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Saints march to first state basketball title

Saints march to first state basketball title

By Mark Ambrogi

Lutheran High School is no stranger to success at a high level the past two years.

Six basketball team members were on the football team, which captured its second consecutive Class A state title in November 2022.

The Class A No. 8 Saints earned their first state basketball title with a 97-66 romp over Southwood March 25 in the Class A championship game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Celebrating a record

Trailing 10-9 after one quarter, Lutheran scored a record 36 points in the second quarter, five more points than had ever been scored in a quarter in state finals history. The 97 points ties a record for all classes. Attucks scored 97 in the 1955 state game.

There were a lot of bright lights,” said Saints coach Remus Woods, whose team finished with a 20-7 record. “We’re blessed to be here, but we get the earliest game (at 10:30 a.m.), so we have to wake up a little bit. When you have a running team, you just have to get the juices going. We were kind of oversharing early. One of our game plans (was that) we had a couple shots we didn’t take trying to get it to the bigs. They just needed to dial in a little bit.”

Southwood (15-13) stuck with playing its usual pressing style and Lutheran was able to break it, often scoring easily in transition. Southwood committed 24 turnovers, six more than Lutheran.

“I thought my guys played really hard,” Woods said. “We focused all week to beat the trap that we’ve seen them playing throughout the season. All week we were looking to find layups from the trap. We wanted to push the tempo of the game. We knew throughout the tournament we wanted to let go and run. We wanted to score a lot more points. I couldn’t have called 97 points, but we definitely wanted to score a lot of points.”

“All season we wanted to be different. Some of the stats prove that their hard work was different.”

Sophomore point guard LJ Ward had 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

The Lutheran High School basketball celebrated with its Class A state title trophy. (Photo courtesy of IHSAA)

Feeding off emotion

“He just plays really fast,” Woods said. “We kind of look at him as one of the heartbeats of the team. He’s a very emotional guy. The team feeds off the emotion.”

Ward said the main thing that fuels him is he doesn’t like to lose.

“Whenever things go rough, I start playing harder and harder,” he said. 

Sophomore Cayden Loescher led the Saints with 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting and a team-high 10 rebounds. 

“Coming into the game, the plan was to run,” Loescher said. “My teammates trusted me and put the ball in the right spot, and I finished the layup.”

Loescher said his confidence built during the season.

“My teammates and coaches helped me keep my head and figure it out,” he said.

Senior Durray Smith contributed 21 points, hitting 7 of11 shots and 5 of 9 3-pointers.

Also cracking double figures in points were senior Kameron (16) and Kaiden Patterson (10). Senior Aiden Aliay added six points.

“It just makes the game really easy because I’m quick enough to get around my defender and make other defenders help,” Ward said. “When I’m not looking for one guy and I have three or four guys that can make that shot, it makes it really easy.”

Woods said going through the southern half of the draw was tough.

“It’s a lot of meat-grinder games that prepared us for a championship,” Woods said. “We looked at a lot of different games. There was a lot of really good competition that prepared us for this moment.”

From left, Ava Dockery, assistant coach Jason Dockery’s daughter, and Zara Woods, head coach Remus Woods’ daughter, watch Lutheran win state title. (Sumbitted photo)

Improve to win

After losing four in a row, the Saints won their last five regular season games.

“We had a lot of meetings and we really just talked about what we need as a team so that we can improve,” Smith said.

Woods said let the players figure it out.

“One thing that I did tell him was I’m the only one that keeps losses,” Woods said. “So I tell them I’d lose the rest (of the regular season) during the year to win a state title. I’m glad we didn’t have to lose it every one the rest of the (regular season). They took it to themselves. I didn’t go to any meetings with them. I like my guys to grow up. I like them to learn. Life is just not easy. That’s one thing that I like to give my kids, so they can get through things in life later on.”

The Saints beat No. 5 Greenwood Christian in the sectional final, No. 1 Bloomfield in the regional and No. 4 Loogootee in the semistate opener.

Ward said he is optimistic about the future.

“But don’t think we think it’s going to be easy because our five seniors made it a lot easier for us,” Ward said.

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