Will face No. 1 New Albany
By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Southport’s high-flying Cardinals are heading for a semistate basketball game for the first time since 1990.
The Cardinals captured a Class 4A regional championship Saturday in historic Southport Fieldhouse by dominating Terre Haute South 74-44, after edging upset-minded Connersville 42-35 earlier in the day.
Southport (22-6) travels to Richmond where they face No. 1 New Albany (25-1) and 6-4 sophomore star Romeo Langford at 3 p.m. Saturday.
And the party will begin a couple of hours ahead of game time.
The Southport Alumni Association is holding a pep rally from 1-2 p.m. Saturday at Carver’s Restaurant in Richmond, off Interstate-70 on State Road 27. Former coach Bill Springer and some of the players from the 1990 Final Four team will be on hand to fire up the fans, who will caravan over to Richmond High School.
Saturday’s matchup pits Southport’s 6-10 senior Joey Brunk, 19.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and Paul Scruggs, 19.8 points, against Langford, 29.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 6-0 junior guard Isaac Hibbard, 15.5 points.
The Cardinals are riding a 15-game winning streak, while New Albany has won 22 consecutive games since losing its only game, a 73-68 setback to Pike.
New Albany won the Seymour Regional by defeating Bloomington South 73-66 in overtime and bouncing No. 11 Evansville Reitz 84-70 in the nightcap.
Southport and New Albany have not met since 1981. The Bulldogs hold a 10-9 series lead after winning four of their last regular season meetings, according to historian Jim Pich of Beech Grove.
The prize for the Southport-New Albany winner will be a trip to the state championship game against Warsaw or McCutcheon in Bankers Life Fieldhouse at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, March 26.
Southport coach Kyle Simpson said he believes the Cardinals are coming off their best game of the season.
“I told them this (Terre Haute South) is going to be the best game of our season (because) I knew our best basketball hadn’t been played yet and that our time was coming,” Simpson said while the Cardinals cut down the nets Saturday.
After battling Connersville (21-6) in a slow-paced game, the Cardinals’ one-two punch of Brunk and Scruggs dominated the Braves with a combined 44 points. Junior guard Blake Evans added 12.
“The two games we played were at both ends of the spectrum,” said Brunk, who scored a game-high 27 points in the championship game. “All our hard work is beginning to culminate. Everybody is playing together.”
Eight Cardinals scored against Terre Haute South, including starters Luke Johnston, six points in the first quarter, and Elijah Walton, five points. Freshman Harold Bennett, senior Evan Higgs and junior Dylan Davidson combined for 10 points off the bench. Dut Mabok, a 6-9 junior, gave Brunk brief rests in the first and fourth quarters.
“Defense won this championship,” Simpson said. “We played more unselfish and we moved the basketball. I thought our guys did a great job of keeping the game in control and playing our game.”
Southport never trailed against the Braves after jumping to a quick 7-2 lead and rolling to a 36-19 halftime lead. Johnston scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in the first quarter before running into foul trouble.
Southport connected on 29-of-52 field goal attempts (55.7 percent), while the Cardinals’ defense limited the Braves to a frigid 24.4 percent (11-of-45). Led by Brunk’s 11 rebounds, Southport easily controlled the boards 37-17.
Brunk reminisced Saturday night after speaking with retired coach Bill Springer, who coached the regional championship team in 1990.
“Nights like this are special,” said Brunk while looking over the celebrating throng. “I remember coming here as a kid and there’d be 500 people here. There’s a lot of alumni that want to continue to see this run.
“We still have business to take care of.”