- Val T.
Caston stays focused on the process to win another sectional
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
FULTON –- Stay focused on the process.
That’s what allowed the Caston boys basketball team to win their second consecutive sectional title, even after a five-game losing streak in December and a six-game losing streak in February.
Always willing to put in the work, they won the Class 1A, Sectional 52 title at Tri-County last week.
Now they will face host Triton in a Class 1A regional semifinal at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Fremont will meet No. 3 Kouts in the second semifinal at 12:30 p.m., and the winners return at 8 p.m. for the regional final.
Caston’s longest winning streak during the regular season was two, but they won three games in five days last week to keep their season going and win the eighth sectional title in school history.
“I think with the character of this group, with their focus on the process and just getting better day to day, I don’t think we were ever worried,” Caston coach Carl Davis said.
Their ascent was not unlike their journey to last year’s sectional. They were 9-4 through 13 games. Then they went 1-7 in an eight-game stretch from Jan. 31-Feb. 25, 2020.
They beat North Miami in their regular season finale and beat Tri-County and Pioneer to win their sectional.
“You look at last year’s February, obviously a very different team, but last year’s February, we struggled to win games,” Davis said. “We still were getting better. This year mirrors that. And I think that having kids that experienced that last year and then to pull it off and put their best basketball together in March, I knew this group had that experience. They weren’t going to give up. They weren’t going to start taking time off in practice in terms of ‘we’re just going to get through this drill’ instead of ‘we’re going to get better in this drill.’
“And that’s something with all these kids. And I think that starts with the senior leadership we’ve had.”
This time, they went 1-7 in an eight-game stretch from Jan. 29-Feb. 20 before bouncing back to beat North Miami 62-38 on the road in their regular season finale. Then, in the sectional, they beat South Newton 53-43 thanks to a strong third quarter, pulled out a 55-51 win over Tri-County on Friday in which they made 14 3-pointers and edged North White 55-54 in the sectional final on Sam Smith’s short jumper at the buzzer.
The team has four seniors: Cam Kline, Jessie Rock-Wolf, Carter See and Kobi Martindale.
Kline and Rock-Wolf play the most of those four.
Kline, a sharpshooting guard, didn’t make his season debut until a 49-35 win over North Miami in the Miami County Invitational at Peru on Dec. 29. His first two double-figure scoring games of the season were 14 points against Tri-County Friday and 12 against North White Saturday.
Rock-Wolf, a versatile forward, moved to the bench in February and gave up his starting spot to Kline.
“These kids have really pushed each other to continue to get better, day-in and day-out and regardless of what happened in the last game,” Davis said. “That’s a special thing for teenagers to do is to be that consistent day-in and day-out. And that’s why they had their best week of basketball at the right time.”
Facing Triton again
While Caston avenged a regular season loss to North White in their sectional final, Triton avenged a regular season loss to Argos in theirs.
Triton went 19-5, and four of their losses were to teams in higher classes.
They also beat Caston 56-37 at the Trojan Trench in their Hoosier North meeting on Feb. 6. Jake Paschen led Caston with three 3-pointers and 11 points in that game.
Triton and LaVille went on to tie for the Hoosier North title at 6-1. Caston went 2-5 in league play.
Both teams start three guards. Caston has Joey Spin, Kade Zeider and Cam Kline. Triton has Ashton Oviedo, Tyson Yates and Cole McKinney.
Davis said avoiding turnovers will be key.
“It starts with taking care of the basketball,” Davis said. “Both offensively and defensively that helps us. Their guards are going to be physical with you. They’re going to lunge for stuff. They’re going to get their hands in there and get some deflections. So it starts with being strong with the basketball.”
Davis recalls Triton turning up the defensive pressure in their first meeting to force turnovers and create transition opportunities on offense.
“They’re very good in the open court,” Davis said. “Our best defense is going to be taking care of the basketball.”
Davis also said that Triton forces their opponents to be alert on defense.
“As soon as you turn your head and you lose sight of them, they’re great at sneaking behind you,” Davis said. “They just cut really well and have a really good understanding of spacing and timing on cuts.”
Triton has multiple players who can get to the basket off the dribble.
“We just have to come out with that intensity and just play our game for ourselves,” Zeider said. “And just basically keep our hands up on the shooters and know when they’re going to drive and just play as a team and talk defensively.”
After playing Davis’ switching man-to-man defense for years, it becomes “muscle memory,” according to Smith.
“Defensive urgency,” Smith said. “They had 20 points, I think, off straight drives, just driving it straight to the basket. We’ve got to cut that out. And Oviedo’s just a great shooter, so we’ve got to get a hand up on him and stop him.”
Triton won their first sectional in five years last week. It’s the eighth sectional title in 16 seasons for coach Jason Groves.
“Coach Groves is one of the best in the business,” Davis said. “He’s one of the best around. He does such a good job at preparing his teams. Offensively, they’re always going to have a wrinkle you haven’t seen.”
For Caston, it’s finally their chance to play in a regional. They won a sectional last year, but the pandemic led to the cancellation of the rest of the tournament.
Caston hasn’t played in a regional semifinal since a 55-28 loss to Bowman Academy at Triton in 2009. Caston has not won a regional game since a win over Bellmont in a semifinal at Marion in 1991. They have never won a regional title.
“They’re very excited,” Davis said of his players. “They’re excited to have another opportunity to do this. But at the same time, none of them have the sense that their work is done, that they’re just happy to win the sectional and be a part of the regional. They practiced this week with every intention of going and pulling off the win on Saturday morning.
“That’s what we’re looking at. That’s what we’re focused on right now. And that’s how they’ve practiced this week.”