Raiders win first regional since 1986March 13, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
HUNTINGBURG — A sea of red erupted in the stands of Huntingburg Memorial Gym Saturday as Southridge clinched the Regional 12 title with a 61-48 win against Southwestern.
The student section stampeded the court once the regional championship trophy was presented to the Raiders (17-10). A flurry of scenes emerged from the venue, with senior Camden Gasser being lifted high in the air with a basketball in his possession.
The players had hugs abound from teammates coaches and fans alike. They took a plethora of photos, and brought down the nets on their home floor for the second week in a row.
For the likes of Gasser, Colson Montgomery, Kaleb Wibbeler, Sam Sermersheim and Leyton Lauderdale, this was their last high school home game ever, and this triumph will be their lasting memory.
"I kind of get emotional with it," Montgomery said. "It's our last game here, it's just awesome. Winning here, winning a regional in front of everybody, last time here, it just means a lot to all of us."
"This was the way we wanted it, this was the way we envisioned going out," Gasser said.
Due to a strain on his voice, Southridge coach Mark Rohrer answered all of his questions by text.
"We talked about the fact that this was their last home game this afternoon and it was going to be important to control our emotions," said Rohrer, who knew the home crowd fueled the team to victory.
This brought about a long time coming for the Southridge boys basketball program, who hadn't gotten to bask in a regional championship since 1986. Athletes like Montgomery and Gasser entered this game knowing what it was like to get this far in football and baseball, but now they can relish one of these on the hardwood.
"We just got a great culture here at Southridge," Gasser said. "I say it all the time — it starts with the coaches, all the way to the administration and then down to the players."
None of the players were alive the last time the Raiders won a regional championship, neither was Rohrer or many of the fans that saw Saturday night happen before their very eyes. One person who was alive, however, was assistant coach Jeff Tooley, a former Raider and 1992 graduate.
It hasn't felt like 35 years to him, but the similarities to this team the 1985 and 1986 teams are there. The community came out to support those teams just like they did for this one, and everybody bought in and played defense on all three Southridge regional championships.
"It's very similar," Tooley said. "They play together, they embrace their role. They don't care if they score two points or 20. They want to guard people, they share the basketball. They play the right way."
The game proved to be tight early on, and a low scoring game, much like the opener Saturday morning against Paoli. Montgomery tallied 13 of his game-high 30 points in the opening half, including a two-handed jam in the second quarter for a 17-13 lead that elicited an uproar from the Raider faithful.
Southridge held a 25-19 lead at halftime, and only continued to build on things from there. The Raiders used perimeter shooting to pad their lead in the third quarter, as three of their seven buckets from downtown came in the third. Rebels senior Austin Kramer brought down a trey, but Gasser responded with one of his own in the final seconds of the quarter for a 41-26 lead, and the fan base was eight minutes from partying.
"I looked up at the clock and there was four seconds," Gasser said. "I was pretty open, and just decided to fire it. And I knew it was money right when it left my hands."
The Rebels refused to go down that easy, though, and scored 22 points in the final quarter, trimming Southridge's lead down to single digits thanks to a couple of threes from senior Billy Eccles, but shades of the 2020 sectional semifinal game against South Spencer never crossed Rohrer's mind.
"This group is so mature and mentally tough, we have confidence in them finishing the job," he said.
Rohrer always thought Saturday night was possible, and he described it as a special feeling to win five games at home in front of what he praised as the best fans. The team will get ready for the March 20 semi-state game against Parke Heritage, with the venue yet to be determined.
For now, however, Rohrer will savor his first regional championship as a coach.
"I'm just so proud of how much they've grown over the last three years, both on and off the court," Rohrer said. "This is a special group and we aren't done yet."
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