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By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Maturity and newfound aggressiveness on the court fueled Center Grove’s boys basketball team to its first sectional title since 2011.
The Trojans edged 4A Sectional host Franklin Central 57-54 to earn a trip to the Seymour Regional, where they will face defending 4A state champion and No. 1 New Albany at 10 a.m. and one of the state’s top players in 6-5 junior Romeo Langford. The winner meets the No. 5 Castle (22-3)-No. 15 Bloomington South (22-4) winner in the championship at 8 p.m.
“They (New Albany) are a great team,” said third-year Center Grove coach Zach Hahn. “I’m just focusing on our team and how we can play better. We’ll put together a game plan. We’re battle-tested and we’ll be ready.”
Center Grove brought Franklin Central’s four-year sectional reign to an end.
Travis Roehling, the Trojans’ only senior starter, fittingly scored the winning points with a successful drive to the goal and an ensuing free throw with 5.4 seconds left. Roehling scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
“It was a set play,” Roehling said while holding the championship trophy. “I just had the feeling that the coaches were going to give me the ball. … This means everything, especially to seniors.”
The Flashes had one last attempt to send the game into overtime but a desperation shot hit the rim and bounced off.
“Travis made a great play,” Hahn said. “It was one of our go-to plays. You have to execute, but there’s a lot that can break down in that situation. This was an unbelievable experience for him, a special moment.’
Sophomore Spencer Piercefield led the Trojans with 20 points, including 11 in the third quarter. Junior Nate McLain came off the bench for eight points and helped Piercefield guard FC’s leading scorer, Grant Pedigo, who had a game-high 22 points. Trayce Jackson-Davis, a 6-7 sophomore, scored only six points but defensively altered the Flashes’ shots near the rim and pulled down several key rebounds.
“We made plays at the end, and that was the difference,” Hahn said. “Our guys raised our level of awareness in the fourth quarter.”
This one boiled down to the final three minutes in a tense game that had been tied nine times. McLain and Piercefield pushed the Trojans to a 54-50 lead, but Pedigo and Mason Hardimn knotted it 54 with less than a minute left.
The Trojans held the ball until working it to Roehling, who capped his senior year by giving Center Grove its second sectional championship in 25 years.
“We’ve grown so much as a team,” Hahn said. “They have matured, and they have become the aggressive team. We were the aggressors against Whiteland (Friday) and stuck together in this one with all its four-point swings.”
Hahn praised the fans’ support and said the noise they made Saturday made it feel like more of a neutral court game.
The Trojans are 17-7, winning six of their last seven games. They reached the championship game by defeating Whiteland 56-39 after losing twice to the Warriors this season.
Franklin Central winds up 12-13 although four losses were forfeits due to playing an ineligible player. The Flashes defeated Greenwood 60-46 and Franklin 57-45 to reach their fifth straight sectional title game. The Flashes graduate seven seniors: Pedigo, Hardimon, Jake Cerbone, Marquel Harper, Wilson Huber, Adam Green and Jaylon Howard.
“We increased our depth during the season,” FC coach John Rockey said. “Our last few games our bench really helped us and everyone played with confidence. We knew this would be a close game and a fun game to watch.”
Greenwood (11-13) bowed out on opening night as coach Bruce Hensley ended his 28-year coaching career with a 264-350 record.
Decatur Central Sectional
Roncalli reached the 4A Decatur Central Sectional title game but fell to No. 7 Ben Davis 58-40 Saturday. The Rebels played without leading scorer Christian Stewart, out since midseason with an ankle injury, and leading rebounder 6-10 Collin Sonderman, foot injury.
The Rebels (17-9) trailed 23-16 at the half against the Mark James-coached Giants. Kellen Schreiber scored 17 points for the Rebels.
Roncalli emerged from an all-Southside lower bracket by edging Perry Meridian 49-46 and Southport 62-42.