By GREG KEIM email@example.com
---- — GOSHEN — It might be a little too early in the high school boys basketball season to say this Friday’s matchup between the Northridge Raiders (9-1) and NorthWood Panthers (9-0) is going to decide the NLC championship, but it could put the winner one step closer.
“Every game in the NLC goes a long way,” Northridge coach Ronnie Thomas said. “It’s a big game for lots of reasons. A win would be huge for us and NorthWood would love to hold their home court.”
Thomas has seen the rivalry from both a player’s perspective and now as a coach.
“I’ve always liked the NorthWood gym. It was always a fun place to play and a gym with a great atmosphere,” the coach said. “During my playing days Northridge was in Class 3A so we played our sectional games at NorthWood.”
NorthWood, Northridge and Elkhart Memorial all enter this week with 2-0 league records. Warsaw and Concord are both 1-1 while Plymouth, Goshen and Wawasee are all 0-2.
The Raiders are coming off a 58-56 thriller over Warsaw last Friday when junior Pete Smith drained the game-winner as time expired.
Scoring leaders for the Raiders are senior Nate Ritchie 24.5 points per game and Smith 11.0.
NorthWood senior Zach Zurcher is on a hot shooting streak. Over his last three games, he has made 32-of-41 field goals for a blistering 78.0 shooting percent. Zurcher was 11-of-13 in a 54-37 win over Fairfield, 10-of-15 in a 52-44 win over Wawasee and 11-of-13 in a 71-49 win at New Prairie.
Zurcher is averaging 18.0 ppg to lead the Panthers and classmate Jonathan Wilkinson is not far behind at 15.4.
“I’ve watched them a few times,” Thomas said. “Besides Zurcher and Wilkinson, (senior) Will Stueve can score. NorthWood is going to present a challenge for us on the defensive end. One thing about Zurcher and Wilkinson is they can score from anywhere on the court.
“If given the chance NorthWood likes to run so transition defense is important for us as is holding them to one shot.
“Our offense is improving, but so is NorthWood’s defense. We are going to have to play patient and under control and take the shots that are there.”
Another NLC game has the Concord Minutemen (6-3, 1-1 NLC) traveling to Plymouth (4-5, 0-2).
“I don’t mind going to Plymouth,” Concord coach Steve Austin said. “It’s another NLC game and a part of our growing process.”
The Minutemen come into the game with some momentum following a 71-43 win over South Bend Clay. Senior Ramon Johnson netted 25 points for the winners, junior Brett Austin chipped on with 15 and classmate Filip Serwatka 14.
A year ago, Concord’s lone loss during the regular season by a 72-70 score to the Clay Colonials.
“The team was really pumped about playing Clay,” Austin said. “It was a good win for us. Clay has some very athletic players. They are just not quite as big as they have been.”
There may be some good news on the horizon for the Minutemen as senior Adam Glanders is getting close to returning. Glanders was bothered by injuries during football season and has yet to make his season debut on the basketball court.
“Adam is a two-year starter so his return would be huge for us,” Austin said. “He would give us a boost in leadership and would give us a deeper bench. One thing that has been a weakness for us is the bench.”
Plymouth senior Mack Mercer’s status is uncertain due to a medical problem.
I’m not sure if he is going to play,” Austin said. “So we are preparing as if he is going to play.”
The other NLC game has the Wawasee Warriors (1-8, 0-2) hosting the Elkhart Memorial Crimson Chargers.
Junior Alex Clark at 13.4 ppg leads the Warriors in scoring.
“Things have not gone like we would like in the record department, but we are consistently making progress,” first-year Wawasee coach Steve Wiktorowski said. “We have put in a completely new system from what we have been playing in recent years. We are no longer relying on the 3-pointer as much. Defense has become a focus.”
Wawasee showed they are making progress in last week’s eight-point loss to NorthWood, one of the better teams in the NLC.
“We were better at attacking the basket and making it more difficult to score on our defense,’”the coach said.
Junior Dimitri Giger is averaging 14.6 ppg to lead the Chargers.
“Memorial is a young team, that has been very competitive with teams,” Wiktorowski said. “This game is going to be a real challenge for us.”