NEW CASTLE — Playing in the largest high school gymnasium ever constructed, Greenfield-Central nearly rewrote the history books Friday night. (Or at least the section on Indiana high school basketball).
Fighting its own sectional demons and going up against the Hoosier hoops heavyweight that is the New Castle Trojans, the Cougars gave the hosts all they could handle before falling 63-49 in the 4A Sectional 9 semifinals at New Castle Fieldhouse.
The Trojans (13-9) will take on Pendleton Heights (14-9) today at 7:30 p.m., hoping to claim the school’s 58th sectional title.
The Arabians knocked off Richmond 66-54 in Friday’s first semifinal.
Playing with the confidence of a team that had won three of its final four regular season games and unaware that it had not won a postseason game in nearly 11 years, G-C (5-16) stunned New Castle at the start, jumping out to a 9-3 advantage behind the play of post Griffin Lowe.
Then, after falling behind 23-17 at half and 43-27 after three quarters, the Cougars inched as close as seven points midway through the fourth before the Trojans put the game away at the free-throw line.
“We really thought we were going to get it tonight. I’m proud of the guys and how they fought,” said G-C coach Josh Johnson. “They never gave up. We didn’t hit a couple of shots that we needed to fall and they hit a couple huge ones.”
In the teams’ first matchup on Nov. 30, which also took place in New Castle’s 9,325-seat arena, the Trojans led 24-16 at half before pulling away in the final two frames, winning by the same 14-point margin at 55-41.
“The weird part was it was almost like a mirror image of the last time we played them,” noted Johnson, now 22-62 during his time in Greenfield.
The game could not have begun any better for the blue and gold.
Early on, the 6-4 Lowe was the home team’s Trojan horse.
The sophomore hit a turnaround jumper over Kyle Goolsby, his 6-6 counterpart in the paint, for the game’s first points.
After a triple by the Trojans’ Korey Ryan, Lowe was fouled and hit both freebies at the charity stripe.
Lowe then played a two-man game with Zach Batton on the next possession, and wound up hitting a layup over Goolsby in the lane.
Batton then found his older brother, Zach, for a trey the next time down the floor, and G-C led 9-3.
The score was tied at 13 after the first eight minutes, but the Trojans slowly seized control over the next two stanzas, mostly due in part to the hot shooting of Ryan, who tallied 20 points in the first three frames.
Down 16 to begin the fourth, Greenfield-Central embarked on a 16-7 run, seven of which came from senior guard Derek Conley, who entered averaging 21.6 points in his last five games.
After Geordan Stump hit a 3 in front of the G-C bench — the sophomore had checked in for the first time seconds earlier — Johnson called for timeout with four minutes and 37 seconds left in regulation.
Though his team was now within seven at 50-43, Johnson knew the Cougars still had an uphill climb in order to claim their first sectional victory since a 72-41 triumph over Beech Grove on March 7, 2002.
“The thing at that time is you almost wish you were playing another team,” Johnson said of New Castle’s guard-heavy style. “These guys can control he ball so well, and they can shoot free throws so well.”
The Trojans did just that in the final eight minutes, sinking 11-of-13 free throws. They also fired precision chest passes over and around G-C’s half-court trap, leading to back-breaking corner 3s and uncontested lay-ins.
“They control it so well, and that makes it hard because they spread the floor and they could see over the top of us,” Johnson noted. “They were skip-passing on a rope, so it made it hard for us to trap them or turn it over.
“You hope for a tipped ball — I think we had two tipped balls and they came up with them.”
Ryan finished with a game-best 30, two off his season-high. Steven Bennett and Abe Haler had 15 points apiece for the Trojans, who last won a sectional crown in 2008.
Conley scored 17 points to pace G-C, his sixth straight contest in double figures. Lowe registered a career-best 14 points. Zach Batton posted a game-high six assists.
“We saw a lot of good things. I’m proud of the guys for how much they’ve improved this year,” Johnson explained. “We lose at the beginning of the year, and it’s totally different now with the way we’re playing and doing things.”
The Cougars upped their win total by two from the 2011-12 campaign, and by next winter they will be two years removed from a mass exodus that forced Johnson to play mostly freshmen and sophomores the past two seasons. Tyler Batton, Jordan Keener, Mason Irbe — limited to four games because of a foot injury — and Conley were the program’s lone fourth-years.
“We said we were going to change the culture and so forth,” Johnson said. “…To change a whole new program usually takes five, six years.”
Johnson also addressed criticism that has come from those who would like to see a change in G-C’s coaching ranks.
“You’ve got to let it go in one ear and out the other. We’re going to do what’s right for the kids and to make the program better, and that’s the direction it’s headed,” he offered. “I’m proud of where it’s headed and where it’s going.”
“…I think the program has come a long way. It’s getting there and we always said that it would be a few years to change it.”
Notes: New Castle has beaten G-C nine straight times. … The Trojans (19-of-37, 51 percent) and Cougars (18-of-37, 48 percent) recorded similar field-goal shooting percentages. … Pendleton Heights topped New Castle 61-60 on Feb. 12. … G-C’s last sectional championship was in 1998. … The Cougars had 10 turnovers; the Trojans tallied seven.
4A Sectional 9 at New Castle
Pendleton Heights 66, Richmond 54
New Castle 63, Greenfield-Central 49
GC — 7-13 1-3 17, Hall 2-5 2-2 6, Lowe 5-8 4-4 14, Z. Batton 1-3 0-0 2, T. Batton 1-3 0-0 3, Oleksy 1-2 2-2 4, Keener 0-2 0-0 0, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0, Stump 1-1 0-0 3, Pribble 0-0 0-0 0, Gellert 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 18-37 9-11 49.
NC — Ryan 9-13 7-9 30, Bennett 6-13 0-0 15, Goolsby 0-0 2-2 2, Haler 4-9 4-4 15, Bumbalough 0-1 1-2 1, Sorrell 0-1 0-0 0. Totals — 19-37 14-17 63.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
GC (5-16) 13 4 10 22 — 49
NC (13-9) 13 10 20 20 — 63
Three-pt. field goals: GC 4-13 (Conley 2-5, Hall 0-3, T. Batton 1-2, Keener 0-2, Stump 1-2). NC 11-23 (Ryan 5-7, Bennett 3-7, Haler 3-8, Bumbalough 0-1).
Rebounds: GC 10 (Conley 2, Hall 2, Lowe 2, Z. Batton 1, T. Batton 1, Oleksy 1, Wolfe 1), NC 14 (Ryan 2, Bennett 4, Goolsby 5, Haler 2, Sorrell 1). Assists: GC 8 (Hall 1, Z. Batton 6, T. Batton 1), NC 11 (Ryan 4, Bennett 1, Haler 1, Bumbalough 5). Steals: GC 3 (Conley 1, Z. Batton 1, T. Batton 1), NC 5 (Goolsby 1, Haler 4). Blocks: GC 0, NC 2 (Goolsby 2). Total fouls: GC 17, NC 13. Fouled out: Goolsby (NC). Turnovers: GC 10, NC 7.