By Mike Myers Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — HUNGTINBURG - The Washington Hatchets battled hard but weren’t quite able to seal the deal as Heritage Hills moved onto the championship game of Sectional 31 with a 41-38 win at Memorial Gymnasium on Friday.
Washington (7-15) trailed Heritage Hills (17-6) for much of the game but always stayed within striking distance until Matthew Stephens scored in the lane with 4:03 to play to give the Hatchets their first lead since the first quarter at 33-32.
From that point the lead went back and forth, with the Hatchets building as much as a three-point lead at 38-35 on a bucket by Colton Garland - who led WHS with 15 points - just 2:20 from the end of the game.
But each time the Patriots would answer, and the Hatchets, who were 10-10 from the free throw line to that point in the game, missed a pair of one-and-one’s in the final 2:00. Heritage Hills regained the lead on a basket by their leading scorer on the night, Spenser Minto, with :56 left.
On the Hatchets’ next possession Washington got the ball to Garland, whose long jumper was off with 8.2 seconds left. Minto was fouled on the rebound and hit both charity tosses to give the Patriots a 41-38 lead.
Washington got the ball to Ghirardelli on its final possession, but his long shot from well behind the 3-point line was no good as time expired.
Washington coach Gene Miiller was proud of his team following the game, not just for how they played on Friday but how his youthful Hatchets performed in the second half of the season.
“The effort was there, we played extremely hard, as we have the second half of the season. We played hard, we played together, we had that three-point lead and missed some free throws,” said Miiller. “But they (Heritage Hills) are a good basketball team. I knew it was going to be tough, and it was tough.
“I can’t be any prouder of these kids,” said Miiller. “The second half of the season has been so much fun coaching these kids. They’ve worked very hard, they’ve worked together, they’ve been very coach able.”
After Garland, freshman Jacob Overton tallied 11 points and four rebounds, while Ghirardelli added four points and five rebounds. Connor Brown netted four points, followed by two apiece from Stephens and Matthew Sparks.
The future is bright for Hatchet basketball as Ghirardelli was the only senior to take the floor for Washington on Friday (the Hatchets’ other senior, Andy Garland, has been sidelined since a concussion suffered in mid-January). The Hatchets started two freshman - Stephens and Overton - and a pair of sophomores in Brown and Garland on Friday.
“I just couldn’t be prouder. I’ve really enjoyed coaching these guys, and I look forward to coaching them for the next two or three years,” said Miiller. “I just wished we had a couple of more weeks to work them this season.”
Washington jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead early in the first quarter, but Heritage Hills rebounded to knot the score at 8-all by the end of the period. A 10-0 run to open the second quarter gave the Patriots their largest lead of the half at 18-8, but WHS was able to whittle that deficit back to six points at 20-14 by halftime. Overton and Ghirardelli each netted four points in the opening half for the Hatchets, who shot 5-14 (36 percent) in the half.
Heritage Hills will face Jasper in tonight’s 7 p.m. championship game. Jasper (13-9) defeated Pike Central (7-14) 62-53 in Friday’s first semifinal.