Wednesday was my first ever Indiana high school sectional game as a reporter. While the environment may not be like the sectionals of old, which pitted schools that were all neighbors against each other, the game sure lived up to all that a sectional is supposed to be.
First, a note about sectionals in Indiana. Sectionals are the first phase of the state basketball tournament. Five to eight schools are grouped into sectionals and two weeks before the season ends, a blind draw is held to determine who plays who. This is part of the beauty and annoyance of the sectional system. There is no seeding based on record: the two best teams in a sectional can draw each other and play an opening round game, while a team with the worst record in the sectional can get a bye.
Which is what happened in my game.
The hosts were IC high school, a team I’ve covered several times. They feature the best player in the county,* have a nice balance of size and quickness, are well-coached, and had lost only two games all season, one at the buzzer. They were ranked #7 in 2A going into sectionals.
(I’ve mentioned her before. I described her as a white, female, rural Allen Iverson. Imagine my glee, then, when I read a feature we published about her earlier this week in which she said her favorite NBA player was Iverson. If she wasn’t already going to a D2 school on a scholarship, I would have offered to pay for a semester of her tuition after hearing that. I literally can’t tell you how awesome this news was to me.)
Their opponent, HC high school, is a private school that isn’t too far from my house. They’ve struggled a bit this year, entering the game at 11-9, but their record is deceptive. They’ve won four straight state championships and schedule up, playing many 3A and 4A schools, mostly the best large class teams in the Indy area. Despite sending players to UConn and Notre Dame in recent years, they’re still quite good. They have height, can shoot, and run a fantastic offense.*
(If I’ve learned nothing else from watching so much high school ball in recent years, it’s that to coach you pretty much just yell “MOVE!” “CUT!” and “CUT HARD!” at your players for 32 minutes. It’s rare that a team runs an offense full of fluid movement and quick passing.)
So that’s the set-up. HC jumped out to a six point lead early, then IC crept back into it. HC went up seven in the second quarter, then IC cut it to one at the half. IC’s best player was struggling, but a freshman forward scored 13 points in the half.
In the third quarter, HC again moved ahead by six. IC then went on a 10-0 run. They took the lead when Little AI grabbed a rebound, raced coast-to-coast, head faked, spun, and dropped the ball off the backboard while getting fouled. She hit the free throw and they were up two.
The next 12 minutes were fantastic. One team would take a lead, the other would fight back. In the last 90 seconds, the there were six lead changes or ties. Girls were hitting clutch free throws and tough shots on every possession.
Finally, the freshman who had played so well for IC hit a tough shot in the lane with seven seconds left to tie the game at 57. On the inbounds pass, HC nearly threw it away, and in the scramble IC was called for a foul. The HC player hit the first free throw. 58-57. She missed the second badly and the IC freshman grabbed the rebound.
She raced upcourt. When she got to the lane, four of the defenders left her to find Little AI, who was floating to the three point line. The freshman kept driving towards the hoop, jumped, and unleashed a five footer.
The one defender back was HC’s 6’2” center. She got a finger on the ball and knocked it away as the buzzer sounded.
Bummer for IC. But a hell of a game. Best game I’ve seen this year, by far. It was well played on both sides. HC seemed to have control after halftime but Little AI picked her team up and they played their collective asses off. The freshman scored 18. Little AI had 17, 10 below her average. Their junior center, who tends to play passive, grabbed 14 rebounds and scored nine big second half points.
For selfish reasons, I wanted IC to win. That meant maybe doing another of their games on Saturday. It would have been a great story, writing about them taking down the four-time defending champs. And it’s always more fun to write about the winning team than the one whose season just ended.
But I had to admire how the entire team played. It was one of the few times I wish I could write an old school account of the game, in which the story was as much about my enjoyment of the game and admiration for the players than the game itself.
Fortunately, I have a blog and can do that here.