GREENFIELD — Greenfield-Central wasn’t complaining. After receiving one of the more difficult roads to the Sectional 9 title game, the Cougars simply went to work — and believed.
Using a 17-point swing, Greenfield-Central avenged an earlier loss in the season to Pendleton Heights with a 64-57 win over the Arabians on Tuesday in double overtime.
The Cougars were making championship plays. The defense worked together as one. And offensively, Greenfield-Central was highly unselfish.
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“It was as close to a full game of us competing and valuing each and every possession (as I’ve seen this season),” said Cougars head coach Michael Lewis, who currently sits at 99 career wins. “It was crucial to the outcome.
“We had multiple kids step up on different possessions. In a sectional game, that matters.”
If Greenfield-Central (12-12) wants a shot at the sectional championship, though, it must get past host New Castle (16-6), which received an opening-round bye. Connersville (24-1) and Richmond (2-22) will play in the first semifinal contest at 6 p.m. Friday.
The Trojans beat the Cougars 53-37 at home on Jan. 13 and feature a lineup more dynamic than that of Pendleton Heights.
“(New Castle) stepped up and hit shots,” Greenfield-Central senior guard Drey Jameson said of the team’s first meeting. “We didn’t really have anyone step up and hit any shots on our end of the floor. Also, we didn’t rebound the basketball as we are everyday in practice.”
New Castle is also as balanced as a team Greenfield-Central has seen this season with its three leading scorers netting between 13.2 and 14.4 points per game. The other two starters average over 9.6 ppg.
Sophomore forward Mason Gillis has been a double-double machine and averages 14.4 ppg and 10.2 rebounds per game to lead the Trojans. His classmate, guard Luke Bumbalough, scores 13.3 ppg and dishes out 4.0 assists, while senior shooter David Froedge chips in 13.2 ppg.
Senior big Titen Bennett and junior wing Niah Williamson also have large roles on the team.
New Castle, which finished third in the HHC, began its season winning 10 of 11 games. The Trojans lost to Connersville by one point in overtime and were defeated by Pendleton Heights by three at home.
“Not only are they athletic, but they will speed you up,” Lewis said. “(New Castle) does try to force the tempo at times and makes you go up and down. Pendleton Heights was more disciplined with man-to-man (defense) in the half court. It will be a very difficult matchup.”
Although Greenfield-Central’s performance against Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Arabians wasn’t perfect Tuesday, the Cougars proved they have enough resolve to fight off a run. Pendleton Heights outscored Greenfield-Central 18-8 in the third quarter. The Cougars have now played in five overtime periods this season.
“It shows the growth of our ball club from the beginning of the year,” Lewis said. “Confidence comes from demonstrated ability. The other night we demonstrated we can handle adversity.”
Senior guard Josh Mundell poured in a career-high 24 points for the Cougars, but no one on the team forced a bad shot. With junior leading scorer Will O’Connor (10 points) under constant pressure from the Arabians defense, Greenfield-Central received contributions across the board.
Jameson finished with 14 points, while freshman Logan Graddy added nine. Senior guard John Davis was on, too, and made a key three in the fourth quarter — in addition to being sharp defensively.
The same type of selfless efforts will be needed on Friday.
“We all are very competitive and want to keep our culture changing like the seniors started last year,” Jameson said. “We are not going to back down from any challenge, and we will just keep grinding.
“Coach Lewis has turned this basketball program around these past three years, and I think he deserves his 100th win on Friday. We are going to go out and give it our all and hopefully be playing in the sectional championship Saturday night.”
Connersville is favored to win the first contest Friday, but Richmond, despite a lopsided losing record, has played in several close games this season. Towards the end of their season, the Red Devils lost to Logansport (23-1), 59-50.