COVINGTON — Several area basketball senior all-stars got a chance to lace up the sneakers one more time and put on their school’s uniform as the Battle for the Border games were played Sunday at Covington High School. The series, in its ninth year, raises scholarship money and features players from western Indiana and eastern Illinois. The Indiana girls increased their overall lead in the series to 12-3 with a 62-46 win but the boys series evened at 8-8 with a 71-64 Illinois victory. Southmont’s Lily Ward, along with Mackenzy Linville of Fountain Central, were contributors in the girls win, while South’s Justin Howard, along with Nathaniel Butts and Aaron Barnett, were on the short end of their score. A host of WRC players, along with two from Central Catholic, rounded out the lineups. All five local players talked about their experiences. GIRLS GAME
The Mounties Lily Ward, who will be heading to Hanover after a whirlwind recruiting process, looked forward and backward. “I want to get better,” she said. “Playing with all these really good players is a really good experience first, but it’s also a good chance for me to start looking at how I need to be at the next level.” Ward, who led her team this past season with 11.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, made her impact Sunday early, grabbing an offensive rebound and getting a bucket. She also grabbed another rebound, dished out an assist and had a steal. “It was my last time to wear my South white uniform,” she added, “so that was a little bittersweet, but it was really great to play with several girls that I have played against through the years.” The Mustangs’ Linville, who is heading to Indiana State and entering the education program with the possible hope of becoming a coach in the future, used the weekend to cap an incomplete senior season. “I missed the end of the season with an elbow injury,” she said. “I was super-glad that I was able to play.”
Linville also led her team in scoring and rebounding, with a 9.8 scoring and 7.9 rebounding average, but unlike Ward, is not planning on playing college hoops. Her teammates, featuring players from nearly every conference rival, made it an interesting game. “They are great players and great teammates,” she said. “It was a little different that we were all on the same team, because we have had a lot of tough games against each other over the years. They are all friends, and I’m really glad I was able to play in the all-star games with them.” After a bucket in the first half, Linville got open for a couple more in the second, finishing with eight points and two rebounds. One of those boards was also one the offensive end that she put back for two points.
The Indiana girls were led by Attica’s Naomi McDaniel, who finished with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds. Lexi Thompson of CC had five treys for 15 points. McDaniel was named the Indiana Player of the Game. BOYS GAME
Southmont’s Justin Howard, along with Fountain Central’s Aaron Barnett and Nathaniel Butts, all had fourth-quarter points as the Indiana team made a furious run back from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit, but it wasn’t enough. The loss didn’t lessen the trio’s feelings on the day. “It was a great opportunity to come out and play for Southmont one more time,” Howard said. “It’s really cool, and I want to thank Coach (Jake) Turner for helping make this happen. There were a lot of guys here on my team today that I’ve had some tough games against, and it was really nice to have them as teammates. The only problem is that we have all been out of practice for a month, which led to a few air balls.” Heading to Ivy Tech in their business administration program, Howard might be out of organized hoops, but remembered the recent past. “It was representing your school,” he noted. “Our home crowds were always great, and now playing with some of the guys I played against is a nice way to finish.” Butts is making the transition from Fountain Central to college hoops, as he will be a member of the Wabash basketball team shortly. “This is one of the coolest things,” he remarked about the all-star games. “I’ve battled with so many of them, a few on the football field and the basketball floor, so to have them as teammates is awesome. To be able to put on the old uniform one more time gives a little bit of closure. It’s a little bittersweet, sure, but it’s a great time of my life, especially with sports. I’m super excited about getting to Wabash and starting the next chapter.” Butts, who led the Mustangs this season with 15.1 ppg, finished with one basket and three rebounds, plus dished out an assist.
Aaron Barnett, who led the Mustangs with 7.4 rebounds per game, is finishing his FC basketball career, but college sports awaits, as he will be playing football for the University of Indianapolis in the fall. He will be a wide receiver for the Greyhounds. “It was really cool to put on the high school uniform one more time,” he said, “and is was really nice to play one more game with Nathaniel and all the other WRC guys. A bunch of rivals became friends and teammates.” Barnett, who somehow was not voted Player of the Game after his double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds, scored six points in the comeback attempt. “We needed a little energy, and I’m a rebound guy,” he said. The Indiana squad was led in scoring by North Vermillion’s Trevor Eppert, who had 12 points and was voted MVP. The four squads will play at Bismarck-Henning Rossville-Alvin High School next Saturday to finish the season series. The girls game starts at 6 p.m. (ET) with the boys game following.