Local Special Olympics basketball teams qualify for state tournament

HOPE — You could just see the determination in Dale Hickman.

Once the first sectional game started Saturday morning at the Hauser Fieldhouse at Hauser High School in Hope, the Jackson County Cyclones basketball player saw an opening to the basket, dribbled inside and scored.

If he didn’t have an opening, he passed the ball to one of his teammates, Rob Smith or Donald Bennethum. The same went for those guys. If they had an opening, they took it. If not, they passed it.

The end result? The Cyclones defeated the Monroe County Wildcats 20-14 with Hickman leading with 12 points, Bennethum six and Smith two.

That sent the Cyclones to the championship game of their division in the afternoon.

During that game against the Harrison County Ramblers, Hickman found the basket early and often, scoring 18 points in a dominant 20-4 win. Smith scored the team’s other two points.

“They did an awesome job. I’m very proud of both players,” Hickman said of his teammates. “I’m very proud of my team. They stepped up big time.”

The men’s three-on-three team was without one of its players, Elijah Noble, on Saturday, so Hickman, Smith and Bennethum had to play the duration of both games.

In Special Olympics Indiana three-on-three basketball, 20 minutes is put on the clock, and the game ends when a team reaches 20 points or whoever is ahead at the end of 20 minutes.

Coach Jim Shepherd was glad to see the Cyclones come out on top and advance to the state tournament, which is April 1 and 2 at the Pacers Athletic Center in Westfield.

“I think the Cyclones played their best basketball of the season,” he said. “We have been working on some things in practice, and it carried over to the ballgame.”

Joining the Cyclones at the state tournament will be the Jackson County Hurricanes women’s three-on-three team.

Since there aren’t many of those types of teams around the state, Special Olympics Indiana decided they wouldn’t compete in the sectional and would play in the state tournament as long as they played at least two games in the regular season.

The Hurricanes roster consists of Averie Brennan, Amanda Hamm, Becky Klosterman, Kayla Kriete and Alysha Sandlin.

Jackson County also will be represented at the state tournament by Owen Law, who placed first in his division in the individual skills competition at the sectional. That involves athletes shooting, dribbling and passing and then receiving a score based on their performance.

The other county team playing during Saturday’s sectional was the Jackson County Tornadoes men’s five-on-five team.

They took on the Monroe County Hornets and kept it close in the first half, trailing 8-6 after one quarter and 14-12 at halftime.

In the third quarter, though, the Hornets outscored the Tornadoes 14-6 for a 10-point lead heading into the final 6 minutes.

Monroe County went on to win 34-23 to advance to the championship game that afternoon. The Hornets defeated the Clark-Floyd Wildcats for the sectional title, advancing them to the state tournament.

The Tornadoes were led in scoring by Darrell Stevens with 10 points, followed by A.J. Engel with five, Tim Ashburn with four and Todd Smith and Josh Beals with two apiece.

“The Tornadoes played hard all year,” Shepherd said. “They got better as they year went on.”

The Tornadoes finished the season with a 4-4 record, while the Cyclones are 5-5 and the Hurricanes are 2-4 heading into state.

The Hurricanes will play at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. April 1, and the Cyclones will play at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. April 2.