Photo by Shawn Barney
Photo by Shawn Barney
SHERIDAN - On Friday night, first-year head coach Chris Schrank asked his Sheridan Blackhawks a few very simple and direct questions during his postgame speech. When referring to the rest of the season and future wins, two words stood out.

"Why not?"

On the surface, it might seem like an odd question minutes after the Class A Blackhawks (3-1, 1-1) successfully defended their home floor 67-52 against Hoosier Heartland Conference foe Clinton Central (0-5, 0-1). But for a program working toward turning the page from a 3-18 campaign last year, Schrank's words define the boys' basketball team's primary goal.

"We're a good team. If we play as a team, we can be tough," the coach emphasized. "We have some guys that can play and that have some skill, but it we start getting individualistic, then that takes away from what we're trying to build."

With three consecutive victories after losing to HHC rival Rossville 71-69 in the season opener, the Blackhawks are changing their culture one win at a time.

Against Class 2A Clinton Central, they answered their coach loud and clear.

Trailing 34-31 after the first half, which featured eight lead changes and three ties, the Blackhawks found each other in the third quarter to put together a decisive 12-2 run.

"In the first half, we didn't really work well as a team," Sheridan senior Brock Kitchel said. "In the second half, we came out and really passed the ball well. They were running a zone the entire time, so we knew we had to drive and kick."

Kitchel finished with 19 points, which Jacob Chesney matched as the Blackhawks shot 56 percent from the field in the game's final 16 minutes.

"We found a way to extend the lead and get the job done in the second half when we needed to. They are starting to figure it out," Schrank said. "They were smarter about the way they guarded.

"In the first half, we were gambling too much and were trying to play through passing lanes," Schrank added. "In the second half, we were good in the zone and started to just give them one shot and done."

Chesney shot 7 of 14 from the field. Kitchel was 6 of 12 from the floor, grabbed seven rebounds while also going 5-for-5 from the free-throw line.

Patrick Weitzel contributed 10 points and seven rebounds coming off the bench. Taylor Ly chipped in five points.

"[The team] has changed a lot from last year. The whole team is getting along a lot better this year," Kitchel said. "[Team chemistry] is very important to us."

Their defense was equally as vital against Clinton Central, which shot 57 percent from the field in the first half. In the third quarter, the Bulldogs only converted one field goal attempt and shot 19 percent in the second half.

As Clinton Central tried to rally back late in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 43-39 - primary from the foul line - the Blackhawks stood their ground, putting together a final 15-2 push.

Kitchel kicked of the run with a 3-pointer late in the third. The momentum carried into the fourth quarter as Sheridan built a 58-41 lead at one point and was never threatened again - except from 15 feet out.

The Blackhawks shot a disappointing 16 of 40 from the free-throw line. If there was one black eye on the night, said Schrank, it was that one glaring statistic.

"We're shooting a lot of free throws. We shot 30 and 35 in our first two games. We're shooting a ton this season. This game gets a lot different if we convert from the line at a little better clip," he said. "There might be an hour or so of free throw practice tomorrow to get our minds right."

Up next, Sheridan hosts Class 3A Tri-West on Friday, Dec. 19.