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New Castle ranked No. 1 is rarefied air indeed

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

I’m a New Castle native and except for the five years I taught at Frostburg State University in Maryland and the cup of coffee I had in the PhD program at Ole Miss, I have lived in Indiana all my life and have had access to Indiana newspapers and TV stations in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Bloomington, Muncie and Terre Haute.

So I have kept up-to-date on the happenings in high school sports, particularly football and basketball, and have a pretty good idea of when the New Castle boys basketball team has been ranked high in the polls.

For those readers not yet aware, the current New Castle boys basketball team now is ranked No. 1 in Class 3A by the Associated Press, a rare achievement for a Trojan roundball program.

As I remember in my lifetime, there are only two other New Castle boys basketball teams to achieve the No. 1 distinction. The last one to do so was the 2006-07 Trojan team of Zach Hahn, Chase Stigall and company that was coming off a 2006 Class 3A state championship and had a lot coming back.

That team was ranked No. 1 in Class 3A from the start of the season and won its first nine games until it lost the Hall of Fame Classic championship game to Indianapolis Cathedral 55-44 on Dec. 29, 2006 in the Fieldhouse.

New Castle went on to win seven more games in a row after that until it fell to Marion 56-54 on Feb. 2, 2007, also in the Fieldhouse. Seven more consecutive victories followed until a heartbreaking 69-67 loss to Brebeuf Jesuit in the regional semifinals on March 10, 2007, again in the Fieldhouse.

So that 2006-07 Trojan team finished 23-3 and didn’t lose a game on the road all season. Twenty of its 26 games were played within the friendly confines of the Fieldhouse.

The other New Castle boys basketball team who achieved No. 1 status in the polls was the one the year after I graduated from New Castle in 1971, which was the 1971-72 Trojan team.

The preparation for that ranking started the previous season of 1970-71 when I was a senior. Not a whole lot was expected from that Trojan team coming off a 7-15 season in 1969-70, but the Trojans reeled off five wins in a row, including a victory at No. 2 Richmond, to climb to No. 6 in the all-class AP poll before losing to Bobby Wilkerson, Lew Cotton, Clarence Swain and company of Madison Heights 74-73 at what is now “The Tepee” of the current Anderson High School on Dec. 18, 1970.

The Trojans went on to lose five more games during the regular season, including two to Muncie Central in the Fieldhouse, to finish at 14-6 entering the sectional.

New Castle won three tough sectional games, defeated Winchester and No. 2 Richmond in the regional, came from 10 points down to beat Batesville and then Bloomington in the semi-state, and then lost that triple overtime game to Elkhart 65-60 in the first afternoon game of the 1971 state finals.

So with starters Dave Snodgrass, John Martin, Kent Benson plus super sixth man Dave Billingsley returning, the Trojans started the following season of 1971-72 ranked No. 1 in the state, and held that ranking for awhile.

Included in that team’s early wins were squeakers at Indianapolis North Central, No. 2 Richmond in the Fieldhouse, at Muncie South, at home over the Wilkerson-led Madison Heights Pirates, and at Noblesville.

New Castle entered the Muncie Holiday Tourney undefeated and ranked No. 1, but got shelled 89-73 by the hot Central Bearcats in the opening game of that tournament for its first loss and never regained the No. 1 ranking.

The Trojans won the North Central Conference and all of their other games except a 69-67 loss to Rushville in the Fieldhouse (the night after defeating Muncie Central on its home floor), and at Kokomo 70-65 to close the regular season, and were 17-3 and ranked No. 5 in the state entering the IHSAA tournament.

Despite the three losses, the Trojans were the media choice to win the 1972 state championship.

New Castle overcame the slowdown tactics of Knightstown and Tri and then defeated Mt. Vernon (Fortville) 64-55 to win the 1972 New Castle sectional.

Trojan fans who remained in the Fieldhouse for the celebration were ecstatic to hear that Yorktown had upset Muncie Central 70-65 to win the Muncie sectional that night, as New Castle would play the Muncie sectional winner in the first game of the regional the following Friday night (the regionals were a two-day affair for a brief time starting that year).

But the Trojan joy quickly turned to sadness as Yorktown, led by Bruce Parkinson (who later starred for Purdue) and another dude whose name escapes me, were rather unstoppable as the Tigers ended New Castle’s season 71-59 in the regional semifinals in the Fieldhouse.

Another interesting thing about that season was that the Trojans defeated two of the teams who reached the state finals that year, Madison Heights and Connersville, and the Spartans went on to win the state championship 80-63 over Gary West.

The current New Castle team didn’t get a single vote in the polls at the start of the season, and here it is ranked No. 1 in Class 3A. The Trojan players and coaches will tell you that polls don’t mean a lot and don’t win games for you, which is true, but they have to be happy with the recognition for a job well done thus far.

In the IBCA (coaches) all-class poll, New Castle (12-0) is ranked No. 14 this week, seven spots below Bloomington South (11-2), whom the Trojans defeated in the HOF Classic. Also, Evansville Bosse (9-2), who is ranked below New Castle in the Class 3A poll, is No. 12 in the coaches poll. Go figure. MaxPreps has the Trojans at No. 3 in the state in all-classes.

All of this ranking stuff is nice for conversation, but what is most important are conference and tournament championships and where a team finishes at the end of the season.

Where will this current Trojan team stand on March 24, 2018? Only time will tell. That’s what makes this job interesting and enjoyable.

David Risley is sports editor at The Courier-Times.