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Written By StaceyPageOnline / Sports on Thursday, February 28, 2019

Beau Hepler watches his three-point shot while Elkhart Christian’s Jackson Klahr blocks him out during a Sectional 51 quarterfinal in Bourbon Wednesday. (Photos by James Costello)

BOURBON — Maybe it’s the fact that the Trojans — beleaguered by injuries up and down the lineup throughout the season — are finally gelling together. Maybe it was their focus in the pre-game leading up to Wednesday’s Sectional 51 showdown with Elkhart Christian, or maybe they’re simply peaking at the right time.

Whatever the reason, Triton looked awfully good in its sectional-opener.

The Trojans got contributions from a number of players, knocked down some big shots and just generally played with confidence at home at the Trojan Trench. The hosts jumped out to an 11-0 lead and never looked back on the way to a convincing, 49-31 win over the Eagles. Triton advances to play South Central (Union Mills) — a 37-36 winner over South Bend Career Academy in Wednesday’s first game — in Friday’s late semifinal, scheduled for 8 p.m. in Bourbon.

“It’s nice when you defend and hit shots, right? That’s what our guys did,” said Triton coach Jason Groves. “They came out, got after it defensively, didn’t give them any good looks. Offensively I told them ‘Be aggressive but be fundamental. Don’t be afraid to take your shot. Shoot with confidence,’ and tonight we did. I felt like we’ve gradually been getting better as the year progressed, and hopefully tonight was that getting over the top a little bit.”

Three-pointers from Beau Hepler, Jared Bules and Ashton Oviedo helped Triton off to an 11-0 start, and the Trojans still held a 23-14 lead at halftime. ECA whittled into that lead in the third but only barely, and a trio of three-pointers in the final frame helped push the home team out to advantages of as many as 19 points on the way to the win, which snapped a two-game skid. The Trojans finished the night at a red hot 9-of-17 shooting clip from beyond the arc — compared to a 3-of-18 mark from deep by the visitors — with four players splashing in ranged shots for the blue and gold.

“We were able to hit some open looks tonight, and that hasn’t always been the case throughout the year. The kids can do it. I think it goes back to that mental approach and their confidence,” said Groves.

Senior guard Hepler knocked down a trio of triples on his way to a game-high 15 points while passing out three assists to lead his team offensively.

“I’m so happy for Beau,” Groves said. “He started out, it was a rough season. Against Plymouth, he dislocated his shoulder, it popped out, and since then he shooting-wise he hasn’t really been the same. I thought tonight he just played like a senior should and played with confidence and directed our team. He wasn’t going to lose tonight.”

Junior guard Bules was a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc, meanwhile, giving Triton a second double-digit output with 10 points. But he was maybe even better on the defensive end, where he drew primary responsibilities against Eagles sophomore Bryce Coursen, who scuffled to an 0-of-11 mark from the floor and was held completely scoreless in Wednesday’s sectional rematch after burning the Trojans for 19 in the two teams’ first go-round a little more than a week prior.

“Give him credit. He held Coursen pretty much scoreless,” said Groves of Bules. “Quentin Amsden had a hand in that, but they did a great job on him. He was one of our focuses coming in just because he hurt us so badly last time.”

Tyler Heckaman battles inside with Luke Burns and Joe Ndaiga.

Oviedo finished with eight points, and he passed out five assists taking what the defense gave him in his first-ever sectional contest. Senior forward Tye Orsund played like an upperclassman with eight points, four rebounds, two steals and a shot block. And junior forward Tyler Heckaman put up just two points with three rebounds while being limited by intermittent foul trouble, but he was a defensive force down low with four blocks Wednesday.

“That was nice to see him do that,” said Groves of Heckaman. “We always talk about ‘Wall up, be fundamental, but when you’re off the ball that’s when you’re going to get your blocks.’ I thought Tyler did a nice job of coming in and doing that.”

About the only thing that let ECA stay in it was the Eagles’ rebounding, as they out-boarded their hosts 35-22 — including a whopping 19 offensive caroms, although they only capitalized with nine second-chance points. A 19-10 rebounding margin in the first half made most of that difference, and once the Trojans evened it up somewhat in the second half, they began separating from their guests.

“That’s one thing we talked about at halftime: We got killed on offensive rebounds. I think they had 12 offensive rebounds at halftime,” recalled Groves.

“Tyler was in foul trouble quite a bit that first half, and that didn’t help. We adjusted and told our guys ‘Hey, you’ve got to keep them from getting the rebound. I don’t care if you get the rebound.’ That’s one thing that we did address — be stronger on the boards.”

ECA (9-14) was paced by Desmond Wilkins-Maxwell’s 10 points and Joe Ndaiga’s nine.

Keegan Westafer protects the ball from Charlie Maxwell while Joe Ndaiga looks on in back in the second half.

Triton (9-14) now advances to play South Central in Friday’s late semifinal, following the evening’s opener between Oregon-Davis and Argos. The Satellites advanced by the skin of their teeth Wednesday, a putback and old-fashioned three-point play by sophomore center Brendan Carr giving South Central the lead with just 6.2 seconds remaining and a missed pair of free throws on the other end by De’andre Coleman, Jr. sealing the Trailblazers’ fate in a 37-36 loss.

Coleman finished with a game-high 16 points, and James Curtis scored 15 with 11 rebounds in the season-ending loss for SBCA (6-16). Carr finished with nine points and eight boards, while Zach Christy put up nine for the Satellites (4-18).

“You can see they’re scrappy. They’re better than their record indicates for sure,” said Groves of South Central. “I’ve talked to other coaches, and that’s one thing that they say — don’t look at their record. They’re well-coached, and they’re just a scrappy group. We have to regroup, get some rest and come back in here tomorrow and prepare.”

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