WHITELAND — In a battle of relative sectional underdogs, a satisfying story was going to be written by either the Franklin Central or New Palestine boys basketball teams Saturday in the Class 4A Sectional 13 championship, no matter how the game turned out.
That the Flashes and Dragons provided non-stop entertainment was a bonus for all on hand. Even the defeated squad found solace in the quality of play.
“I just told them, ‘You were a part of one of the best high school basketball games I’ve ever coached in,’” said New Palestine coach Adam Barton, noting the message to the Dragons following their 68-60 loss. “It was back and forth. Both teams shot the ball well, both teams defended well.
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“People came in and paid $5 or $6 to watch that game; that’s what high school basketball is all about. Both crowds were great, loud. Great atmosphere. It was a fun tournament.”
New Palestine entered the sectional at 11-11, then knocked off Center Grove in the quarterfinal and Greenwood in the semifinal. Franklin Central posted the second-worst regular season of the Sectional 13 units, at just 5-15. One of its losses was to sectional-title foe New Palestine, 73-57 on Dec. 20.
Franklin Central junior Marcus Burk scored 18 points in the pre-Christmas contest against New Palestine, and he had 20 points Saturday — in the first half.
The Flashes (8-15), who advanced to the Seymour Regional semifinal to face Bloomington South (21-2), needed every bit of Burk’s outburst to keep up with the on-fire Dragons.
Behind six first-quarter 3-pointers, plus three throws from Ryan Curry following a Franklin Central foul on a trey attempt, New Palestine (13-12) took its largest lead of the game at 23-12 early in the second quarter.
Burk, a strong 6-foot-4 guard attracting college interest, responded by personally outscoring the Dragons 12-9 the remainder of the first half. Along with Grant Pedigo’s eight second-quarter points, Franklin Central pulled even at halftime, 32-32.
“Before the game, I said (to Franklin Central coach John Rockey), ‘Tell me what’s different offensively with you guys,’” Barton said. “And he just talked about how much, early in the season, they were forcing shots and they weren’t really playing together. What Burk didn’t do against us that first night is what he did against us tonight.”
In one of several counterpunches between the combatants, the Dragons opened the third quarter on a 9-4 run, fueled by, naturally, 3-pointers from Cody Long and Alec Cook, plus New Palestine’s only 2-point field goal of the game. Kevin Riley sank a turnaround 8-footer and was fouled on the play.
The New Palestine senior’s conversion helped put New Palestine back in control at 41-36.
The Dragons also had Burk under wraps at that point. He notched only two points in the second half, but his teammates took advantage of wide open spaces.
While Burk and Pedigo scored all but four of the Flashes’ first-half points, seven different players marked the scoring column in the second half.
Guard Anthony Cerbone and center Matthew Anderson were part of a Franklin Central 11-3 rally to end the third quarter, and the Flashes were in front 47-44 with eight minutes remaining.
“What we had to do (on Burk) was just go completely out of the rotation on him, which means that the floor is spaced more, so we can’t help in the post,” Barton explained. “The other guy that hurt us, Pedigo, just does a really nice job of slipping in the lane, and they spaced us out pretty well. They put (Cerbone) in there, and he can hit shots.
“So, their outside shooting was good enough to make us space the floor, and then that gave them an even better size advantage inside.”
While the Flashes found their way inside, and to the free-throw line, New Palestine kept launching from beyond the arc. Franklin Central grabbed leads of 51-44 and 58-54 in the fourth quarter, only to watch the Dragons’ shoot their way to within 51-50 and 58-57, respectively.
“It seemed like every time they went to the free-throw line we were just begging them to miss one, and … we just couldn’t get over the hump at the end,” Barton said. “It seemed like they got a layup or a free throw every time we hit a big 3.”
For the Dragons, there was no overcoming the Flashes’ superior muscle.
They pounded their way to a 29-18 rebounding edge, often drawing a foul in the process of pulling down a rebound or putting a shot back up.
Franklin Central, which made only four 3-pointers compared to the Dragons’ 15, went 15 of 18 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“They were physically stronger in three of the five spots most of the time,” Barton said. “So, when there’s contact, we flail and they can stand straight up, they get the advantage of the call there. And I think strength was a big part of that.”
Curry led the Dragons with 20 points. Riley and Cook had 12 points each, and Long added 11. They totaled 14 3-pointers, with Duke Blackwell draining the team’s other 3-pointer. New Palestine went 13 of 14 from the free-throw line, while the Flashes went 24 of 27.
“We were relegated to stay on the perimeter and shoot, which wasn’t a big deal tonight because we were hitting shots out on the perimeter,” Barton said. “That was kind of exciting. I didn’t realize we only had one 2-point field goal the entire game. That’s kind of crazy. But, we shot the free throws really well. They shot them at a double of a rate than us, which is kind of frustrating.”
Pedigo finished with 14 points for the Flashes. Jimmy Weinke had 10 points on a 10-of-10 effort from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
Cerbone and Anderson had nine points each, and Anderson recorded team-highs with seven rebounds and four assists. Weinke added six rebounds. Burk and Weinke, juniors, and Pedigo, a sophomore, should give the Flashes a solid base to make another postseason run next season.
New Palestine will lose Curry, Riley and Cook to graduation, along with Taylor Hiland and Ben Farley. Among the eligible returnees are current juniors Long, Blackwell, Caleb VanderWal, Logan Duffy, John McKay and Jaret Rightley.
Notes: Curry finished with 1,106 career points, trailing only Tom Giles (1,285) and Kent Raymond (1,134) on the program’s all-time scoring list. … Riley led the Dragons with five rebounds. Blackwell dished a game-high five assists. … Franklin Central lost to regional opponent Bloomington South in the regular season, 86-65, on Jan. 24. In the other Seymour Regional semifinal this Saturday, New Albany (23-2) will take on Evansville Central (14-7) or Evansville Reitz (25-1). Those teams were scheduled to face off Monday evening in the Sectional 16 championship.
Boys basketball regional semifinals, Saturday.
South Bend Riley (10-14) vs. Northridge (14-9)
Munster (18-9) vs. Crown Point (18-8)
Carroll (Fort Wayne) (23-3) vs. Homestead (24-2) or Jay County (18-6)
McCutcheon (22-4) vs. Carmel (22-2)
Pike (18-8) vs. Richmond (24-3)
Brownsburg (20-6) vs. Lawrence North (19-5)
Franklin Central (8-15) vs. Bloomington South (21-2)
New Albany (23-2) vs. Evansville Central (14-7) or Evansville Reitz (25-1)
South Bend St. Joseph (18-6) vs. Andrean (14-10)
Twin Lakes (18-8) vs. Gary Roosevelt (16-5) or Griffith (15-3)
Fort Wayne Dwenger (12-13) vs. Hamilton Heights (19-7)
Columbia City (19-7) vs. NorthWood (22-2)
Guerin Catholic (18-8) vs. Lebanon (9-15)
West Vigo (14-12) vs. Tri-West (20-4)
Evansville Bosse (10-13) or Evansville Memorial (16-6) vs. Corydon Central (17-7) or Silver Creek (22-2)
Greensburg (21-3) vs. Vincennes Lincoln (18-6) or Washington (17-7)
Churubusco (22-3) or Fort Wayne Canterbury (13-10) vs. Hammond Noll [11-13]
LaVille (20-6) vs. Winamac (20-4)
Frankton (23-2) vs. Fountain Central (20-8)
Oak Hill (18-6) vs. Madison-Grant (14-9)
Park Tudor (22-2) vs. Northeastern (22-3)
Cloverdale (22-5) vs. Indianapolis Attucks (18-5)
Evansville Mater Dei (19-6) vs. Linton-Stockton (20-6)
South Ripley (16-8) vs. Eastern (Pekin) (15-10)
Marquette Catholic (21-6) vs. Fort Wayne Blackhawk (20-6)
Oregon-Davis (11-13) vs. Tri-County (20-5)
Liberty Christian (23-3) vs. Seton Catholic (18-6)
Attica (12-11) or Lafayette Central Catholic (14-9) vs. Rossville (11-15)
Indianapolis Tindley (17-10) vs. Clay City (22-4)
Jac-Cen-Del (18-8) vs. Indianapolis Lutheran (9-15)
Christian Academy (21-4) vs. Barr-Reeve (22-2) or Vincennes Rivet (13-12)
Orleans (21-3) vs. Wood Memorial (17-9)