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By Al Stilley
The eulogy for Beech Grove boys’ basketball coach Matt English isn’t over, just not yet. This season’s Hornets added a sectional championship Saturday at Danville to the ongoing honors for their coach with a gritty 48-45 win against Manual. Coach English had never won a sectional championship until now. Coach Mike Renfro, a longtime assistant with English, revealed that he called upon his mentor again Saturday and claimed the program’s first title since 2008.
“I was pacing more than ever today in the lockerroom, and I was talking to him by myself,” Renfro recalled. “I asked him to please help me out a little bit on the sidelines, and I got that help when I needed it.” English’s “presence” kept Renfro calm and focused on the sidelines, especially through the adversity of facing the taller and quicker Redskins from neighboring Manual.
They overcame when senior center Gavin Hess picked up his second foul with 2:41 left in the first quarter and fourth foul late in the fourth quarter. Renfro called upon junior football lineman Josh Fryar to go against Manual’s 6-8 towers Ijazz Abdulmumin and Alabama A&M signee Jalen Johnson. Fryar responded with many valuable minutes.
The Hornets dug deep when trailing 29-21. They surged and closed to 31-30 with Fryar adding a field goal, Jordan Brickley scoring 4 points and Griffin Wade canning a 3. But then, Manual surged to a 36-30 lead to close the quarter, seemingly in command.
Time for the Hornets to overcome again. Renfro called for a fullcourt press in the last quarter. Unexplainable events began happening right away. Manual twice turned the ball over and twice missed the front end of 1-and-1 free throws. Capping an 8-0 run, Hess hit two free throws and scored a layup on a feed from Parker for a lead that the Hornets never relinquished.
With 34 seconds left, a Manual player had a free run for a layup but inexplicably lost control of the ball.
“Coach English was here tonight; I felt it from the beginning,” Angela English, the coach’s widow, said. “This is a hard place to play, but they never let down. To win, you have to keep on fighting.” Angela, appropriately, was the first Hornet to cut down a piece of the net. She also held the title trophy fittingly with Hornets’ seniors Brickley, Hess, Wade, John Parker, and Romeo Echols.
Hess said, “The crowd, the whole community was into the game. Once we got into a run and that adrenaline, we just weren’t going to be stopped… this was really for him (English) and for all of us after everything we’ve gone through.”
The post-game celebration peaked emotionally when former players of coach English gathered with this year’s championship team for a treasured photo on the Danville court. This is Beech Grove’s first sectional title since 2008 and fourth overall.
English died in early December after a courageous battle against brain cancer. He left his players with words to remember: “We B4 me,” “The journey begins here,” and “I’ll ride the wave where it takes me.”
The Hornets continue to live by his words, especially riding that wave. Especially riding that wave to the first game of the Greencastle regional against the host TigerCubs (21-4) at 10 a.m. The winner faces the Crispus Attucks-Owen Valley winner in the title duel at 8 p.m. Manual finished (16-9), having lost previously at Beech Grove in the first game since coach English’s funeral.
“Our kids played hard; I couldn’t have asked any more of them,” Manual coach Donnie Bowling said after the sectional finale. “We wanted to keep our season going. The big goal in general is to get them into college and go on to achieve bigger things.”
The Redskins were led by Caleb Redman with 12 points. Johnson scored 10 points and a gamehigh 12 rebounds. They had nine seniors.
SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS BY AL STILLEY Beech Grove basketball coach Mike Renfro receives a big hug from Angela English, widow of former coach Matt English who died of cancer in December, after the Hornets won the Danville sectional Saturday night. It was the fourth sectional title for the boys’ basketball program.
Beech Grove’s boys’ basketball team celebrates its Danville sectional championship Saturday after defeating Southside rival Manual 48-45 for the program’s first sectional trophy since 2008. Team members are, from left, asst. coach Ronnie Dietz, athletic trainer Carl Palma, asst. coach Jason Hess, coach Mike Renfro and far right, asst. coach Tommy Pich. Athletic director Garret Daniel and asst. coach Tyler Gentry are in the back row. The Hornets are, not in order, Jordan Brickley (3), Isaac Stennett (4), John Parker (5), Josh Copenhaver (10), Vincent Pich (11), Keyonni Johnson (12), Griffin Wade (20), Jujuan Allison (21), Romeo Echols (22), Gavin Mitchell (23), Jadyn Curry (30), Gavin Hess (31) Kaleb Arsenault (32) and Josh Fryar (40).