Raiders heard loud and clear in return to topMarch 5, 2018
By BRENDAN PERKINS
HUNTINGBURG — Did you hear that?
It can get drowned out in the mayhem of a double-overtime skirmish in a sectional championship. But Southridge basketball coach Ted O’Brien heard it loud and clear within the raucous back-and-forth ringing inside Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium. The sound of confidence and teamwork, both beginning to crystallize at just the right time.
The reward was Saturday’s 69-65 takedown of Vincennes Lincoln, netting the Raiders their first sectional crown since 2007 as well as their first-ever title competing in Class 3A. In the space of a little more than 24 hours, Southridge picked off Sullivan and Lincoln, a pair of squads that had combined for 35 wins. But the way the Raiders started talking, it explained plenty about how they assembled a two-day surge to the program’s 13th sectional crown overall.
“I heard more talk the last two games among our players communicating: ‘I got your back, we got this.’ It wasn’t sulking. We’ve done some of those things in the past when we hit adversity; we maybe put our head down a little bit,” O’Brien said.
“We never flinched in the huddle,” he added. “Guys were saying, ‘Let’s go right back out. This is our house, this is our tournament to win, keep fighting, keep fighting,’ and they just had that mentality all night. ... We kept pushing forward, and that’s what championship teams have got to do. We’re starting to figure that out and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the last couple weeks.”
It gives the Raiders (12-13) a little more time to work on the formula, too, as they’ll return to their home floor for this Saturday’s regional. Southridge will tangle with No. 8 Silver Creek (19-5) at approximately noon in the second semifinal after No. 3 Evansville Bosse (22-4) and Greensburg (20-5) meet in the opener.
For Southridge, punching past Vincennes Lincoln (17-9) also required fighting a little bit of history. Entering Saturday, the Raiders had never knocked off the Alices in eight all-time meetings. Lincoln also spread out a land mine of challenges for Southridge to navigate: a 9-2 lead to open the game; a third-quarter flurry that zapped an eight-point Raider lead; and repeated jabs in the first overtime as Lincoln opened a four-point cushion on three occasions.
Every time, Southridge’s voices of reason restored a calming tenor. As Raider freshman Colson Montgomery explained, they came from everywhere.
“Jayce Harter, he’s always the leader on everything. We’ve got Jayce, we’ve got Jaden (Hayes), we’ve got Matty Price,” Montgomery said. “Our whole bench was just talking, we were trying to calm each other down, because when they went up by four (in the second OT), we were calming each other down, just telling ourself it’s going to go our way, it’s fine. Just hang in there.”
The Raiders did so by following their familiar leaders.
Montgomery chalked up 20 points and established the program’s single-season scoring record in the process — with 452 points and counting, he eclipsed Andy Stout’s prior mark of 448 from 1988. More importantly, Montgomery’s trio of 3-pointers in a 31⁄2-minute span blotted out Lincoln’s early lead, as “he had a big-time first half and gave us some confidence, and then we started playing,” O’Brien said.
The spark then spread to Hayes, who struck for a career-high 24 points and became an automatic go-to option late in the game against Lincoln’s undersized frontline. Joe LaGrange pitched in a dozen points, the biggest coming with 1:36 to play in the first overtime when he shook to his left and swished a 3-pointer that knotted the score at 61.
Montgomery missed 3-point tries at the end of regulation and the first overtime that would have won it. The Raiders seized their third chance to win, but not until after a manic sequence of two turnovers by each team in the game’s final 13 seconds. After the last Raider miscue, Lincoln’s Sam Corrona (23 points) rumbled up the floor and fired a 3-pointer that was on line. But the potential tying shot grazed the rim short, the Raiders squeezed the rebound and LaGrange tacked on a free throw with just 0.1 second showing.
“It was emotional, honestly,” Montgomery said of the seeing the celebration unfold in the Raider fan section that snaked around the south side of HMG. “Our whole team, with what we’ve all been through in the regular season, and then we just all come together and had a big win against Sullivan and then we come in here and get the job done. It was amazing.”
“It’s surreal,” Hayes added. “The biggest goal is right here, to win this sectional. Winning it on our home court can’t feel any better. Look up there (at the gym banners), 11 years since our last sectional. It was time someone was going to do it eventually and we decided, why not us? It feels awesome.”
And to a Raider team that went 5-19 last season, this didn’t feel like much of a surprise, even though the Sagarin computer ratings had them ranked fifth of the six sectional teams entering the postseason. With five veterans, joined by Montgomery, coming up and LaGrange moving in, “we knew we had just the right pieces, the right formula, it just took until now to get the formula right,” Harter said.
“Our basketball program’s been through a lot the last couple years, and we just kept with it. We knew it would pay off sometime,” added Harter, who hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 35 seconds of the second OT and added six rebounds and two assists. “All year we had our ups and downs, and come tourney time it’s the right time to start peaking, and we definitely peaked at the right time, and we did the right thing tonight.”
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