The Western Panthers swept the annual Kokomo-Howard County Boys Basketball Middle School Championships with three wins over Kokomo Blue. In this picture, the Western seventh graders celebrate with the trophy in hand. For more pictures from the three games, visit the Kokomo Herald Facebook page. (Herald Photo/Jim Hunt)
The Western Panthers swept the annual Kokomo-Howard County Boys Basketball Middle School Championships with three wins over Kokomo Blue. In this picture, the Western seventh graders celebrate with the trophy in hand. For more pictures from the three games, visit the Kokomo Herald Facebook page. (Herald Photo/Jim Hunt)
In the annual showcase of future varsity players, Western swept all three game in the Kokomo-Howard County Boys Basketball Middle School Championships. While the six and eighth graders won rather easily, the best game of the Feb. 6 games at Memorial Gymnasium was the seventh grade contest that saw the Panthers overcome an eight point deficit in the final minutes.

The Western seventh grade boys basketball team mounted an epic fourth quarter comeback that will go down in Panthers lore. Down by eight late, the Panthers scored the games final 13 points to secure a 43-38 victory over Kokomo.

“We had a game plan and stuck to it,” said Western coach Ryan Berryman. “It didn’t go well early. We didn’t get off to the best start and we kind of played timid. Kokomo did a really good job putting pressure on us and challenging our guards. It got sloppy there for awhile; we stuck with it and took advantage of the opportunities at the end of the game. We stayed on-script and it paid off.”

Kokomo Blue got off to a 13-6 lead after one quarter and held a 23-20 lead at the break. Leading 36-30 after three quarters, Ta’Shy Stewart scored a quick bucket for the Kats – and then the well went dry. With the foul count 8-0, Western began to foul Kokomo as the Kats attempted to milk the clock for the win. But the foul issue became a problem for Kokomo as Plez Lawrence fouled out with 5:00 remaining and Stewart went out two minutes later.

“Our goal was to get those guys in foul trouble,” added Berryman. “We took advantage of it.”

As that was happening, the Panthers (16-1) chipped away at the lead. Parker Dean hit a free throw and Evan Kretz hit a pair of buckets, including the go-ahead shot with just under a minute left. By the time Kokomo attempted to stop the bleeding with timeouts, the damage was done and Western shocked those watching the contest with a 13-0 run to end the game.

Kretz led Western with 17 points while Dean had 12 and Jett Engel eight. Dylan Bryant added four and Montana Beatty had two points. Other members of the team include Michael Gaines, Dylan Collins, Alex Watkins, Garrett Lupoi, Jalen Hillis, Wyatt Sanders, Sam Bowlby, Rhett Berryman, Dylan George, Taia Pasquale, Owen Glover and Mason Betz.

Stewart and Lawrence each scored 10 to lead Kokomo Blue, while Brandon Hansen had nine, Ty Launderbaugh five and Jarece Rogers four.

Western wins eighth grade title

The Western Panthers roared in the first half of the city-county eighth grade title bout before holding on to secure a 51-46 victory over Kokomo Blue.

The Panthers scored 15 of the game’s first 17 points and led 20-8 after one quarter and 28-19 at halftime. Fundaments put the Panthers out front as the squad dropped in 11 of 13 attempts in the first 12 minutes. But the Wildkats stormed back and cut the lead to 35-31 midway through the third stanza as Kokomo’s Jackson Richards dropped in eight points in the quarter. Patrick Connolly hit a 3-pointer for Western and Kyle Sanders slipped a nifty behind-the-back pass to Braeden Bryant, who converted the layup to increase the Panthers lead to 40-33.

Western looked to put the game away with an 8-2 run to start the final quarter only to see Richards continue his hot-streak, eventually cutting the lead to 50-46 with 20 seconds remaining. With 13 ticks left, Connolly hit one of the Panthers nine fourth quarter freebies to secure the win.

“We challenged the boys to come out and play really strong,” said Western head coach Brad Eller. “Earlier in the year, Kokomo beat us. I think the difference was our defensive intensity in the beginning and the end.”

Western (14-3) was led by the 18 points from Sanders, including a perfect 10 for 10 from the charity stripe. Cooper Jarvis added 12, going 4 for 4 from the free throw line. In all, the Panthers hit 20 of 26 attempts (77 percent) from the freebie line. Bryant had seven points, Nathaniel Liddell had six, Connolly 6 and Cayden Lafayette two. The rest of the championship team included Garrett Graves, Mark Williams, Jacob Holt, Jameson Davenport, Rylan Morgan, Zavier Rollerson, Daniel Marley and Ricky Ortega.

Scoring for Kokomo included: Richards with 25 (including a trio of 3-pointers), Torian Smith with six, Jon Callane five, Dashaun Coleman four, Noa Wainscott four and Noah Smalley two.

Western is king of sixth grade

The Western Panthers came out ready to take care of business, jumping out to a quick lead and cruising to a 52-32 victory over Kokomo Blue.

While Kokomo struggled to hold on to the basketball, hitting double-digits in first quarter turnovers, Western was feeding the ball to a host of players to take a 17-4 lead – Ian Thurston, Patrick Hobson, Mitchell Dean, Cade Epp, Carter Jarvis and Zach Gilbert hit baskets for Western in the first stanza. The Panthers took a 22-13 lead into the break and put the game away with an 11-2 run to start the third quarter.

“This is a talented group of kids,” said Western coach Bart Irwin. “We’re a lot bigger than most teams and most of the time a lot faster; we have great guard play.”

Dean, who had seven first half points, led Western in the third quarter run with another seven points – he finished with a game-high 17 points. Epp added 12, Hobson had seven, Gilbert six, Thurston four, Fields four and Jarvis two.

“It’s been a real treat to coach them,” said Irwin. “They work hard. It’s a process and there’s a lot of promise at Western coming up.”

Other members of Western (17-0) include Javin Roberts, Dylan Hightower, Tyler Miller, Cody Kretz, Seth Baker, Adam Turner, Trey Stone, Cayden Calloway, Haedyn Hyman, Lucas Pitzer, Mitchell Knepley, Christian Pownall, Avery Fields, Jace Rayl and Landon Smith.

For Kokomo, Deundre Kirby and Patrick Hardimon led the way with nine points each. Evan Barker added five, TreJaughn Guynn had four, Jarrell Smith three and Clarence Stokes scored two.