Greensburg enjoying miracle playoff ride

A lot of high school basketball fans in Indiana were upset when the state did away with the one-class state tournament in 1997. Many still are.

Bobby Plump and his little Milan Indians can't knock off huge Muncie Central in the tournament anymore like they did in 1954, the inspiration for the Hickory Huskers in Hollywood's "Hoosiers."

But don't tell the folks in the little southeastern Indiana town of Greensburg that Cinderella has been banished from the postseason. The Greensburg Pirates came out of the toughest league in the state with a regular-season record of 12-8 and are about to play in the Class 3A semifinals -- semi-state in Indiana lingo.

The Pirates have stunned three highly ranked schools and two Indiana Mr. Basketball finalists to win a regional title for the first time in 25 years. A win Saturday over Princeton (27-0 and ranked No. 1 in 3A) would leave the Pirates only one more win away from the school's first state title.

That means a lot in Indiana, where basketball began to thrive when a couple of folks from Crawfordsville checked out James Naismith's new game in the late 1800s.

"Until you live it and understand how fierce the competition is in Indiana … just winning one sectional is quite an achievement, let alone moving up to the regionals and have the opportunity to play in the semi-state," said Jeff Dougan, who has two boys playing for Greensburg.

Forget spring break; it appears anyone who headed out of town this week is coming back early to watch the Pirates play in Seymour High's 8,100-seat gym.

"It's amazing what 15- to 18-year-old kids can do for a community," said Gary Bailey, a Greensburg High history teacher who does play-by-play of the basketball games for WTRE radio.

The town of about 10,000 is located just below Interstate 74 between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Folks are painting store windows and putting up signs showing their support for the Pirates. The team now receives a police escort on its way out of town. The First Christian Church of Greensburg had the team over for dinner Wednesday.

"It's pretty wild," senior swing man Elijah Harter said. "I'm trying to soak it all in."

The team's play has been a rallying point during the bad economic times. Pirates coach Stacy Meyer, in his third season, said numerous students in town have seen a parent lose a job recently.

Many people commute to Indianapolis or Cincinnati, neither more than an hour away. Many work locally at the Delta Faucet factory or the Honda plant.

"In Princeton, there's a Toyota plant," Meyer added, as if additional motivation was needed.

Greensburg starts two seniors, three juniors and no player taller than 6-foot-3, although it usually faces taller teams. The Pirates play in the six-team Eastern Indiana Conference. In Indiana's structure, the state's 50 leagues feature members from different classifications.

Greensburg, a small 3A school, went 3-7 in league play but 9-1 in non-league. It beat 4A teams; its one non-league loss was to a 1A team.

Since six of the eight losses were by six points or fewer, Meyer and his players were optimistic going into sectional play.

First up was nearby Batesville, Greensburg's biggest rival. Batesville finished the regular season 19-2 and swept the Pirates in league play. But Greensburg won 62-54 in the postseason, then won the sectional by defeating Scottsburg 64-53. In this past Saturday's regional play, Greensburg's day began with a 43-40 upset of Roncalli (Indianapolis) and ended with a 62-57 defeat of North Montgomery (Crawfordsville).

The Pirates' center is 6-3 Greg Dougan. His twin brother, Andrew, is the team's sixth man.

Actually, they're half of the Dougan quadruplets. David and John join Greg and Andrew on Greensburg's tennis team.

Their father, Jeff Dougan, said the experience of all four boys playing competitive tennis since age 10 has probably helped Greg and Andrew during the current playoff frenzy.

"They're like a duck on water," Jeff said. "They control their emotions pretty well. They're trying to control their emotions right now. I'm sure when it's game time, the adrenaline will be flowing."
Since the playoffs began, the players and their families have been gathering at the Dougans' the night before a game for some Pizza King pizza and ice cream. With every win, it was decided this pre-game practice should be repeated.

"Our coach is a tad superstitious," Jeff said. "Same shirt. Same tie. Same pizza."

But Harter has been absent from the dinners. He missed the first one, so he has skipped the rest in the name of, well, consistency.

"I figured I wouldn't mess anything up," he said.

The Pirates' chances of upsetting Princeton appeared to receive a major jolt on Wednesday afternoon, just before Greensburg traveled to Seymour for the day's second practice to get familiar with the big gym. Meyer learned 6-3 senior point guard Latroi Wright, leading the team in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (7.0), won't play Saturday because of a school code of conduct violation.

Wright had come back from academic problems during junior high and early in his high school days to become a key contributor on the court as a junior and a senior. He lives with his mother, who is blind, and a younger brother. When Wright's mother attends home games, she sits with the radio crew and wears a headset to follow the action.

"The kids handled it real well, and we've had good practices," Meyer said. "They just know everybody's got to step it up."

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.