By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
Brogan Gary walked into an auxiliary room near the gymnasium at Pendleton Heights High School to conduct an interview Monday afternoon. The senior guard was still sporting a white bandage on his chin, a souvenir from a physical battle in the sectional semifinals three days prior against Richmond.
The gash required Gary to leave the floor for several minutes during the fourth quarter Friday, and it’s likely to receive stitches before the end of the week.
It’s also, in many ways, a fitting image for these blue-collar Arabians who hope to continue a surprising postseason run Saturday at the Class 4A Southport Regional.
How has Pendleton Heights (15-9) replaced four starters — including all-time leading scorer Kellen Dunham — and won its third straight sectional championship? With three simple words — defense, defense, defense.
“Everybody’s important,” Arabians coach Brian Hahn said. “They way we defend, we play five-man defense, but Brogan and Levi (Buck) have been doing a great job of taking the other team’s best perimeter scorers, and then Peyton McCardwell is taking the most physical kid inside. Kurt Talbert does a great job of covering up space and denying passes to the interior. It’s just something where everybody has their role and their responsibility, and the kids have done a great job with that.”
For the fourth consecutive season, the Arabians have lowered their defensive average. After allowing a paltry 43.9 points per game during a 23-3 campaign a year ago, Pendleton Heights currently ranks 12th in the state with an average of 43.3 points allowed per contest.
That defense was on prime display in Saturday’s sectional championship game when the Arabians held a dangerous New Castle team to 39.5 percent shooting in a 58-44 victory.
Gary and Buck led the charge, matching up with Trojans stars Korey Ryan and Steven Bennett, respectively. The New Castle duo combined for 50 points during an 80-65 win against Anderson in the opening round but shot just 8-for-26 and managed 23 points against Pendleton Heights.
Though the Arabians have multiple defensive sets — switching to a 3-2 zone with a lead late in games, for instance — the core of its philosophy is built around man-to-man principles.
“I like man-to-man a lot,” Buck said. “I like just competing with the guy that I’m against, just trying to shut him down, get him to not score as many points as he’s supposed to.”
Pendleton Heights prepares for a new challenge Saturday, facing seventh-ranked Cathedral (22-5) in the regional opener at 10 a.m. The Fighting Irish began the season ranked No. 1 in the state and feature a pair of star guards in Jalen Coleman and Garrett Hall.
When the defense really is clicking — as it was against New Castle — the Arabians quickly can transition hustle plays to points.
Pendleton Heights took control of the sectional title game with a 10-0 run in the second quarter, capped by Matt Brown’s deflection to Brogan Gary for a layup to make the score 20-7.
Later in the game, the Trojans appeared to be poised to score on a breakaway when Buck somehow raced downcourt and cleanly knocked the ball away from the would-be shooter. He pulled off a similar feat in the regular-season finale against North Central, sprinting almost the length of the floor to block a shot against the backboard.
“Levi’s just continued to work on being what we call ‘impactful’ defensively,” Hahn said. “He really plays hard, he’s an exceptionally hard worker, but he’s starting to develop a mentality of being more attacking in the way he plays defense and having really good hand activity and being impactful with his hands without fouling. And, again, as he’s continued to improve in that area, we’ve continued to improve.”
The Arabians had four double-figure scorers in the semifinal win against Richmond and topped that with five against New Castle.
That kind of balance obviously will be important going forward — as will the 14 rebounds Talbert pulled down against the Red Devils — but it’s still defense that drives this program.
“We’re always hungry, and there’s always goals to fulfill throughout the whole year,” Gary said. “In that sectional, I wasn’t going to let anybody take it from me. Now we’re just going to keep going and try to get something special fulfilled.”