Jeeps take first sectional crown since '14March 8, 2020
By JONATHAN SAXON
FRENCH LICK — The Northeast Dubois Jeeps pulled out a gutsy effort, as they defeated the Evansville Day Eagles, 55-51, in Saturday’s Class 1A sectional title game. The game came down to late free throws and rebounds for the second night in a row, with the Jeeps making 10 of 12 shots from the line in the fourth quarter. A clutch board from junior forward Logan Mehringer with less than 10 seconds left sealed the deal.
“They never blinked,” Jeeps coach Terry Friedman said regarding his players’ composure. “We just kept answering every call. It was a true, total team effort. I couldn’t be any prouder of any team I’ve ever coached than this one here tonight.”
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Mehringer added. “It was crazy. I was just going out there and doing what I had been told to do by my coach during practices and other games.”
The Jeeps (16-10) held a four-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Day senior forward Brock Wisley closed the gap with two foul shots. Junior forward Lane Knies answered with free throws on the other end, but Wisley came back with a score to keep it a one-possession game. Junior forward Ty Riecker made four straight free throws for a 45-39 Jeeps lead. But Wisley kept attacking and got back up from freshman guard Tyler Myers to keep the Eagles within reach. Senior guard Reece Bauer laid in a score, but Myers countered immediately. Then the tide began to turn when Knies went to the line for a one-and-one opportunity. Knies made the first and missed the second, but Riecker shot over the paint to tip it in for a 50-45 lead.
The Eagles (14-10) weren’t out of it yet. Myers notched a quick score and was fouled behind the 3-point line in the subsequent possession. He made 1 of 3 from the line, but the Eagles rebounded and junior guard Grant Bivins knocked down a trey from the corner for a 51-50 lead. Bauer made sure the lead was temporary, but the Jeeps weren’t out of the woods yet. Bauer then split a pair of foul shots, and senior center Aidan Kunst got the rebound. Myers drew contact again, but missed both shots, with the rebound falling into Mehringer’s arms with 17.6 seconds left. He went to the foul line and knocked down both his critical shots. Myers had a look beyond the arc, but junior guard Nick Lueken got enough of the shot to make it fall way short. Mehringer was there for the rebound with about eight seconds left. The Jeeps dribbled out the rest of the clock as the fans rose to their feet in celebration.
Senior guard Ethan Ziegler led the Jeeps with 12 points, while Bauer finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. Knies and Riecker also finished in double digits with 10 points each. Wilsey led all scorers with 23 points, and Myers had 11.
“We had to battle; it was not easy whatsoever,” Ziegler said. “I was so proud that we didn’t panic, and made free throws and a lot of big shots. We played hard defense down the stretch. I’m so proud of my team.”
“We worked from Day One,” Bauer added. “Back in October, November, guys came in early, [even] working their tails off back in August for those guys not in fall sports. It feels great finally accomplishing our goal and bringing back a sectional title.”
The Jeeps played two straight games where late free throws made the difference. They made 8 of 11 fourth-quarter foul shots the previous night against Vincennes Rivet to get to the championship game, and carried over that same poise Saturday night to deliver the title.
“The free throws came down to mental focus,” said Lueken, who went 4 for 4 in Friday’s semifinal game. “We had to treat it like a game every day in practice, and that’s what helped us.”
“I just thought of the thousands of times I used to repeat what I’ve done over and over again,” Riecker said. “We played like every possession counted. We played like we’d been here before, and our seniors really calmed us down. It’s a dream come true.”
Friedman won his fifth sectional title as a coach with Saturday’s victory, though he declined to say how the newest one ranked against the previous four. Perhaps that was because he, like the rest of the team, couldn’t quite describe the joy that came with the championship.
“I don’t have words for it,” said Friedman, whose team overcame a 7-0 first-quarter hole on the way to victory. “It’s unbelievable. It’s been a great ride this year with this team. They’ve been through some adversity and fought through it every time. I couldn’t be prouder of a team to fight through everything tonight and come out with a huge win.”
The seniors had some thoughts about knowing they’ll finish their careers as sectional champions, though the ride isn’t quite over yet. They have the added bonus of getting some revenge for last year’s sectional exit at the Eagles’ hands.
“It makes it sweet that they beat us last year, and we got to come back and beat them in the championship game,” Bauer said. “I came in as a freshman and had one goal — to be the best teammate I could every year. This year, it brought us a sectional title. We had a well-rounded team, we all worked together and had a lot of fun. It means a lot to be a sectional champion.”
“I worked so hard for this and we did as a team,” Ziegler said. “We put so much time in. Just to think of all the hours spent in the gym alone, with Dad or with my brother, it led up to this game. It just feels so great. We came out with a win, that’s all that matters.”
The Jeeps move on to play the Christian Academy Warriors (18-7) on Saturday at Loogootee in the regional round. They look forward to getting back to work this week with the sectional title in their back pocket.
“I’m happy I can play with my team one more time,” Knies said.
“I love playing basketball with these guys,” Mehringer added. “Another week is going to be awesome.”
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