No matter who Southmont plays in its sectional opener, it will be a rematch with the Mounties looking for redemption.
The Mounties (11-9) will play the winner of Cloverdale (9-12) and Parke Heritage (21-3) in the first semifinal on Friday night at Cloverdale. Southmont lost to the Clovers 42-53 in their season opener and to the Wolves 64-54 just last week.
The likely opponent is the Class 2A No. 4 ranked Wolves, a team that beat the Clovers 65-48 in the regular season.
Southmont returned four key varsity players, but adding point guard Cale Hess to the mix was difficult in the early part of the season for the Mounties after a lost summer due to COVID-19.
“I think our group has really gelled as the year has gone along,” Southmont coach Jake Turner said. “While four of our five starters played a lot of minutes together last season, our starters had not played a lot together due to no summer. I think Cale’s maturation and improvement has really helped stabilized us. Offensively, he does a great job of pushing the pace and understanding his role as a distributor, while also being more confident in his ability to drive and shoot.”
Hess averages 4.9 points per game to go along with the other four starters who all average in double-figures. Avery Saunders leads the Mounties with 15.1 points per game, Logan Oppy at 12.5, Austin Bowman (right) at 11.6 and Carson Chadd at 11.2 points per game. Southmont scores it at a 58.3 point click against a defensive average of 55.5 points per game. The Mounties’ balance offensively is a strength heading into tournament play.
“The first 30-45 minutes of every one of our practices are offensive skill work — ballhandling, scoring moves, finishing moves, etc. and I think it shows with how our guys attack during games,” Turner added. “We have five guys who can handle the ball and beat their defender off the dribble and then either finish or kick it out to a teammate for a shot or an opportunity to attack a closeout. Having five guys who are skilled (and confident) enough to do that is a luxury and I think that is one of our strengths as a team.”
Parke Heritage is a team that averages just 61.2 points per game, but has a defensive average of 44.3 points. In 24 games, the Wolves have allowed 50 points or more just six times, including 54 to the Mounties last week. Turner hopes they will space out offensively and limit the turnovers.
“Offensively, I think we need better spacing and then we need to be more active cutters when our defender helps,” he said. “I didn’t like our spacing and I thought some cuts were there that we didn’t make. Also, we need to make more of an effort on the offensive boards. Parke Heritage is a disciplined team that rebounds well, but too many times only 1-2 guys were going to the O boards and that’s not going to be good enough.
“Additionally, we can’t have live ball turnovers that directly lead to layups. You can’t have those against teams like Parke Heritage.”
In the regular season meeting, Parke Heritage’s Connor Davis scored a season-high 35 points. The senior averages 14.7 points per game, while Christian Johnson leads the Wolves with 16.5 points per game and Riley Ferguson adds 12.8 points a contest.
Davis and company dominated the paint in the first meeting between Southmont and Parke Heritage, connecting on 21-of-23 shots, which will be a point of emphasis for the Mounties.
“I think the biggest key for us defensively is not giving up points in the paint,” Turner said. “Obviously, we did not do a great job of that Tuesday night because I believe they were 21-23 in the paint and Davis was 16-17. We’ve got to have a plan or, if necessary, a couple plans to make sure Davis has to work harder to get his buckets while also keeping their perimeter players out of the paint. They are great team and experienced team, so that will be easier said than done.”
Parke Heritage, along with North Putnam are the favorites atop the sectional. An upset won’t be easy to pull off, but the Mounties are ready to battle.
“To pull an upset, you have to play extremely hard and extremely focused for the entire game,” Turner said. “We have to limit our turnovers and be efficient on offense and then we have to make them work for everything they get on the offensive end.”