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Underdog 1958 Panthers Dominated Sectional Field
February 13, 2008 - What made the 1958 Knightstown Panther basketball team so special? It definitely wasn’t the competition being down, because no fewer than five teams in the field of 10 were having one of their strongest seasons in many years.
Middletown was said to be the best team, while New Castle, Mooreland and Spiceland were all expected to challenge for the title. Knightstown was considered by most to be one of the top five teams in the field.
But the Panthers were a smoking gun, due partly to the consolidation of Kennard and Knightstown High Schools. A good Knightstown team would be joined by several star players from Kennard and form a squad that was seriously underestimated by the rest of the field.
“It was a difficult situation because when the consolidation happened there were kids who thought they would be a starter at one school and now they weren’t,” said Larry Bundy, a sophomore player on the team. “They might have started at Kennard and were now fighting just for a spot on the roster.”
The 1958 Knightstown Panthers brought a rare blend of size and speed to the court. Back then 6’4” players were unusual, and the Panthers had two in Gary Sharp and Danny Vaughn. They also had 6’2” Larry Collins, and lightning-quick guards Sam Chase and Charlie Riggs, two of the best long-range shooters in the county.
Following the consolidation, head coach Harlan Clark had to find a way to mix in the multi-talented players from Kennard, which included Riggs, Vaughn and Bundy, among others, with the already-present talent at Knightstown. That included Sharp, Collins and Chase, who history proves was one of the greatest players ever to wear a Panther uniform.
“Harlan Clark was a big man himself, so he knew how to coach our big guys,” Vaughn said. “With me, Sharp and Collins, we had three big guys inside. We also had Sam (Chase) and Charlie (Riggs) playing guard, and those guys were as good or better than anyone else we played.”
“There was a lot of talent on that team, and we had size too,” Moore said. “Chase was so quick, if you were on the floor with him you’d better be ready or he would hit you in the face with the ball.”
The team also had Mickey Bell, Moore, Jack Avery and Charles Keen. The Panthers were loaded with size, speed and talent, but it didn’t mesh all that well early in the season. That caused some people to write Knightstown off early on.
The Panthers started the season trying to find their way and the team lost convincingly to Middletown and New Castle. After a 17-point loss to Greenfield, Knightstown was just 6-7 on the season and would be playing in a sectional in which more than half the field had a winning record.
That was about the time Clark found the right mixture and rotation of players, and the team started to jell. They closed the season by defeating seven straight opponents, blowing out Wilkinson and Charlottesville, the latter being the eventual Greenfield Sectional champions. They beat bigger schools Batesville and Highland, and closed the season with a tough 47-40 win over Spiceland just days after finding out they drew the Stingers in the first round of the sectional.
Riding a seven-game winning streak, Knightstown was suddenly 13-7 and a threat to take it all. But the media, which was confined to newspapers in those days, was all predicting Middletown, New Castle or Mooreland to take the sectional title. Newspapers in New Castle, Muncie and Richmond all had Middletown taking the crown.
Up first for the Panthers would be the rematch against Spiceland just three days after that 47-40 season finale. Knightstown’s big men dominated the game from the onset, and Sharp finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds. Collins had 14 points and 15 boards, while Vaughn scored six points and had 11 rebounds. Chase scored 11 points and Knightstown outscored Spiceland 25-8 in the fourth quarter, winning easily 72-51.
The word throughout the county was the Panthers had worn themselves out against the Stingers and their road would end against host New Castle later that night.
That didn’t happen. Vaughn and Sharp dominated inside against the Trojans and Knightstown won 60-55, avenging a 67-54 defeat suffered earlier that season. Vaughn had 16 points and 18 rebounds, while Sharp had 19 points and eight boards. Chase and Riggs scored eight and 10 points, respectively.
Mooreland, another of the sectional favorites, would get the same treatment the next night. The Panthers used 13 points and 23 rebounds from Vaughn, Sharp had 16 points and nine boards, and Chase and Riggs scored 12 points apiece. Mooreland fell to the Panthers 59-53, and the team earned a trip to the championship game against favored Middletown.
Knightstown took the lead early in the second quarter and won convincingly 54-45, capturing the school’s first sectional title in history. It could have been worse, because Knightstown inexplicably hit just 10-of-25 free throws in the game.
Vaughn had 19 points and 18 rebounds, giving him an eye-rubbing 54 points and 70 rebounds in the four sectional games. Chase scored 12, Collins eight, Sharp 11 and Riggs four in the sectional final. Sharp scored 70 points and had 40 rebounds in the four sectional games.
Vaughn’s efforts caught the attention of college scouts from across the country, and he opted for the University of Texas-El Paso, receiving a full four-year scholarship.
The team celebrated momentarily on the court, but was more anxious to get home, where thousands of fans were waiting for them as the team bus entered town with a police escort.
“It was really something,” Moore said. “You couldn’t even get through town. There were people everywhere.”
Bundy agreed. “We were all just shocked at the amount of people who were at the Mattix Restaurant and at the gymnasium after the game. We weren’t expecting that much support.”
Doug Reeves, who was team manager in 1958, remembers it well.
“It was just a madhouse, and the celebration went well into the evening,” Reeves said. “I’ll never forget it and I’m sure everyone who was around feels the same way. There was a feeling in the air all year long with this team.
“A lot of people thought something special was going to happen because you knew it was there. That team winning the sectional ended up being the event of a lifetime and I’ll never forget it.”
1958 Team Roster included Harlan Clark (head coach), Gary Sharp, Sam Chase, Danny Vaughn, Charlie Riggs, Larry Collins, Larry Bundy, Don Moore, Mickey Bell, Jack Avery, and Charles Keen. Cheerleaders for the team were Jane Brosius, Laura Irwin, Dee Ellen Haase, Rosalee Womack
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