Southsider Voice correspondent
Welcome to Hoosier Hysteria – Southside style.
The boys state tournament tipped off Tuesday, but no upcoming matchup possibly could meet the intensity Saturday afternoon inside Southport Fieldhouse. A long-awaited standing-room-only crowd witnessed Indiana high school basketball at its boisterous and competitive best.
Rescheduled from Feb. 21 because of a snowstorm, the game between No. 1 Evansville Reitz and No. 3 Southport brought back most of the echoes of coaches Blackie Braden and Bill Springer plus Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Louie Dampier and fellow Indiana All-Stars Fred Fleetwood, Jim Krivacs and Marlon Fleming. The weeklong delay simply added to the hype.
Opened in November 1958, the 56-year-old fieldhouse absolutely rocked Saturday afternoon:
• Southport athletic director Pete Hubert opened the doors at 11 a.m., two hours earlier than announced. The sportsmanlike act enabled hundreds of fans to be warm inside instead of waiting in line in the frigid weather. The junior varsity game didn’t start until 2 p.m., with the varsity game tipping around 3:30 p.m.
• The main parking lot was full two hours before tip-off.
• The public address announcer urged fans to sit closer together so that more spectators could be seated 20 minutes before tipoff.
• Four rows of media tables were filled behind the scorer’s table.
• Evansville Reitz fans texted photos of the capacity crowd. Reitz brought 21 cheerleaders and 1,500 students and fans.
• The Southport student Bird Cage waved flags and cheered the Cards from behind the north goal.
“Great crowd, great atmosphere,” Southport coach Kyle Simpson commented. “To see this community and school excited about basketball again leaves me speechless.”
For 32 minutes of pure Hoosier Hysteria, Southport showed its athleticism (fast breaks and dunks), patience (16 assists), red-hot shooting (33-of-54, 61.1 percent) and rebounding (36-16); Reitz (23-1) showed a near-devastating half- and full-court trapping defense and had plenty of sharpshooters on the floor.
Southport led 19-17 after the first quarter; Reitz led at halftime 35-32; and then with 6-10 Joey Brunk scoring 14 points in the third quarter, the Cardinals led 58-52 going into the final period. The Cards’ Paul Scruggs fouled out with six minutes left and his team leading 68-60. Reitz regained the edge 80-79 with 70 seconds to go.
Southport nailed 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute for an intense 88-80 victory.
Southport’s players celebrated in front of the Bird Cage as the fans shouted, “We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!”
And the final state coaches poll, released Monday, agreed by ranking the Cardinals No. 1. It was a spot they enjoyed earlier this season before losing to No. 12 Pike and No. 17 Lawrence North. Reitz fell to No. 2.
“Defensively, we responded in the second half,” Simpson said. “We were too panicky at times in the second quarter. We knew we could get good shots if we were patient.
“We answered their pressure. We took care of the basketball. We got some good looks; we were patient against their traps.”
Southport senior Malik Bennett scored a game-high 30 points, hitting 9-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter; Brunk wound up with 24 points and 16 rebounds; Scruggs added 17 points.
The Cardinals cannot dwell on Saturday’s victory. They must refocus to compete in the Perry Meridian Sectional at 6 p.m. Friday, with the Falcons playing at 7:30 p.m. The winners advance to Saturday’s championship game at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve got to come down to earth; we’ll find a way,” Simpson said. “We have to keep winning.”
Sectionals resume Friday with semifinal action.
Greenwood, losers of 10 straight, drew a bye in the Whiteland Sectional and plays at 7:30 p.m.; Beech Grove plays at 6 p.m. at Danville.
Roncalli, Franklin Central, Center Grove, Manual, Lutheran and Greenwood Christian Academy were in action last night, but the results were unavailable at press time. Center Grove entered sectional play with a four-game winning streak that featured a 73-70 overtime win over then-No. 3 North Central on Feb. 20.
The Rebels defeated Franklin Central 62-58 Friday in an overtime thriller. Roncalli sharpshooter Jimmy Kirby scored 31 points and all of the team’s 15 points in the fourth quarter and the first four in OT.
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