NEW CASTLE — Sectional 9, scheduled for historic New Castle High School Fieldhouse, promises to be one of the most competitive in the state. With five of the six participants sporting records of .500 or better at press time, this sectional has the seventh best aggregate record among the 16 4A sectionals in the state.
With four members of the Hoosier Heritage Conference in this sectional, these teams are familiar with one another. Here is a glance at Pendleton Heights and the schools that stand in their way of advancing to their first regional since 2013.
Connersville (21-1) — Since the only loss of the year for the Spartans, on Dec. 27 to Portage, Connersville has reeled off 14 wins in a row.
The defending sectional champs can play any style game, having scored victories with point totals ranging from 36 to 93. They turn the ball over less than 10 times per game and are led by seniors Grant Smith (17.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game) and Beau Isaacs (12 ppg). The Spartans shoot 71 percent at the free throw line, an important stat to consider in the event of a close sectional contest. Connersville edged Pendleton Heights 41-39 early in the year and will play Mt. Vernon in the first opening-round game Tuesday, Feb. 28.
Greenfield-Central (11-11)—The Cougars are the first opponent for the Arabians in the second first-round game Tuesday night. The teams played earlier this year in Greenfield with Pendleton Heights claiming a 10-point win. Junior Will O’Connor led the Cougars that night with 21 points. Greenfield-Central has won five of its last seven games.
Mt. Vernon (12-8) — The Marauders have rebounded from a 2-4 start and are playing much better basketball late in the season, exemplified by a tough 3-point loss in four overtimes to Connersville. Senior Michael Ertel is one of the top scorers in this bracket at 21.1 points per game and shoots better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Senior Erick Shephard averages 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
New Castle (15-5) — The sectional hosts lost out on a chance to share the HHC title when they lost to Pendleton Heights last week, and could have a shot at payback if the Arabians advance to the semifinals. The Trojans are battle tested, 14 of their 20 games have been decided by nine points or less this season. They have two guards capable of scoring in senior David Froedge (13.7) and sophomore Luke Bumbalough (13.2). The toughest player on the roster to contain is sophomore Mason Gillis, who averages 14.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
Pendleton Heights (17-5) — The biggest opponent for the HHC and Madison County champions may be their own health. They hope to have junior Trent Miller (11.1 ppg) back from a knee injury and sophomore guard Karsten Windlan (12 points and 2.7 assists per game) has been playing through various maladies late in the season. Steady senior Mark Albers leads the Arabians with 20 points per game for a team that shoots 37 percent as a team from 3-point range.
Richmond (2-21) — If a 2-21 record could ever be classified as deceptive, this might be the one. While 15 of the 21 Red Devil losses have been by five points or less, Richmond still faces an uphill battle against either Connersville or Mt. Vernon in the semis. They boast the top scorer in the sectional in junior Christian Harvey at 24.8 points per game, while senior A.J. Ferguson hauls in 7.4 rebounds per game.