Over the past three years, Immanuel Lutheran School’s eighth-grade boys basketball team has torn through its schedule leading up to the state tournament.
On Sunday, the Warriors won the Lutheran Invitational Tournament by defeating St. Peter’s Lutheran (Columbus) 41-34 in the finals. The championship marked the third-straight LIT title, including the fourth in the past 10 years.
The Warriors, who boast a record of 29-3, beat White Creek 64-26 and Lutheran Central 41-34 leading up to the finals.
Against St. Peter’s, Landon Fritsch led the Warriors with 17 points, and Jakob Arthur scored 16.
“I feel like we’ve all improved,” Arthur said. “We’re talking better on defense. It has shown with winning the LIT.”
At the tournament’s conclusion, Fritsch, Charlie Longmeier and Eli Meyer were all named to the All-Tournament team. Fritsch also received tournament MVP honors.
“I felt like we played well together,” Fritsch said. “I think we just need to continue playing together as a team. If we play defense like we can, we will be fine (at state). It was pretty cool (to get MVP). It felt like just another game, though.”
Longmeier said this group of boys has played together since second grade.
“We played together as a team and had a lot of confidence,” he said. “We passed the ball well. We trusted each other, played good defense, and most of all, played together as a team.”
Meyer also said he felt like the team played well together in the LIT.
“We weren’t selfish,” he said. “We rebounded a lot and played as a team. I think we’re a good shooting team and play tough defense.”
Also receiving All-Tournament honors at LIT were Logan Brown (White Creek), Jack Benter (St. John’s Sauers), Blake Hiegel (Our Savior, Louisville), Carson Darlage (Lutheran Central), Ben Sylva (St. Peter’s), Dakota Hitzemann (Emmanuel St. Michael, Fort Wayne) and Tyler Blythe (St. Peter’s).
Coach Jim Hoffman said all 11 of his players are eighth-graders. In the past, he has brought up younger players to his team.
The Warriors are the No. 1 seed from the south entering this weekend’s Indiana Lutheran Schools Athletic Association state tournament in Fort Wayne. The Warriors will open tournament play against the play-in winner of St. Paul (Bremen) and Holy Cross (Fort Wayne) at 9:15 a.m. Saturday.
Semifinals games will be Saturday afternoon, and the championship will take place Sunday.
The No. 1 team from the north is St. Paul (Fort Wayne).
“We’ve won five tournaments this season,” Hoffman said. “At the Lu-High tournament, we lost to St. Paul, who will be our competition this weekend. They are a stacked team. Otherwise, this has been a really solid year.”
Each of the past three seasons, the Warriors have had at least 29 wins entering state.
“We’ve had a pretty good winning percentage,” Hoffman said. “We’ve had some skilled players. They’ve bought in and listened to what we’re trying to do. We’ve had some really good role players that don’t worry about scoring. That’s a big key for any team, having your role players, especially at the middle school level.”
The Warriors won the state championship during the 2016-17 season. They finished third at state last winter.
The Warriors will be without their leading scorer for the rest of the season, as Longmeier broke his ankle during a game Saturday.
While he won’t be on the court, Longmeier plans on being there with his team every step of the way.
“I’m going to be a leader and go to the games. I’m going to cheer them on from the bench,” he said.
Lutheran Central also will represent Jackson County in the state tournament. The Saints will face Concordia (Fort Wayne) in the first round Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Should the Saints win, they will likely face Immanuel in the semis.
The Saints have a record of 19-15. At the LIT, outside of the loss to the Warriors, the Saints beat Calvary 50-25 and lost to St. John’s Sauers 46-37.
Coached by Taylor Wischmeier, the team started rolling before a rough outing at the LIT.
“We have come together well at the end of the season,” Wischmeier said. “We have started handling and shooting the ball better. We had a rough weekend, but we are looking to have a good week at practice to get back on track.”
Wischmeier said the team is looking to bounce back at state.
“We’ve got to come together as a team,” he said. “I thought we played too much individual ball at times this weekend. If we come together as a team and come together, I think we can compete with anyone up there.”
All of the games at the state tournament will be live streamed at ilsaa.org.
Should either team finish in the top three at state, they will qualify for the Lutheran Basketball Association of America National Tournament. That will be March 28 through 31 at Valparaiso University.
St. Charles wins girls LIT
The 26th annual girls LIT was Feb. 9 at Trinity Lutheran High School. Lutheran Central was the host school.
St. Charles School (Bloomington) captured the championship by defeating St. Peter’s (Columbus) 30-27 in the finals.
St. Charles battled back from a 14-point halftime deficit to take the title.
Other tournament participants included White Creek, St. Bartholomew, Immanuel Lutheran and St. John’s Sauers.
White Creek defeated St. Bartholomew 27-22 in the third-place game, and Immanuel won the consolation game over St. John’s Sauers 32-23.
In opening-round games, winners were White Creek over Sauers 22-18 and St. Bartholomew over Immanuel 29-27 in overtime.
St. Charles defeated White Creek 38-28 and St. Peter’s won 39-22 over St. Bartholomew to advance to the championship.
The All-Tournament team included Mia Robbennolt (St. Charles), Ava Robbennolt (St. Charles), Abbie Lucas (St. Charles), Maddie Kline (St. Peter’s), Hallie Randle (St. Peter’s), Liza Froedge (White Creek), Grace Burbrink (White Creek), Maggie Russell (St. Bartholomew), Saige Stahl (Immanuel) and Mallory Klosterman (St. John’s Sauers).
No Jackson County programs will compete at state this year.