NATURAL — The Kokomo basketball team is heading to the semifinals after a win against Lafayette Jefferson. Perspective Photo / Provided
NATURAL — The Kokomo basketball team is heading to the semifinals after a win against Lafayette Jefferson. Perspective Photo / Provided
It may not have been pretty, but Kokomo’s quest for a 75th sectional championship got off to a good start with a 56-51 win over the host Bronchos of Lafayette Jefferson. 

The quarterfinal win sends Kokomo to the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 4A Sectional 7 on March 3 against No. 5 McCutcheon. 

“It is fun for our guys, and they deserved this,” said Kokomo Head Coach Matt Moore of his first sectional win. “In three years, we have done so much to build the program the right way, and our players are working hard and listening to the voices they need to listen to.”

The win was Kokomo’s 10th consecutive, which marks the longest streak for the Kats since the sectional championship 2012-2013 campaign. In 114 seasons of boys basketball at KHS, this is just the 22nd time a Wildkat squad has won 10 or more straight.

“We are trending in the right way,” said Moore. “Three or four weeks ago I talked about Logansport being an A team. McCutcheon is an A-level team. Zionsville is an A or A-minus team. And Kokomo was a B or B-plus team. I told our guys to close the gap and do whatever they had to do over the last 10 games. We have done that, and now we are an A or A-minus caliber team.”

Despite the win-streak, this was not an easy victory against a North Central Conference foe. With six minutes left in the contest, Kokomo held a 10-point cushion. But in sectional action, no lead is guaranteed to be safe, and Jeff showed why they are a perineal favorite. Three minutes later, the Bronchos had hit four 3-pointers on four straight trips down the floor to cut the Kats lead to one. 

The momentum appeared to want to stay with Jefferson as Avery Beaver launched a triple to take the lead with just under three minutes left, but it bounced out and Anthony Barnard hit a hook shot on the other end to give the Wildkats a 45-41 lead. From there, the Bronchos were forced to start fouling, and Kokomo hit 9 of 11 free throws down the stretch to seal a hard-earned victory.

“It is persistence and poise and maturity that we have shown this year,” said Moore. “Everyone contributed in a big way.

While free throws may have secured the win, defense was the star as the Kats held Lafayette’s leading scorer David Hanyard to eight points on 3 for 10 shooting. He entered the game averaging more than 20 points.

Barnard finished with 18 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Keenen Wheeler hit 7 of 8 field goals for 17 points and Ty Sparling added 12 points.

The Kokomo (18-6) versus McCutcheon (21-2) semifinal is a rematch of the Dec. 9 contest – a Mavericks 77-53 victory. McCutcheon is on its own 11-game win streak and are the defending Class 4A state runners-up. 

“We have worked really hard to be here,” said Moore. “We played (McCutcheon) in the fourth game of the year, and it was 32-32 with four minutes to go in the third quarter. But a two-minute breakdown by us leads to a big win for them. We are a different team from the fourth game; we are battle-tested. Now it is about winning one game and playing the next team on the schedule.

The first semifinal on March 3 tips at 6 p.m. between No. 3 Logansport (23-1) and Zionsville (14-10). The Eagles advanced after an 81-57 defeat of Harrison; Logansport and McCutcheon each had a bye. The Kats-Mavs clash will follow at the Crawley Center on the Lafayette Jeff campus.