Posted: Tuesday, February 2, 2016 6:00 am
By AARON KENNEDY – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rossville boys’ basketball team captured its first Hoosier Heartland Conference championship since 2014 with a 73-63 win over the Tri-County Cavaliers in the title game Saturday. The Hornets took the top spot in the inaugural HHC Championship Tournament at Clinton Prairie High School.
Rossville came out firing from deep. Junior forward Jarred Warren scored the first points of the game with a 3-pointer 40 seconds into the contest. And when Ben Cook answered with a 3 for the Cavaliers to give the game its only tie, Warren made another shot from beyond the arc to put the Hornets up for good.
Warren was key in getting the Hornets off to a quick start, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the first quarter. By the final minute of the first half, Rossville had built a 10-point lead, and the Hornets began the second half with a 9-0 run. The spurt pushed the lead to 20 points with five minutes and 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
Nobody on the Rossville bench felt real comfortable with the big lead though.
“The official went by when we were up 14 in the second half, and I said ‘Why do I feel so nervous? I am more nervous now than if we were down five or six,’” Rossville head coach Cory Dunn said. “He kind of laughed and said ‘Then sit down.’”
Coach Dunn was right to be nervous. The Cavaliers trimmed the 20-point deficit to seven points with a 14-1 run. Tri-County continued to pull itself back into the game, and a Ben Cook 3-pointer cut the Hornets’ lead to 53-52 with 5:11 left in the fourth quarter.
“They did it this morning too,” Dunn said. “They came back from down 16 or 17 to Clinton Prairie (earlier that day). We were 43-23 and then, all the sudden, it was 44-37. We just didn’t take care of the ball at times. That was a huge Achilles’ heel for us.”
Rossville junior forward Blake Miller was not surprised by the Tri-County comeback.
“The first time we played them, they did the same exact thing,” he said “We knew they had another big run in them because they are a good pressing team, and we don’t handle the press very well sometimes.”
Cook’s 3-pointer had the Cavaliers one possession away from taking their first lead and brought their fans to their feet. With Tri-County holding all of the momentum, Rossville senior guard Enrique Rangel nailed a big 3-pointer to stop what had been a 9-1 run for the Cavaliers.
“The thing about him is he takes it personal,” Dunn said of Rangel. “If you score on us with a big shot, he is almost like ‘Heck with you. I am hitting a big one on this end.’ Sometimes that can hurt you, but sometimes it can help you too. Tonight, it helped us.”
Still threatening with plenty of time left, Tri-County twice cut the Hornets’ lead to two points before another Rangel 3-pointer sparked the decisive seven-point Hornets’ run that ultimately secured the win.
“I knew it, too,” Rangel said. “Whenever I follow through my shot like that, I know it’s going in.”
Dunn was relieved to see his Hornets weather the Cavaliers’ comeback bid.
“We stated taking care of the ball,” he said. “They were bringing so much pressure that they were tired. I told (my team) we can’t fall back into their traps. We have to attack, and I felt we did a good job of that. Then they had to foul, and we made our free throws down the stretch.”
The second-year head coach of the Hornets believed that his team’s defense in the first half made the difference.
“I thought our start was kind of a carryover from this morning’s game,” Dunn said. “Defensively, we were really solid this morning. I felt we did the same thing. We were getting stops and then scores on our end. How we got that lead was a carryover from that first game.”
“I think we have to D-up, because defense wins championships,” he said. “I don’t really mind offense. I would rather have a good defensive team than a good offensive team. That’s all that really matters.”
Rangel made four 3s and finished with a game-high 24 points, followed closely by Miller’s 22 and seven rebounds.
“He is fearless,” Dunn said of Miller. “He is long and wiry, but he is not afraid of anything. He will go toe-to-toe with anybody, and all the guys will. Blake has a knack for getting to the hole and hitting his shots. He plays well.”
Christian Howard made a pair of big baskets to keep the Cavaliers down and finished with eight points, six rebounds and three steals, while Grant Mohler scored three, and point guard Matt Homco added two points and six assists.
Ben Cook scored 19 points for the Cavaliers, and Nate Patton finished with 18.
Saturday was a good day to be a Hornet.
“The Hornet Nation swept today,” Dunn said. “Sixth, seventh and eighth (grades) all won championships today, and we won one tonight.”
HORNETS 73, CAVALIERS 63
Patton 7 4-6 18, Be. Cook 7 2-3 19, Schneider 3 2-2 9, Justice 3 0-0 8, Patterson 3 1-4 7, Br. Cook 1 0-0 2. Totals – 24 9-15 63.
Howard 4 0-0 8, Warren 5 2-2 14, Miller 7 5-6 22, Rangel 8 4-4 24, Homco 1 0-0 2, Mohler 1 1-2 3. Totals – 26 12-14 73.
Tri-County 12 11 20 20 — 63
Rossville 17 17 16 23 — 73
3-Point Goals – Tri-County 6 (Be. Cook 3, Justice 2, Schneider 1), Rossville 9 (Rangel 4, Miller 3, Warren 2). Fouled out – none. Total fouls – Tri-County 14, Rossville 12.