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Hutton: Lake Central rides ‘Scooter’ to first regional title since 1984

The Lake Central Indians celebrate after defeating Penn final game Michigan City Class 4A Regional Saturday night March 15 2014.

The Lake Central Indians celebrate after defeating Penn in the final game of the Michigan City Class 4A Regional on Saturday night, March 15, 2014. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 17, 2014 6:47AM



MICHIGAN CITY — A Robert “Scooter” Ryan admirer was asking for his autograph on the back of the freshly minted deep blue Lake Central Regional Championship T-shirts.

Ryan was confused. Where should he sign? How should he sign?

“On the back. Just put Scooter, “ his new fan told him.

Yes, it’s going to take Lake Central fans, players and coaches time to get used to being the 2014 Michigan City Regional champions. To get used to dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s properly. They are going to have to figure out how to package up the strands of the Michigan City nets and get them placed just right in the glass trophy case at school. They need to learn to talk freely and happily, without pinching themselves, about what they just did.

It has been a long time since they traveled down this road.

Thirty years ago, Lake Central made it to the state finals. It’s the last time they had cut down regional nets. A generation of kids have gone through the school system, graduated from college and started families since 1984 — the last time LC won.

This was important to them. Oh, they didn’t want to admit it. But this Indians team is good. Aside from a small meltdown against East Chicago, and a game that I know Dave Milausnic would like to have back against Bowman, they have played like the best team in Northwest Indiana all year.

It’s hard to be good for every game. Bloated expectations can suck the joy out of a season if you don’t know how to deal with them.

But the Indians met the expectations head on. And, in the ultimate display of moxie and toughness, they beat the toughest team they had played all year. With the toughest coach. Al Rhodes has won 539 games, including the state title in 1984 as the coach at Warsaw. Lake Central coach Dave Milausnic, a Highland grad, was there. He was just a kid.

“I remember going there and watching them beat Vincennes,” Milausnic said. “It was just an honor to compete against him.”

The ending was spectacular. Tyler Wideman, the most laid-back 6-6, 240-pound center, tipped in a Tye Wilburn miss with a few seconds left.

Lake Central had frittered away a 13-point lead after Penn attacked the basket with its guards, hurdling themselves into the lane virtually every trip down the floor.

The strategy worked. The Indians were either fouling or stepping out of the way to avoid fouls.

The final seconds were ripe for LC to wilt. After a jumper by Jordan Geist from the top of the key tied the game, it didn’t look good for the Indians.

But Wideman saved the game. He thought about slamming it, but then thought better of it, gently laying the ball through the hoop.

Wideman was the perfect spoiler. He plays and acts like he is immune to outside forces.

“We’re used to the pressure,” he said. “It doesn’t bother us. I’m just happy for the town and community.”

Wideman’s play wasn’t the closer. That belonged to Ryan, a lightning-quick 5-8 guard who spots Tye Wilburn and Joe Bannister off the bench.

In the midst of the chaos, after the Wideman basket, with Milausnic worried that his kids wouldn’t have the presence of mind to get back on defense, Ryan picked off the last pass of the game near midcourt. There were still three seconds left after Wideman’s shot had gone through.

“Scooter gets back there and steals the ball,” Milausnic said. “I was worried. Kids thought we had won a Regional Championship. We still had three seconds left. You won’t read about that in the box scores.”

Milausnic jumped off the bench, with the rest of his team and about half the Lake Central crowd. He hugged every player and assistant he could find. The fans tumbled onto the floor. Players from the 1984 team shook Milausnic’s hands.

And Scooter was signing autographs. It doesn’t get much better than that.



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