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La Porte’s ‘X’ factor

January 10, 2019

La PORTE — Earlier in the season, when La Porte’s boys basketball team was scuffling to find its way, Jake Spence was also struggling to find his identity on the team.

It’s no coincidence that when Spence found his niche and hit his stride, that’s when the Slicers clicked. It’s resulted in a resurgence for both Spence and the Slicers, who have won five straight games.

“I’m just trying to shoot the ball lights out,” Spence said. “And play good defense, giving help side. Just try and help my team, whatever it takes to win.”

Spence’s play, both offensively and defensively, has been fundamental to La Porte’s 7-4 record, including winning six of its last seven contests. The seven victories is already two more than the team had all of last season.

Slicers coach Kyle Benge has seen up close and personal the strides the senior guard has made and recognizes Spence as a pivotal piece, noting that he’s the team’s ‘X’ factor.

“He’s shooting 59 percent from the 3-point line and that’s not two or three games in, that’s almost half the season,” Benge said. “So he’s one of those shooters where we almost have to tell him he needs to shoot more. He’s really unselfish. He gets other guys involved. He doesn’t force a whole lot of shots. The main thing is defensively, how much better he’s gotten in a year. We put him on one of the other team’s better guards and he steps up to the challenge. It’s hard to get him off the floor unless he needs a break.”

When he was very young, Jake played basketball with his uncles, Pat Spence and Bill Spence, both former Slicer players, at the old Mill Creek High School in Mill Creek.

Fast forward to now, and Jake is trying to beat Bill’s record for best La Porte single-season 3-point percentage set back in the mid-90s. They are currently tied.

“It would give me bragging rights,” Jake said. “To say I’m the best shooter in the family. And when we play in the summer.”

So far this campaign, Spence is averaging about 11 points per game, and shooting is arguably the most improved area of his game.

In addition to his marksmanship, Spence’s progress as a leader has stood out to his coach.

“The most impressive thing is just the jump he’s made from his junior to senior year in the leadership category,” Benge said. “And getting stronger. Physically, he hasn’t put on a lot more weight than what he was, but just the confidence of him being a senior now. He had a great summer. He had a great fall. And you can tell when kids put in hard work and they put in the time. He wanted to be better and he’s made himself a better basketball player because of it.”

This current Slicers’ winning streak started by beating South Bend Adams and New Prairie. La Porte then claimed both games in the Indiana Wesleyan Classic on Dec. 28, beating Twin Lakes 74-45 and Logansport 82-79. The Slicers handed the Berries, who entered the classic with an undefeated 9-0 record No. 9 state ranking in Class 4A, their first loss of the season.

Last Friday, La Porte won its Duneland Athletic Conference opener over Lake Central, 53-42. Spence was pivotal in that game as well, netting 14 points in the Slicers’ first victory over the Indians in eight seasons.

Spence and La Porte next face a stiff test when it hosts Chesterton, who’s 10-2 and 1-0 in the DAC and receiving votes in Class 4A, on Friday in the nightcap of a girls-boys varsity doubleheader.

“Chesterton is very well-coached,” Benge said. “Jake Wadding is one of the best juniors in the area and one of the best juniors in the state. During this five-game winning streak, we’ve bought in, we’ve done all the little things offensively and defensively. If we do that, we’re going to put ourselves in the right position to be in the game on Friday.”

Spence, who’s also on the Slicers baseball team, carries a 3.6 GPA. He takes advanced placement and dual-credit classes, including AP Psychology, Dual-Credit English, and last year took AP Biology, Pre-Calculus and Probability and Stats.

In regards to his future, Spence isn’t quite sure on his plans yet. He could play basketball in college or simply just focus on school. Spence said he’s got options, adding he’s already been accepted to Bethel, Holy Cross, Ball State and Valparaiso.

First, however, he’s primed to guide La Porte to new heights this season in his final prep season.

“I just want to cherish every moment,” Spence said. “Because you never can get it back.”

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