Leading 48-46, the Cardinals missed the front end of one-and-one free throws twice before Bennett hit a free throw with 7.8 seconds left. Pike was saddled with a technical for calling an excessive time out. Brunk closed the game by hitting four straight free throws.
Brunk had a game-high 24 points against Pike, and Bennett added 13 points off the bench. Scruggs, who missed his first seven shots in the first quarter, scored 11.
Roncalli held a seven-point halftime lead Friday, but the Cardinals bounced back with a 24-14 third-quarter rally. Brunk led the way with 23 points. Christian Stewart’s 15 points paced the Rebels (14-8).
In the sectional title game, Southport extended a 41-36 third-quarter lead to 47-38 and rolled to an 11-point win against Ben Davis.
Perry Meridian (9-15) bowed out against Ben Davis 65-35, marking the fourth time this season the Falcons were held to less than 40 points.
The Falcons graduate three seniors, Jackson Gambrell, Dusty Baird and Austin Barker, but expect to return with four starters, including sophomore Gabriel Patterson, who scored a team-high 10 points against the Giants, and juniors Tyren Comer, Brandon Perry and Nathan Mills.
“I cannot say enough about our three seniors,” coach Brent Keck said. “They played hard all year and contributed greatly to our season. I just want the kids coming back to train hard during the offseason and get ready for next year.”
Resurgent Manual (15-9) and Beech Grove (13-10) reached their semifinal games before bowing. The Redskins won their first sectional game in decades by defeating Marshall 78-44 before losing 95-88 in double overtime to eventual champion Crispus Attucks.
Greenwood Christian (6-18) and Lutheran (12-10) were defeated in their openers.