Patriots end drought, capture sectional titleMarch 7, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
BOONVILLE — March 8, 2003, was more than 6,200 days ago. The world has changed a lot in that time, and Heritage Hills, despite trotting out some subsequently competitive basketball teams, could not quite claim a sectional championship in what was almost 17 years to the day.
Many players on the team technically were alive when the 2002-03 squad won that sectional championship, a 38-36 win against Gibson Southern, but they’d have no way of remembering that. Star junior big man Blake Sisley was born Nov. 16, 2002, and fellow junior Jake Johnson, another starter, was born Feb. 24, 2003. The latter was on this planet for merely weeks when Heritage Hills won that sectional, and this current team grew up not knowing what a sectional title felt like, as that was the most recent team to do it.
That drought ended when the Class 3A No. 2 Patriots (22-3) won their 17th game in a row, running past Evansville Memorial, 79-53, on the eve of the 17th anniversary of their previous sectional championship. The Pats achieved their goal, becoming Class 3A sectional champions. They cut down the nets after another offensive onslaught, just like they’ve displayed throughout the season.
“It’s great for our community,” said Sisley, who scored 20 points in the championship. “They deserve it just as much as we do — coming out and supporting us through those rough years and this year. It just goes to show how great our community is, and our guys earned it tonight.”
“It’s a surreal experience,” Johnson said. “It’s just so fun to be a part of this team, great group of young men, playing hard every game. We just came together as the year went on. I’m looking forward to going on with them as a team.”
They each climbed the ladder, taking turns of cutting the net, each having part of the net as a keepsake. The players plan to have certain places to keep their nets. Johnson will have them in his room. Sisley will have them above his bed, being able to look at them every night as a moment he’ll never forget. Simon Scherry, who had a game-high 23 points, will have them in his locker until the season ends. Then they’ll be on his dresser, along with his other trophies. He’s waited his whole high school career for this, and now he will go down as a sectional champion after his team was one-and-done his first three years in high school.
“We played as a team,” Scherry said. “We loved each other. We’ve played together since we were however old, really young — just to finally come together, and all the times in the gym, all the times with each other, just finally paying off.”
“This is awesome,” said fellow senior Murray Becher, who scored 12 points. “The past three years, we didn’t get it done. To finally get over the hump this year, it’s (an) amazing feeling.”
Mark Doyle is no stranger to snapping droughts. He helped end a smaller drought during football season when the senior helped the Pats win their first sectional championship since 2014, and they went all the way to the Class 3A state championship game. Here he was again Saturday night, finishing with three points and having played his role in helping Heritage Hills finally break through for a sectional championship in a different sport.
“It’s crazy,” Doyle said. “We’ve been working our whole lives for this moment. Our senior year, we’ve put so much time and effort into it and for it to finally come out like this, all the hard work to pay off, is just a great feeling.”
It’s not just the program and the players that had gone through a sectional drought. Fourth-year coach Nate Hawkins hadn’t won a sectional championship since March 3, 2012, more than 2,900 days ago, when the then-Forest Park coach oversaw the Rangers downing Evansville Mater Dei, 73-51, in the championship game. Hawkins has lost only 18 games as coach of the Patriots, and had 78 wins with Heritage Hills going into Saturday, but it took until win No. 79 to get that sectional hardware.
“It hasn’t really felt that long because I think that we’ve been striving for this goal ever since I’ve been at Heritage Hills,” Hawkins said. “This is the ultimate goal.”
Hawkins knew it was going to be a process, and that it would take a special group of players to win that sectional. He thought that group was last year’s team, having won 19 games in a row and losing just once in the regular season. But Evansville Bosse, the team the Pats knocked off in Friday’s semifinals, had different plans last year.
He thought Heritage Hills learned so much, that the returning players were so motivated and were willing to do whatever it took, and then he started to get the feeling during the season that this year might be different.
“It was early on when we were making all those trips to Indianapolis and New Castle and when I knew that these guys could compete with some of the best (Class) 4A teams in the state of Indiana, I thought, ‘We’ve got an opportunity, we’ve got a chance,’” he said.
The Pats had to put their nose to the grindstone to get past the Bulldogs Friday night, but Saturday evening proved to be much smoother sailing.
Memorial got off to a 5-0 run, but it didn’t take long for Heritage Hills to get going. The Pats used offensive rebounding, converted steals into layups and lots and lots of perimeter shooting to distance themselves from the Tigers.
They held a 27-20 advantage after the first quarter, but they kept pouring it on after the Tigers faded. Heritage Hills had a 53-32 advantage at halftime, making 10 3-pointers in the opening half alone, three more than they did all game Friday, and making those shots that Hawkins talked about needing after the Bosse win. The Pats scored 26 points in the second quarter, while holding the Tigers to 12. Evansville Memorial outscored Heritage Hills, 14-10, in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the deficit the Tigers had.
Hawkins thought his team was more relaxed, compared to an emotional game from the night before.
“We had guys that are 45 percent 3-point shooters that were throwing up air balls,” Hawkins said. “That’s where it’s like, ‘Okay, guys. Just relax. Go play basketball, and you’ll be fine because why? Because I think you’re the better team out here.’ Obviously, I think that showed tonight that we were the best team in the sectional this year.”
The Pats will be back in action on Saturday at Washington in the regional tournament against No. 1-ranked Silver Creek. Heritage Hills will need to slow down Trey Kaufman in order to get past the Dragons and into the championship game that evening. Kaufman is a junior four-star recruit who is getting looks from some NCAA Division I programs — Indiana University, Purdue University, Xavier University and the University of Louisville — according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Hawkins said Kaufman is being recruited by big programs because he’s that good. He said the Pats will have to come up with a big-time defensive game plan, and Sisley will have to deny Kaufman.
He added, though, that the Pats are confident. They’ll have a chance to avenge another previous loss. Silver Creek squeaked by Heritage Hills, 82-78, on Dec. 28 in overtime of the Raymond James Hall of Fame Classic in New Castle, with Kaufman scoring 32 points in that game. Hawkins thought his team had a chance to win that game, but didn’t make free throws down the stretch and didn’t finish.
“We’ve got to do a better job of finishing plays,” he said. “If we can do that, we can step up to the line, hit our free throws, I think our defense has come a long way since December 28th.”
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