The Rams had a busy last week as they traveled to Tell City to compete in the Sectional tournament. The week ended with the team bringing home a Sectional title for the second year in a row.
The team started with the first game of Sectional on Tuesday, March 1, against the Crawford County Wolfpack and came out with a win 42-36. In the second game the team faced Tell City on their homecourt on Friday, March 4, to see who advanced to the Championship game. The Rams then pulled off a win against the Marksmen, 60-51. Finally the Rams finished off the Eastern Pekin Musketeers on Saturday with a well-earned win in overtime, 68-61.
Head Coach Dusty Cole stressed that getting the series started off strong was key to the week’s success.
“We knew it was important to get off to a good start. Any time you are trying to beat a team for the second time, it is important to get off to a good start and not let them dictate the tempo and gain confidence. We did a nice job early of attacking their zone and sprinkling in some timely three-point shots,” said Cole. “Fletcher [Cole] did a great job of finding some space versus their 3-2 zone and hit three three-point shots in the first half. We also attacked the rim well early and didn’t settle for poor shots.”
Cole praised his defense for their wonderful performance.
“Crawford County decided they were going to pack it in on defense in the third quarter and it threw us off for a few minutes. We didn’t shoot the ball well and we also turned the ball over a few times. This allowed them to make a little run,” said Cole, “In the end, we were able to hit a few free throws to close the game out and hold on for a big win on the opening night. Our team defense was outstanding and we held Crawford County to 36 total points. We used two to three different guys on Keith Brooks, their 6’5” standout center player. We held him personally to four field goals and only eight total points. It was a tremendous defensive effort by our guys.”
The three leading scorers for the Rams against Crawford were Fletcher Cole with 14 points, sophomore Trey Rominger with 12 points and senior John Moon with nine points.
Cole and his players went into the game against Tell City with a plan as they geared up for what was to come against the Marksmen.
“Tell City was determined to not let Fletcher beat them and they started the game out in a ‘box-and-one’ and ‘diamond-and-one’ defense to slow him down and limit his touches. They also played some ‘triangle-and-two’ defense in the first half as well to slow down Trey. Luckily, we had prepared for this a little bit beforehand and our guys not only knew how to attack it, but we also had some guys really step up and knock down shots,” said Cole.
Coach Cole complimented many of his players for their outstanding efforts against Tell City.
“Andrew Kumpf was huge for us in the first half scoring eight points including a big three-point shot. We also got great play from a lot of other guys, most notably John Moon. John is the most experienced player on our roster and he has been playing really well the last few weeks. He ended the contest with a game high 17 points to go along with a bunch of rebounds as well. Bladen [Patton] and Isaac [Cornett-McBride] also had a couple of field goals in the first half to build our lead to 30-18 at intermission,” said Cole.
Cole was happily surprised that some players were ready to come off of the bench and make a difference.
“We got great play from a lot of our guys. With the extra attention they showed our guards, it was really important for our bigs to step up and play like they are capable. We were comfortable letting those guys go one-on one and make plays for us. John, Andrew, and Isaac all did a great job on the offensive end,” said Cole, “Caleb Jones came into the ballgame in the first half and gave us 4-5 really big minutes. When Caleb came in, we utilized a 1-3-1 half-court trap and that was the point in the game we really went on a good run and extended our lead. Caleb is long and active and he can really disrupt the other team’s offensive flow at times. It was a turning point in the game as we were able to outscore Tell City 18-7 in the second quarter.”
The three leading scorers for the Rams against the Marksmen were Moon with 17 points, Rominger with 14 points, and Fletcher Cole with ten points.
The Rams finished the run with a Sectional Championship win against Eastern Pekin, an exciting experience for the players, coaches and their fans.
“This was one of the best games I have ever been part of. The atmosphere was great, our crowd was great, our kids were great,” said Cole.
Cole acknowledged the boys’ energy as they played their third game of the week.
“At one point, we were down 15-16 points in the second half and our guys refused to give up and refused to lose. This was our third trip to Tell City for the week and the third game that required maximum effort and energy. Somehow, our guys found another gear late in that game and were able to outplay, out scrap, and out-execute a really good Eastern Pekin basketball team,” said Cole.
It was only six weeks ago that the Rams lost to Pekin in the regular season by 17 points and that game was fresh in the team’s memory.
“Pekin is led by Cade Jones, a big-time scorer that is one of the better players in our area. They also have 6’9” center Jacob Cherry, along with a nice supporting cast around those guys,” said Cole, “Our leading scorers on the year are Fletcher and Trey. Both of those guys struggled against them in January and they had six points combined between them. Early on, things were looking rough again and we were struggling to score.”
Despite the tough start to the Championship game, Cole makes note of the changes he made during the fourth quarter.
“We made a few adjustments and got things turned around in the second half. We were able to speed Pekin up and gain momentum. We started to post Trey up inside for a couple of scores and then Fletcher literally took the game over in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was definitely one of the best quarters and a half of basketball we have ever seen. He didn’t miss a shot and scored 21 of his 27 points,” said Cole.
The Rams had their fans on their feet as they made one final big play with only a few seconds left.
“We came out of a timeout with 15 seconds to go. Fletcher was able to find John inside for a 6-foot jumper as time expired to force overtime. We miss that shot, our season is over. But John was able to make the shot and it was all Paoli in the overtime period,” said Cole.
Cole takes pride in many of his athletes as their efforts during this game did not go unnoticed.
“To start off, Carson Little came up huge off the bench when Isaac fouled out. He hit some big free throws late and also made a couple of huge defensive plays as well. Isaac was able to hit three three-point shots and pull their big guy away from the basket. Trey made some huge plays late including a big offensive rebound on a missed free-throw and then was able to get fouled and knock down his free throws. [He] posted up a lot inside and did a great job of getting 13 big points,” said Cole.
Cole recognized that one of the keys to the Rams win was the defensive plays by senior Bladen Patton.
“Bladen took care of the ball while playing great defense on Cade Jones and held Cade to 14 points, well below his average.”
“Andrew was very physical with 6’9” [Jake] Cherry and limited his touches and lastly, Fletcher was simply amazing in the fourth quarter and overtime. He played like a veteran. He was the best player in the Sectional and refused to lose and played with confidence,” said Cole.
The Rams will face the Forest Park Rangers in the first round of Regional on Saturday, March 12, at 10 a.m. at Huntingburg Memorial Stadium.
Story by Ashleigh Garcia