No. 1, No. 2 to highlight Class A Semi-State

Mar. 13—The Hatchet House will serve as ground zero for IHSAA Class A basketball Saturday.

The three highest ranking teams left in Class A will enjoy the hospitality of southern Indiana's most iconic venue with a 10 a.m. match-up of No. 8 Bethesda Christian and No. 13 Greenwood Christian, followed by a clash of titans, with No. 1 Barr-Reeve and No. 2 Evansville Christian. The winners of those two games will meet in a 7:30 p.m. championship to determine who goes to state.

Barr-Reeve v. Evansville Christian

Many will consider this game to be the de facto state title game. Although anything can happen, these two teams appear to be the top two teams both on paper and in the polls.

Both are 24-2 and according to the Sagrin ratings, EVC is No. 1 with B-R at No. 3. The Eagles hold an edge in strength of schedule, while Bethesda Christian also holds a strength of schedule advantage over the Vikes.

Both B-R and EVC have lost just two games each. The Vikes lost to 4A Jasper, while EVC lost to 4A Jeffersonville. The Eagles also lost to 3A Heritage Hills, and the Vikes lone Class A loss came to Clay City in the second game of the year.

Last weekend was smooth sailing for EVC with a 30-point regional win over Trinity Lutheran, 72-42 and have averaged 14-point wins in its victories this season. The Vikings had a little tougher task with their win over Christian Academy, 50-43. The Vikes are averaging a 20-point spread in their wins this season.

The Eagles also cruised through sectional with wins over Dubois and Wood Memorial, while B-R was tested by Loogootee and then won an epic 5OT game over Orleans before beating CA at regional.

This is just the Eagles' second year back in the IHSAA tournament. They were in the non-class tourney from 1982-1986, facing Harrison and Mater Dei, and still hold a state record with a 126-point loss to Bosse in 1986 (156-30).

However, the 2022-2024 editions of the Eagles have been much more successful. Under Coach David Cruse, they won 16 games last year and 24 this year.

Much of that success has come with Josiah Dunham on the floor. The 6-1" point guard is getting 24 points a game and got 28 against Wood Memorial in the sectional championship. He also gets more that five assists and boards a game, as well as just under three steals. He is now over 2,200 points in his career.

"He's one of the best players in southwestern Indiana. I mean, to me, there's not really an argument. Looking at the stats, he's got over 500 career rebounds as well, and a great assists total," said EVC coach David Cruse.

"I think that's what makes him so difficult to guard is you can't just give him your full attention. You've got to make sure that you pay attention to those other guys. We're have to do a lot better job defensively on them other than just Dunham," said B-R coach Josh Thompson.

The Eagles are pretty balance through the rest of the lineup, with Andrew Lynn getting around 10, Kaden Naab with 8.6, Luke Davis with 8.4, Jackson Chesser with 7.0 and Jimel Johnson with six. Naab and Santanna Williams will help dish the dimes for EVC as well.

The Eagles will have a distinct size advantage, as Davis comes in at 6-8" and averages 10 boards a game, and Lynn is 6-4" as a power forward and Chesser is 6-5".

"We're blessed with a lot of height. You know, Davis a 6-7" or 6-8" really gives us a defensive inside presence. But you know, we've got Chesser 6-5" and Andrew Lynn too," coach added.

"We try to play as fast as we can, without of being out of control. We've done a great job this year, utilizing our high-low. You know, I think for the tournament we're shooting like 50% from the 3-point line."

As a program, playing just its second tournament since becoming eligible again, EVC knows the challenges it faces.

"We talked about how to be the best, you've got to beat the best. Barr-Reeve is a standard that we have to live up to.

"We're really proud of the kids and how they have come along. I'm really thankful for that community, because we really don't have a like a school district. We've got kids from all over Evansville. But they'll show up the Hatchet House and bring a lot of energy," Cruse added.

Once again Barr-Reeve will be the team to beat in southern Indiana, as they hop to return to Bankers' Life Fieldhouse for the eighth time in 22 years.

The Vikes are the fifth most improved team in the state and went from 12-12 last season to 24-2. This is a team that keeps improving as the year progressed.

Balance has been the watch-word all season for the Vikes. Barr-Reeve is led by three players getting 11 points a game, including Donnie Miller, Seth Wagler, and Braydon Knepp. Miller and Knepp tend to score more with their jumpers, while Wagler is more of a slasher. Evan Wehmeier is the big man for B-R and he is getting 7.5 and 4.4 boards, but he led the team on Saturday with 13 points. Kendall Graber will also score for the Vikings, while Landon Miller will also see minutes in some big situations.

The Vikes will play in familiar settings again this week in the Hatchet House. B-R is 17-7 inside the Hatchet House since 2005-06 (B-R's decade-long 12-game winning streak on WHS's home court was snapped last year during the regular season and they are 13-1 in the last 14 games there). The Vikes also won the 2019 and 2021 semi-states in that facility, as they now go for semi-state No. 8 since 2002. The Vikes also won five non-class sectionals there. With their win at regional in Loogootee, they moved to 51-5 record in Jack Butcher Arena since 2005.

"I think you know, we're not like the 2021 team and probably would have been here in 2020. But at the same time, I've been really proud of this group. The fact that they've not been caught up in any of this. You know, it would have been really easy for them to feel it on Friday night against Loogootee, or Saturday in sectional and then again at regional. So I don't think they're going to get caught up in that now. If we do lose on Saturday, then it won't be because the kids got too caught up in the moment, it will just be because we lose to a better team," said Thompson.

"This team is not a bunch of individuals. All those guys are a unit. And you know, to have Evan Wehmeier lead us in scoring on Saturday is really something. As a sixth grader, he had trouble walking in gym and chewing gum, and you can put that in the paper," joked Thompson.

"He and I are so proud of how far he's come and what he adds so much to this team now.

"Last week, Kendall Graber had probably the biggest steal that we had all year. When he got that steal and that layup, it was in a huge place. Seth Wagler has really kind of developed into our leader both on and off the court lately and Donnie Miller has scored the basketball so well all year long. I know he only averages right under 12 points a game, but he's a guy that we can count to count all night in night out. And then there is Braydon Knepp, he only scored six points on Saturday, but he may have been the most dominant in the game with six rebounds and eight assists.

"The thing I love most about this team is they find ways to make winning plays."

Bethesda Christian v. Greenwood Christian

The first game of the day on Saturday is far from an undercard. Bethesda Christian comes in at No. 8 and is 21-7, while Greenwood Christian is No. 13 at 18-7.

Bethesda is fourth in the Sagrin rankings and they defeated Greenwood in a February meeting, 40-26.

Under coach Jon Grubaums, now in his fourth year, they are 76-27, and won three of the last four sectionals.

They have played some bigger schools, including eight 3A schools, and 4A Westfield and 4A Terre Haute South and won their first regional last week in the Hatchet House while beating Clay City.

Bethesda are led by seniors Sam Milagan and Luke Douglas, who are basically splitting 30 points a game. Senior center Cooper Jackson is adding eight ppg and just under six rebounds. Senior forward BJ Johnson is also getting four boards a game and is one of their top 3-point shooters, along with Milagan and Douglas.

"It's our first time here at Washington, other than the regional here last week, and it's our first one in a gym of this size. Obviously Martinsville is an awesome gym and it was definitely a different environment for us to get use to."

He is glad that he got Greenwood in the first game as they are a team they have played already.

"Greenwood is really competitive and a really solid defensive team. We beat them the first time, 40-26. Last year we had them the first time and they came roaring back," said BC coach Grubaums.

"We are going to count on two players to lead us, Sam Milagan and Luke Douglas, who are similar, each of them averaging around 15-16 points game. Sam's a defensive anchor for us lately, he makes big plays He takes charges and does things like that. Cooper Jackson is a 6-7" big man and then Steven Tierney had a huge game for us at regional. Last week, he had 23 points, and five steals that sparked our comeback in the second half.

"We are a team a team that can play a lot of different ways we can play we can play fast we can slow it down we can we're really a team that's done it defensively and can just give you a different look. We have to build a play inside-out as well, so we're good at adjusting and just figuring out what it takes for us to win games."

Greenwood Christian (18-7) has won four total sectionals and also won its first regional last week in Martinsville. They are coached by Jackson Williams, now 54-24 in third year at the school. They are also a team that scheduled a lot of 3A and 4A teams. They beat Lebanon, Speedway Chatard and Shortridge in 3A, as well as well as losing an OT game to 4A Jennings County and to 4A Whiteland.

Seniors on the team include Max Booher, Jordan Thalman and Reid Smith, along with junior Evan McIntire.

"Max Boohers just a heck of a shooter. You can't let him free. We have to just make sure he's working for catches, working for touches. He can kill you on three levels — he can shoot it from the outside, he can get to a little mid-range pull up and he can operate off of cuts and get to the rim as well. Limiting him is going to be key for us and then I know they got probably their second-best guy McIntyre is back. So just balancing covering the two of those guys is going to be our focus," added the Bethesda coach Grubaums.