Senior staff writer
The three-year Joey Brunk era has ended at Southport; the era of Romeo Langford of New Albany is underway.
Brunk, the 6-10 Indiana Mr. Basketball candidate, scored 22 points in his final game for the No. 9 Cardinals against the No. 1 Bulldogs in Class 4A semifinal game Saturday afternoon at Richmond. Southport lost 82-64 to New Albany and Langford’s 46 points, which left thousands in the Tiernan Center in awe.
Southport battled from behind at the get-go after Langford connected on a long-distance 3-pointer that was just the beginning of the Bulldogs’ run to the upcoming state championship game and the end of a tremendous three-year run for the Cardinals.
Southport produced a three-year record of 60-18 (76.9 percent), two Conference Indiana titles, two consecutive 20-plus win seasons, the first sectional championship in 16 years and the first regional crown and first semistate trip in 26 years.
Brunk was the catalyst, coach Kyle Simpson was the mentor and retired coach Bill Springer, who guided the Cards to the semistate in 1990, was one of their biggest fans.
In the post-game meeting with the media Saturday, Simpson broke down momentarily in his praise of Brunk, who was seated at his left, and junior Paul Scruggs, who scored 19 points, at his right. Brunk will continue his student-athlete career at Butler University.
“I’m really proud of him; he’s a special young man,” Simpson said while patting Brunk on his back. “We’ve been through a lot together; building this program hasn’t been easy. … I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach him, and I know we’re going to see great things from him in Butler blue.”
Brunk even put in a verbal pitch for Langford, already a 6-5 Hoosier Hysteria star, to join him at Butler in three years, although the front-runner could be Louisville as coach Rick Pitino was in the arena Saturday.
Simpson compared Brunk to a combination of Matt Howard and Andrew Smith, the former 6-10 center who succumbed to cancer earlier this year.
“It’s been a heck of a ride,” said Brunk, who is among Southport’s all-time great players. “I wouldn’t trade the past three years at Southport for anything.
“It’s definitely something you don’t want to feel when you are walking off for the last time. You play (as a kid) in the backyard when it’s so cold you can barely hold the ball. You dream about playing in front of crowds. I mean, as far as that goes, it’s a good way to go out.”
Brunk, a second-generation Southport player, winds up as the team’s No. 6 all-time scorer in just three seasons after transferring from Park Tudor.
The Cardinals will graduate Brunk (18.3 points, 8.2 rebounds), defensive ace Eli Walton (6.1 points), Luke Johnston, Evan Higgs, David Reyes and Kyle Williams.
Simpson explained that Southport’s defense pushed Langford farther out from the perimeter but that he continued to hit shots, 8-of-12 from 3-point range and 15-of-24 overall, while pulling nine rebounds.
“He had an outstanding day; he took deep 3s; he was in the zone,” Simpson remarked.
Then Simpson looked at the Cardinals’ path from a 1-19 record in his first season to three consecutive winning seasons and the reawakening of the echoes inside Southport Fieldhouse, which is filled again with thousands of fans for home games.
“Every game we’ve played we were prepared for this moment,” Simpson said. “People will be talking about what we have done on the Southside. It’s been two months since we lost a game. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
Southport expects to return with 6-3 Indiana All-Star candidate Paul Scruggs (19.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists), Blake Evans (6.2 points), 5-9 Harold Bennett (6.2 points), 6-5 Kyle Williams, 6-6 Sergey Slaughter and 6-9 Dut Mabok.