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County teams look to shake sluggish start

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Grant County boys’ basketball teams are a combined 2-13 heading into weekend games, but there is a silver lining.

One team is guaranteed a victory when cross-county rivals Oak Hill and Mississinewa meet today at Fredenberger Court. The Golden Eagles, reigning Class 2A state champions, and the Indians under new coach James Reed are both seeking their first win.

Madison-Grant hosts Elwood and both teams head into their Central Indiana Conference opener sporting 1-3 records. Eastbrook is winless in two games under new coach Greg Allison and travels to Frankton (2-2) in another CIC opener, part of a doubleheader with the girls’ teams.

And Marion begins North Central Conference play at Richmond and both teams are 1-2. The Giants are coming off back-to-back losses at Bill Green Arena to Lawrence North and Homestead.

All games are tentatively scheduled to begin around 7:30 p.m.

A light Saturday schedule has two county teams in action. Oak Hill entertains neighbor Maconaquah and Eastbrook hosts Norwell in 7:30 p.m. games.

In girls’ games, Eastbrook (4-3) plays at Frankton (5-4) at 6 p.m. today in the first half of the doubleheader. Saturday has Mississinewa (7-4) visiting Class 2A top-ranked Oak Hill (9-1) in a 12:30 p.m. start, while Marion (7-3) travels Huntington North and Madison-Grant (2-7) travels to Elwood (2-9) in 7:30 p.m. games. 

Richmond has a new coach Shabazz Khaliq who formerly was at Fort Wayne North. Khaliq brought two of his top players from North with him to Richmond, and there is a Grant County connection.

Senior Lucas Kroft and sophomore Andrew Kroft are the sons of former Oak Hill standout Jay Kroft. Lucas, a 6-foot-5 wing, already has committed to Ball State University and averages 24.7 points to rank third among NCC scorers. Lucas is a sophomore and contributes 11.3 points.

It’s still early, but Jalen Blackmon, Marion’s sophomore standout, leads all NCC scorers with a 31.6-point scoring average and hit for a career high 34 points against Lawrence North. Coach James Blackmon is searching for someone to help out his youngest son and so far freshman RaSheed Jones is the only other Giant averaging in double figures.

Marion has won three straight over Richmond, although the Red Devils’ Tiernan Center notoriously has been a difficult place for the Giants to play. The Giants won their last encounter in the Tiernan Center 69-66 in the 2016-17 season, but before that the Devils had won three straight at their home.

Oak Hill coach Kevin Renbarger knew tough times were likely after losing four starters and eight players from the Eagles’ state champion team to graduation. But the Eagles are averaging 45 points in their 0-3 start, 20 points fewer than last year.

Mississinewa also is adjusting with new additions in key roles and a new system. Ole Miss has been competitive in each of its three losses, falling by six points to Huntington North and Norwell and by five to Northwestern. The Indians have lost five of their last six to Oak Hill, with the exception a 62-60 victory Dec. 27, 2016 in the Grant Four Invitational.

Oak Hill’s girls have won three straight against Ole Miss since a 49-35 loss on Dec. 12, 2015. Both teams are on a roll with the Eagles winners of eight straight and the Indians having won their last three games by a 39-point average margin.

The Marion girls are 8-3 against the Vikings over the past 10 years, including a 56-50 win last year at Bill Green Arena. The Vikings are 3-7 and play this evening at New Haven prior to hosting the Giants on Saturday.