Winning ways

March 6, 2019

La PORTE — While the boys basketball season didn’t finish as it wanted, La Porte still had a productive, winning campaign.

After stumbling to a 5-17 record in the 2017-18 season, the Slicers drastically improved this year. They earned a 12-11 record, despite playing a demanding schedule, including the rigors of the Duneland Athletic Conference.

Not only did they better their win total by seven games, they also claimed a winning mark in the DAC at 4-3. That followed the previous season when La Porte went winless in the conference at 0-7 with five of those losses by double digits.

“We need to build off this year,” second-year La Porte coach Kyle Benge said. “I can’t stress enough how proud I am in the fact we went from five wins to 12 wins in the second year. If guys compete and we get stronger in the spring and we work hard in the summer, there’s a lot of potential out of this group, plus some younger guys coming up.”

The Slicers had some noteworthy victories, knocking off then-Class 4A No. 9 Logansport in the Indiana Wesleyan University Tournament, sectional champion Chesterton at home and South Bend Adams at home. Plus, they played some other strong teams tough, like Valparaiso at home, and Plymouth and South Bend Riley, both on the road, before losing. A year ago, La Porte fell to Chesterton by 33 points and to Adams by 18. The Slicers also lost by 26 to the Vikings, by 16 to the Pilgrims, and by 51 to the Wildcats.

This campaign, however, La Porte regrouped and responded.

It reeled off six consecutive wins from Dec. 21 to Jan. 11 and began 3-0 in the DAC for the first time since the 1996-97 year.

La Porte’s season ended with a 78-52 loss to the eventual sectional-champion and Class 4A No. 9 Kingsmen in a Penn Sectional semifinal Friday night, even though it was only a six-point margin nearly two-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter. Penn edged Adams 63-60 to claim its first sectional in five years.

For the season, forward Drake Gunn and shooting guard Garrott Ott-Large were the offensive catalysts.

Next year, Gunn will continue his career at Eastern Arizona, a junior college, with hopes of landing a Division I scholarship. Garrott Ott-Large will return as a senior.

The Slicers say goodbye to five seniors to graduation, Gunn, Jake Spence, Peyton Marker, Jordan Nichols and Terry White.

“The best thing about this group is my wife and my little daughter, they care about them just as much as they do me, and that means quite a bit as a program,” Benge said. “They’re great kids. They’re great student-athletes. They’re going to be missed.”

While it might be painful to watch the Michigan City Regional games Saturday wishing it was there, La Porte still had a positive season and the future seems bright.

Benge mentioned those points after the lopsided sectional setback.

“Hard work and determination,” he said. “It wasn’t easy last year, the first year in our program. I felt like we’ve made a lot of positive strides in year two. The seniors did a great job laying that foundation. Now it’s up to the underclassmen to work just as hard to propel us into a great season next year.”