sports blog by andy shenk

Elkhart Central Stifles Prairie Heights

In At The Game, Elkhart Basketball on January 30, 2013 at 2:50 PM

Elkhart Central started three seniors – 6-6 forward Blake Brouwer, 6-5 forward John Stahl and 5-11 guard Terell Street – in last night’s 60-32 romp over 2A Prairie Heights at North Side Gym. Coming off their worst loss of the season, a 68-40 home defeat to Penn, the Blue Blazers gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about in just their second win in two months.

Terrell Street provided the early exclamation point, capping a three-minute first-quarter 14-0 run with a steal in the back court and pull-up ‘3’ as time expired. The Panthers had hung around early, trailing just 10-5 with three minutes to go in the first period. Their zone defense reduced Central to lackluster perimeter passing, while several good looks from beyond the arc missed the target. Almost immediately, coach Troy Noble challenged his men to full-court press. Several Blazers got an earful after absent-mindedly trotting back on defense, but eventually Central’s aggressiveness, speed, and size on defense began paying dividends.

After trailing 22-7 to Penn through one period Friday night, the Blazers had a 24-5 lead against an undersized Heights club. Just as Central made a run at Penn, however, Prairie Heights clamped down in the second period, holding the home team scoreless for the first four and a half minutes. The scoreboard read 24-9. Junior guards Tra’vion Qualls and Genoris Crawford couldn’t penetrate the zone, while classmate Tre Taylor lost a contact battling for a rebound.

But just as they rallied to close the first quarter, Central came alive again thanks to their defense. The first exclamation point came on a breakaway play for Blake Brouwer. Cold from beyond the arc early on, Brouwer took out his frustration at the two-minute mark, rising up for a fingertip slam to bring his teammates and the crowd out of their seats. A couple minutes later, with only 15 seconds on the clock, Taylor grabbed an errant Panther pass and sped down the court. John Stahl flew down the opposite wing. The Blazer guard, from the 3-point line, lofted the ball high above the rim to the incoming Stahl who gathered with one hand and jammed the alley-oop through for two. Not even a last-second three-pointer from the visitors could wipe the smiles from Stahl and Taylor’s faces or the buzz in the crowd as Central headed to the locker room with a 34-14 lead.

The crowd was treated to a dance performance from the Blazer Winter Guard at halftime. As a result, the two teams barely had time to warm up before the start of the third quarter. The Blazers’ three-point shooting, nonetheless, shot Prairie Heights out of the game completely within a matter of minutes. After Stahl opened the scoring in the second half, Brouwer dropped two straight from range and Street chipped in a third. 45-16 in favor of Central. A minute later Coach Noble pulled his starters, running out the second-string for the rest of the game as Central coasted home for their fourth victory of the season. To Prairie Heights’ credit, they outscored the Central bench 16-13 in the final 11-plus minutes.

The blowout win came as welcome relief to the Elkhart club. Coach Noble was quoted in the paper after Friday night’s loss to Penn, “This is the first time we really quit…They out-passed, out-defended, out-rebounded, and it wasn’t even close.” On Tuesday night, faced with a sticky zone defense, it was Central’s aggressive defense in response that allowed them to knock the Panthers out early. Their coach credited their effort, too, telling the Elkhart Truth, “I was real happy with our bounce and our energy.

Central has five games left this season, Friday night’s home game against South Bend Washington, then four on the road to SB Clay, Edwardsburg, SB St. Joseph’s and Elkhart Christian. They’re all winnable for a club that’s only 4-11. Terrell Street has been on fire recently, averaging 16.5 points in the last two games, and Central’s trademark defense has kept them in all but a couple of games this season. The key for the club will be to reduce turnovers and improve outside shooting. Come sectional-time in late February, the Blazers won’t have an advantage in size like they did against Prairie Heights and Terrell Street remains the only player capable of consistently creating his own shot and scoring at a high level.

What Central does have in spades, however, is energy and intensity. It starts with Troy Noble and flows to the sophomore and junior members of the team through senior leaders Street and John Stahl. If the squad can come out punching in February and rack up a few wins, they’ll be a terror for any team to face at North Side Gym during sectional play.

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