Gorches: Oilers are NWI’s most unique sectional champs
Call me sentimental, call me nostalgic, but it just seems like it’s better when Whiting wins a sectional title in anything.
Even better when it’s basketball.
Nothing against the six other Northwest Indiana schools headed to regionals on Saturday after hoisting that Indiana-shaped trophy and cutting down nets, but the Little City on the Lake does it better.
Did Merrillville or Griffith or Boone Grove or Lake Central have a parade last Saturday night after its teams won sectional titles?
Whiting did after it defeated Bishop Noll in the Class 2A River Forest Sectional. The parade went right down 119th Street, and then the players and parents were invited to a pizza party afterward at the Knights of Columbus, which technically isn’t in Whiting since it’s on the west side of Atchison Ave.
“There’s a strong sense of community here,” said Oilers coach Kevin Moynihan, who appreciates it more as a lifelong resident of Whiting. “You want to win for yourself, your school, the whole community. These kids all grew up playing basketball together at the Whiting Community Center or at St. John the Baptist. They’ve known each other all their lives.”
Whiting athletic director Paul Laub said the parade is a tradition for any postseason title not won in the city limits (softball sectionals are played at Whiting).
“We’re very closely tied to the city as a school,” said Laub, also a lifelong Whiting resident. “It helps that we have a distinct downtown (to have a parade).”
That’s true, but it doesn’t make it any less “Hoosiers” like. Speaking of that nostalgic, tear-jerker movie, most of the little city follows the team to its postseason events. There was a lot of green in the stands in the sectional victory over Bishop Noll, and you can expect a flood of Whiting residents headed down to Rochester for Saturday’s regional in which the Oilers have a rematch of a regular season game against Boone Grove.
What makes this sectional title more special for the Oilers is that it’s the school’s first in Class 2A. It’s still hard to believe the little school is big enough to be larger than 1A.
“We’re on the low end of 2A,” Moynihan said. “The thing is, our participation numbers aren’t up like the enrollment. We have 16 girls on the basketball team and I’ve had as much as 20 or 21 back when we were 1A.”
The team itself is a mix of small town and big city basketball, which makes the Oilers tough to defend from the opponent’s standpoint — hence the 20-3 overall record. And they’re the only region team with three players averaging more than 13 points per game.
The team’s leading scorer is Brianna Blackwell (16.5 ppg.), whose game is more country than city.
“She’s a great shooter and fundamentally sound,” Moynihan said.
And versatile since she’s normally a shooting guard or small forward (8.0 rebounds per game), but played point guard throughout the sectional (3.6 assists per game).
Citlali Lopez (13.9 ppg., 4.7 steals per game), who plays the point much of the rest of the time, has a “street” game in the words of Moynihan. She’s quick off the dribble and can create her own shot, as illustrated in her 21-point effort in the sectional championship.
Abby Bondi (14.7 ppg.) is a player built in the mold of many Whiting residents.
“She’s blue collar who works hard,” Moynihan said.
“Any of the three can score 20 points in a game. It’s hard to take away all three defensively.”
None of the trio has an ego, at least outwardly. It’s all about the team and end result instead of worrying about who scores the most or what position each plays.
“It doesn’t matter, as long as we win,” Lopez said.
Being from Whiting means the players can play with “chips on their shoulders,” as Moynihan saw it in the sectional final.
“They played with a controlled anger out there,” he said. “It gives you a little extra sense of pride when you’re not satisfied with the hand you’re dealt and you tend to work a little harder.”
And hard work leads to victories. The Oilers and their large group of fans from the Little City on the Lake will be looking for two more wins on Saturday and another parade down 119th Street. I’m sure the Knights of Columbus already has the pizza on standby.