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Competitive Classic on the horizon

Area boys’ basketball teams are sprinting out of Christmas break and headed toward the 14th Annual Sugar Creek Classic presented by Franciscan Health that opens Friday night at Crawfordsville. Crawfordsville and North Montgomery enter on a pair of three-game win streaks, while Southmont hasn’t played since a 68-46 win over North Vermillion on Dec. 21, and Western Boone enters the tourney at 2-6 and still trying to find their identity after a late start to the season thanks to a second-straight IHSAA Class 2A football state championship. While Crawfordsville is the defending SCC and Sagamore Conference champion, a competitive slate of games is set to be on tap once again this weekend. The last four championships have been decided by seven points or less, while the Athenians, Southmont, and Western Boone have all shared the coveted paddle in the last four seasons. North Montgomery is in search of its first tourney crown since 2015. Chargers battle Stars The Chargers enter Friday 6-4 on the season, and will face Western Boone (2-6), a team they beat 53-45 in their only meeting last season. “They will be a tough matchup,” North Montgomery coach Chad Arnold said. “They like to spread you out and they have a lot of guys that can put the ball on the floor and get downhill.” Western Boone is led by Cortez Stoudemire, who is second in the SAC with 16.7 points per game, and first-year coach Josh Burkett is finally seeing the transition from football to basketball take place for his team. “We have been able to practice, which is huge when transitioning from one sport to another,” he said. “The guys are starting to get their legs and we’re turning the ball over less. Shots still aren’t falling at a consistent rate, so we are going to continue to improve in that area but our goal is to continue to improve each day.” Spencer Wright adds 11.7 points a night for the Stars, who average 53.8 points per game, but allow 60.5 defensively, and Burkett expects an evenly matched game when the Chargers and Stars face off at 6 p.m. on Friday. “North Montgomery is a solid team that has had some success early this season,” he said. “Based off common opponents, this should be a very good game. We have to be ready to defend in the half-court and execute our stuff when we have the ball. Every possession matters in an evenly matched game, so we are going to focus on getting great shots and not turning the ball over.” The Chargers, who are coming off a tournament championship at the Delphi Indiana Kitchen Classic over Christmas break, are led in scoring by Jaron Bradford’s 14.4 points per game, while Preston Shaw and Kade Kobel each chip in seven a game. Arnold, who is in his first year at the helm of the program, is excited about the early season growth by the Chargers — who only allow 48.2 points per game. “The guys have really started to learn our system and what we are trying to do,” he said. “I am impressed with how fast they are picking things up and their effort. We have along way to go but we are definitely starting to do some good things. They are excited. I think these guys are starting to realize how good of a team we can be.” Athenians face Mounties Crawfordsville downed Southmont 76-51 last season, and while the Mounties are just 2-6 on the season this year, Athenian coach David Pierce knows this is a much different Southmont team. “The Mounties are a much better team from last year,” he said. “They play with better team chemistry and distribute the ball a lot more, which makes it harder to defend. Coach Turner has done a great job of creating a team of shooters that are playing with more confidence. We will not underestimate Mounties.” Southmont is led by a trio of underclassmen that average nine points or better per game — freshman Carson Chadd, sophomore Logan Oppy, and junior Austin Bowman. “We are beginning to show signs of what we are capable of being,” Southmont coach Jake Turner said. “The big thing for us is consistency. We have played well in stretches for a couple quarters, but we haven’t been able to put together a complete game. As we tell the kids, this starts in practice. If we can be more consistent in practice, then hopefully we will be more consistent in games.” Jesse Hall and Ty Lynas lead the Athenians with 12 points per game each, while the Athenians are coming off a 58-44 win over Parke Heritage last Saturday. “We finally played 4 quarters of hard-nose defense,” Pierce said. “They other thing that help build confidence was that we played 4 sophomores and a total of 11 guys and we didn’t skip a beat. It was a great team win and a team effort will be required this weekend.” The Mounties average just 50.1 points per game, and allow 58.5 a contest — and Turner knows knocking off the favorite Athenians will be a tall order. “We know Crawfordsville is a great team and they are the favorites in this tournament,” he said. “Crawfordsville is a tough team to guard because they have multiple guys who can break down a defense off the dribble and then they have so many shooters around those drivers. They have a lot of talented offensive players and guys who can both shoot and drive, which puts a lot of pressure on your defense. We will need to have great defensive fundamentals, effort, and execution of the game plan. We just have to stay focused and engaged for 32 minutes. It may sound like coach speak, but we just have to stay in the moment and focus on the next play for 32 minutes.” While North Montgomery and Western Boone are led by a pair of strong senior classes, Pierce knows the team most mentally tough will likely come away with a pair of wins this weekend to setup the possibility for more success to come down the stretch. “Grind out wins require mental toughness and focus to get through the adversity of a close game,” he said. “Whoever is able to win two games that will definitely be close games, will come away with tons of confidence. The Sugar Creek Classic has always caused the winner to go on winning streaks afterward.”

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