Fittingly, it was a defensive play that made the difference in Saturday’s championship game of the Class 3A sectional tournament at Christel House Manual.
With time running out, a Cardinal Ritter player lobbed a desperation pass to the top of the key for one last scoring opportunity.
Beech Grove senior Jaleel Edwards outjumped a Ritter player to gain possession. As he touched down, the clock ran out.
Beech Grove 51, Ritter 50.
The Hornets not only defended their sectional title, they kept alive their hopes for a repeat state championship.
Beech Grove, 16-6, will play Indian Creek, 14-8, for the regional championship at 4 p.m. March 11 at Lebanon.
Getting there was anything but easy.
The Hornets had to rally from a 10-point deficit in the second quarter. After a rousing third quarter, they had to battle basket for basket in a frenetic fourth quarter that was exciting as it was close.
“We knew this would be a tougher game,” BG coach Joe Rihm said. “Ritter is very athletic.” The Hornets beat the Raiders by 16 points in early February.
The Raiders, who scored 15 straight points for a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, were ahead 26-18 at intermission.
“At the half, we said we need to sit down, play defense,” Rihm said. “That’s what we needed to do. Keep on the attack, get that sectional win. They all came together at the right time.”
They did indeed, outscoring the Raiders 20-5 to lead 38-31. Senior Jeremiah Alexander capped the rally by swishing a 30-foot buzzer-beater.
“It was knowing the time situation and knowing I had big space,” he said. “The shot clock was going, so I shot it. It felt good as it left my hands.”
Then Ritter rallied, and the fourth quarter saw fans from both sides cheering as their teams traded baskets. It didn’t hurt the Hornets that their student body was camped out behind the BG basket, cheering loudly and offering chest bumps to the Hornets after each basket.
Alexander, who scored eight second-half points, provided what proved to be the winning points when he sank two free throws with 53 seconds to play.
Ritter worked the ball around as time wound down, but couldn’t get anybody open. Raiders coach Derrick Williams called timeout with three seconds remaining. In trying to inbound the ball, the frustrated passer bounced the ball off Brown’s leg and out of bounds: 1.9 left.
The same passer then lobbed the ball to the top of the key, where Edwards made the deciding interception and the Beech Grove crowd erupted.
Beech Grove benefited from a balanced attack, with senior Jeremiah Tate scoring 11 and Edwards, Alexander and Skyler Thacker scoring 10 each.
Thacker provided much of the impetus, repeatedly driving the lane for baskets.
“Skyler Thacker was on the attack,” Rihm said. “He was going strong.”
Thacker, who scored all his points in the second half, said he was doing what was needed.
“We needed to play defense, and attack the basket more,” said the 5-11 senior. “I knew I had to come off the bench and provide a spark. I just had to keep attacking.”
The Hornets also seemed to play better when 6-6 senior forward Cam Brown ignored a gimpy ankle to do his share, helping direct traffic. After not entering the game until late in the second quarter, Brown was in and out, then mostly in, the rest of the way, finishing with five points.
“I was trying to lead from the bench, but when we were down 17-7, I had to get in,” he said. “We’ve got to keep everything together and keep attacking the rim.”
Of Brown, Rihm said, “I think having him out there relaxes the boys. He said he was good to go, so we will roll with him.”
Adrian Holland finished with four points and senior Rylan Horen, who split time with senior Logan Muffler, added a free throw.
After team pictures and the cutting down of the nets, Thacker offered a smile and said, “It was a really good day.”