sports blog by andy shenk

Sectionals Over Early for Central

In At The Game, Elkhart Basketball on February 26, 2013 at 11:10 PM

Jaron Walters had a shot. Tre Taylor’s full-court heave found him in a scramble beyond the 3-point arc. His team trailing by one in double overtime, the junior forward spun and let the ball go as time expired. On line, but short by a foot, Elkhart Central’s sectional hopes evaporated two hours into the postseason tournament. Warsaw fans, outnumbered 2-1 in Central’s home gym, celebrated the 45-44 win as the dispirited 6-15 Blue Blazers trudged off the court.

Central began the game aggressively, their ball pressure a major headache for the Tigers. Halfway through the first quarter, after Walters whipped the ball down low to Blake Brouwer for an easy ‘2,’ the Blazers took what would be their largest lead of the night, 12-2.

Superior rebounding – Warsaw outworked Central on the glass earlier this season 31-15 – along with 3-pointers from Blake and Terrell Street also played a big role in the early spurt.

Coach Noble reinforced defense during a Warsaw timeout. “What makes us special? Ball pressure!” Warsaw, though, finally found some space to score six unanswered to end the quarter.

Reserve senior and 6-9 center Brian Harter followed his coach’s instructions during the break, “Go up and score! You’re 6-9!” Two lay-ups gave Central a 21-14 advantage at the five-minute mark. Street added a free throw with 3:40 to play in the half, but once again Warsaw rallied in the final minutes of the period. Tiger sophomore Rashaan Jackson netted nine points in the quarter, including a 3-pointer with 1:16 to play and banked field goal at the buzzer to make it a four-point game, 25-21.

Trailing 24-16 with a minute and a half to play in the first half, the Tigers seized a 28-25 lead two minutes into the second half. Failure to stop Warsaw from penetrating plagued the Blazers early in the half, but Brouwer and Harter, the senior big men, helped knot the game back up at 30-30. Brouwer’s 3-pointer gave the Blazers 30 and another long ball with 1:40 to play in the third made it a 33-32 lead. Next, Street swooped in for a twisting lay-up and, though Crawford’s half-court prayer went just wide, the Elkhart club was all smiles heading into the fourth.

At the 6:20 mark Brouwer struck again, this time pushing the lead to eight points, 40-32, on another three-ball. Warsaw coach Doug Ogle called timeout. Leads melted quickly in this Elkhart 4A sectional opener, however. Tiger senior Jared Bloom pumped in two 3-pointers, sandwiched by four free throws, in under four minutes to put Warsaw back on top, 42-40.

Neither team scored again until Street stole the ball near mid-court and drove the floor for two points. He missed the free throw, but Warsaw came up empty in the final 52 seconds of the game. 42-42. Overtime.

After staving off defeat in regulation, Central took command in the first overtime. Though Warsaw grabbed the tip, Central got the ball back with three minutes to play and methodically drained 2:50 on the clock before looking to the basket. Unable to find an opening, Street rose for a 3-pointer at the top of key. It clanged off the iron, going out-of-bounds to the Tigers with one second left on the clock.

With both sides mostly resigned to double overtime, Warsaw nearly choked, tossing the in-bounds ball into the American flag high above the court and returning possession to the Blazers. In-bounding beneath the bucket, Taylor lofted a beautiful alley-oop to Harter in the lane, who had no trouble rising above the crowd for the shot. His attempt, though, hit the backboard and clanged off the rim. 42-42. Double overtime.

John Stahl almost won the game for Central in the second period. After winning the tip, he drove hard to the basket for two with 3:20 to play.

Warsaw came right back, however, finding Jackson down low for a lay-up. They regained possession with 2:14 to play after an errant cross-court pass from Street intended for Taylor. The Tigers whittled away the time until, with eight seconds left, Jackson split his defenders and sent up a promising baseline floater. A moment later it crashed into the bleachers, swatted down by Stahl, who rose well above the rim to redirect the ball in mid-flight.

On the final play, late-game hero Jared Bloom drew a foul with one second to play after what appeared to be another clean block. Out of time and out of luck once more, Central looked on as Bloom made good on the first free throw.

Walters had the final chance in front of the Central bench, but there would be no miracle tonight. Bloom’s free throw was the winner, 45-44, sending the Tigers on to face Concord Friday night in the semifinals.

The ending for the Blazers is bitter. Four seniors graduate, Street, Harter, Brouwer and Stahl. An 11-33 record over their junior and senior seasons is painful to endure, especially for a group that visibly cared and hoped  until the final moments tonight. One hopes they know their effort wasn’t in vain. Even the most tragic conclusions cannot erase the sacrifice they made over four years to their team and the fans night in and night out. I, for one, am grateful.

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