It would be unfair to say the North Daviess basketball program could rest or relax after going through the Class A Section 63 gauntlet at Loogootee. But surviving what is annually one of the best Class A sectional fields in the state gave the Cougars confidence that they would win their next three games and advance to the finals for the first time. State.
“This section gives you confidence that you are at least as good as anyone in this area for the most part,” said North Daviess coach Brent Dalrymple. “Year after year it has been.”
The biggest hurdle for second-placed North Daviess (26-3) was defending state champion Barr-Reeve. The Vikings, four-time defending section champions and five-time state runners-up since 2010, had beaten North Daviess 18 straight, including a 54-51 overtime win earlier this season. The Cougars finally ended this slide between the rival schools – which are separated by 14 miles – with a 35-29 division championship victory.
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North Daviess beat seventh-placed Edinburgh 38-37 to win the regional semi-final and secured their first state final appearance with a 60-47 victory over No 10 Jac-Cen-Del in the half-state on Saturday. The Cougars will face three-time state champion Lafayette Central Catholic (20-9) in the state championship Saturday morning at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
“I probably didn’t realize how much pressure I had on myself and how anxious I was about it,” Dalrymple said. “We can talk all we want to be better than Barr-Reeve, but until you beat them, you’re no better than Barr-Reeve. To be down 18-9 at halftime and not playing well to come out and play like the team we know we can be was a big sigh of relief.
Dalrymple came to North Daviess in 2000 after five seasons as an assistant in Shelbyville and never left. The Rushville native found success right away, leading the program to its first section title in its first season. But fighting Barr-Reeve and Loogootee every year in the section has proven difficult. North Daviess beat Barr-Reeve by one point to win the 2006 Section and won a controversial 50-49 match in 2009 en route to a Section title. The Cougars edged out Loogootee and Barr-Reeve to win the section in 2011 and won in 2016 when Barr-Reeve was upgraded to Class 2A due to the tournament’s success factor.
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For four years (2016-19), Barr-Reeve and North Daviess played in different classes. Barr-Reeve progressed through 2016 and 17, then fell back to Class A. In the 2017-18 and 18-19 seasons, North Daviess moved up to 2A by registration. Dalrymple said a four-year break was likely needed.
“I feel like it was probably a good break,” he said. “There were some really hot and intense moments between the teams, the coaches and the fans. That kind of split up a bit and now I feel like the Barr-Reeve community kind of accepts me for the competitor that I am and I’ve certainly taken a step back and realized that I don’t hate Barr-Reeve – I respect Barr-Reeve and appreciate them being as good as them because it helped us.
Dalrymple puts Loogootee, Bloomfield and Tecumseh in this same category. North Daviess plays Bloomfield, a two-time Class A state finalist, every year in Indiana Southwest Conference play and regularly plays Tecumseh.
“These four programs created us,” he said. “They gave us a chance to come here because you have to be this good to win even one game in the tournament. Most teams only play a team like Barr-Reeve at regional level or semi-state. We play them on Section Tuesday sometimes. It’s tough. It’s an uphill battle. But it’s helped make us who we are.
The Cougars are led by 6-foot junior guard Jaylen Mullen, who is averaging 16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Other top contributors are 6-3 junior Logan Wilson (9.7 ppg, 5.7 rebounds), 6-2 junior Lance Wilson (9.2 ppg, 4.3 rebounds) and senior Markus 6-foot Britton (5.2 ppg, 2.3 rebounds).
The Cougars are fourth in the state with 37.2 points allowed per game. “We’re an outstanding defensive basketball team,” Dalrymple said.
Lafayette Central Catholic knocked out top-ranked Gary 21st Century 68-65 to win the half-state. The Knights, coached by David Barrett, are led by Clark Barrett senior 6-5 (14.4 ppg, 10.2 rebounds), Clark Obermiller senior 6-5 (12.6 ppg, 7.1 rebounds) and Tanner Fields junior 6-1 (10.9 points per game).
- Class A State Finals Details: Tipoff at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse; the game will air on Bally Sports Indiana and stream live on IHSAAtv.org; Tickets are $15 per person for one session and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com. Participating schools also have tickets available at the respective schools.
- How North Daviess can win: Limit second chance opportunities. Lafayette Central Catholic isn’t a great shooting team, but with Barrett, Obermiller and sophomore Albert Schwartz 6-5, the Knights can top teams on the boards. The smaller Cougars are one of the best defensive teams in the state, but will have to limit the Knights to one shot.
- How Lafayette Central Catholic can win: Mullen control. Junior guard North Daviess is one of the best playmakers in Class A.
- Prediction: The LCC’s record is deceiving as the Knights are 9-0 against Class A opponents. But something tells me this may be North Daviess’ year. North Daviess 53, Lafayette Central Catholic 51.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.