Basketball

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been about 30 years since I use to write a weekly column for the Kokomo Perspective. I recall at the time I was much more comfortable behind a microphone than I was with a pen.

I struggled at times putting my thoughts down on paper. I remember, when I got into broadcasting, I thought I would have my own writer, and I wouldn't have to deal with that. It didn't quite work out that way.

What happened though, (Kokomo Perspective Publisher Emeritus) Don Wilson didn't realize it at the time, but he created a monster. I actually went on a letter-writing campaign trying to solve all the world's problems. How far has my writing come? Well, I'll let you judge, as Slater Young asked me to write a column on my experience in West Chester, Ohio, covering the Northwestern girls' basketball team. I'm still not going to win any awards, but I do feel more comfortable writing now as compared to when I started out.

So how did everything come about as far as my coverage of the journey to the tourney girl’s basketball event in West Chester? I was planning on visiting my son, Matt, and his family for Thanksgiving. It just so happened that Matt, his wife, Danelle, and their kids, Tristan and Eliza, reside in West Chester close to where the girls' tourney was taking place.

The people at WIOU Radio made the arrangements for Matt and me to broadcast the two Northwestern games on Friday and Saturday nights after Thanksgiving. I do have to say that Matt's 3-year-old daughter, Eliza, while listening to our broadcast, asked her mom why grandpa wouldn't let her dad talk more on the radio. I think I may have heard that comment from a few of my former color announcers over the years.

So now to the crux of the story. People want to know what happened to Northwestern after dropping its two games in the tourney. Let me first say the teams the Tigers played were very good. Newark, Ohio, on Friday is the top-ranked team in the state, and Lakota West on Saturday is ranked fourth in Ohio.

Northwestern came in with a bullseye on its chest, having gone almost a full year without losing a basketball game and easily winning an Indiana state championship last year with the closest game in the tournament decided by 21 points.

The two Ohio teams also caught Northwestern at a bad time. The Tigers just learned that Stephanie Burns, an Indiana Tech recruit, would need knee surgery and would be out for the season. This left Northwestern short on depth to go with its two Division I recruits, Madison Layden and Kendall Bostic. Some of their younger, inexperienced players were going to have to step up and play some quality minutes.

The Tigers' first game was Friday against Newark. Newark was a team Northwestern was familiar with, having played them in a summer tournament and winning by eight points. The Newark coach wanted another shot at Northwestern and actually requested to tourney officials another matchup with Northwestern. Newark was a team that was not very big but a team that could really handle the ball and really shoot it as well. Early on, Newark struggled with Northwestern's size as Kendall Bostic dominated, and the Tigers grabbed the lead at the half.

The second half was a much different story. Newark went to a triangle and two defense and completely shut down Northwestern. Newark also cranked up the defensive pressure and got some steals, which resulted in several easy baskets. With the lead, Newark spread the floor and wore down the Tigers and went on to post the 63-41 victory in a game that actually was closer than the final score indicated.

How would the Tigers bounce back from its first setback in a year? Its players had to go up against the host team, Lakota West, which included Kailyn Dudukovich, the daughter of former Kokomo-great Debbie Benziger Dudukovich. It was so great seeing Debbie and getting a chance to interview her before the game. Debbie was a key member of the Kokomo girls' basketball teams that won back-to-back state titles in 1992 and '93 and finished as runner-up in the state in 1994. Who would believe that West Chester, Ohio, would be home to two members of the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame: Matt Bell and Debbie Benziger Dudukovich? Debbie's daughter, Kailyn, is a very good basketball player, but soccer is her sport. Only a sophomore, Kailyn already has committed to Ohio State to play soccer for the Buckeyes.

The game with Lakota West, in a way, was similar to the one with Newark the night before. The Tigers hung in there early behind the stellar play of Madison Layden. Like Friday, the teamed seemed to wear down a bit in the second half and went down to defeat for a second straight night. I thought Northwestern made some strides though in limiting its turnovers and making it a much more competitive game than the night before.

Where does Northwestern go from here? I really believe they are only going to get better. Players like Klair Merrell, Katie Neher, Ellie Boyer, and Allison Miller are gaining valuable experience and are learning their roles on the team. I really look for the Tigers to go on and have a great season and win another 3A state championship. If they would do so, the Tigers would be moved up and would play in the 4A tourney next year.