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Thursday, May 28, 2015

What a year it was for the Thunderbirds

Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2012, at 1:03 PM

Eastern Greene guard Brody Martin gets his piece of the net after the Thunderbirds won the Class 2A North Knox Sectional earlier this month. Martin was one of seven seniors on this 24-2 T-Bird squad that was regional runner-up and Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference champions. They set the record for wins and consecutive wins this season. (By B.J. Hargis/Greene County Daily World).
In all my years of covering prep basketball in Indiana, I don't ever recall a team, boys or girls, losing seven seniors from a sectional title team and then repeating as sectional champs with seven more seniors.

That is until the 2011-12 Eastern Greene Thunderbirds.

Just to have 14 seniors in a two-year period on any basketball roster is staggering and unique. I guess we need to consult the Elias Sports Bureau to find out how unusual, ha ha.

To have that much turnover and to continue to win, is a testament to the players and coaches.

Last year, the Thunderbirds won 23 of 26 games and advanced to the Class 2A regional championship game.

I can say with a great deal of certainty that very few, if any, expected the 2011-12 edition of the Thunderbirds to match, let alone exceed the accomplishments of that team, especially after starting the year off with a 35-33 loss at Owen Valley. The Patriots were not exactly a juggernaut this season, only winning nine of 23 games.

Just four nights later, I watched the T-Birds struggle to defeat Bloomfield 53-49 at Guy Glover Gymnasium. It was apparent that Eastern Greene was not even close to being as good as the year before, at least at that point.

Seniors Brody Martin, Miles Hutchison, Zack Bruner, JT Yoho, Blake Crowe, Nathan Cobine, and Dillon Resler were searching to find their roles. Even Yoho, a Division I recruit who will be playing ball at Wright State University in the Horizon League and the leading scorer on both teams, appeared to be uncomfortable as everyone tried to find out how to succeed as a unit.

Remarkably, it would be over three months and 25 games later before Eastern Greene would lose again.

"We had our struggles early. We did not play very well at Owen Valley," said Martin. "The practice after that game was the toughest of the year.

"It took us a while to figure out our roles, since we had lost the seven seniors from last year."

Martin, who was the back-up point guard last season and the starter this year, knew his role.

" I don't care if I score. My job is to distribute the ball and get everybody else involved," Martin said after the sectional victory. "This is such a special feeling to have something like this to share with those guys."

The Thunderbird season did not end until March 10 in the regional championship game at the Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium. Last year, EGHS fell to Forest Park 49-44 on the same floor and this year's team lost to Providence 46-43 in the Class 2A title game.

When the smoke had cleared, the T-Birds finished the season with a 24-2 record, the most wins ever by an Eastern Greene team. The 24-game winning streak also was a record, breaking the mark of 18 straight set by the 23-2 squad in 2001.

This team, which rose to No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll, also won the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference championship for the first time in six seasons.

What impressed me most about this squad was the way it went about the business of competing every night. It wasn't a rah, rah unit.

The players just brought their lunch bucket to work every day. To the casual observer, they seemed almost emotionless and on autopilot, but they had this quiet determination and competitiveness that bubbled just below the surface.

The Thunderbirds busted their tails on defense and tried to do everything the coaching staff asked of them. They let coach Andy Igel be the emotional one on the team, as you wondered how soon his sport coat would come off and how many times he would question calls by the officials.

They allowed just 41.5 points per game, among the best defensive averages in the state. That wasn't a result of the tempo they played, either. They seemed to relish in doing the little things -- setting screens, making the extra pass and getting stops.

The T-Birds came up short of a second regional championship in school history, but did not come up short in the hearts of Thunderbird fans. They gave the Red and Black faithful plenty to smile about.

But there is some sadness in eastern Greene County. Although it won't become official until sometime this spring, Igel has likely coached his last Eastern Greene game. Former T-Bird standout Levi Carmichael is waiting in the wings will try and replace a legend.

I know I am not alone in saying that I will miss Andy. Nobody ever cared more or took losing harder than he did.

As for me, I am grateful I had the chance to ride on the 2011-12 Thunderbird Express. My personal thanks to fans, parents, players and the coaching staff for taking this chunky, white boy along for another memorable ride. It is something that I won't soon forget.

B.J. Hargis is the sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12 or at hargisbj@gmail.com .

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I thought that you did a great job in covering the Birds this year and I for one would like to thank you for your hard work. It was nice to read such kind words about our ball team and our coach.

-- Posted by garlloydhud on Wed, Mar 14, 2012, at 2:05 PM

what a great ride! so many memories. thanks team and coach for all the hardwork . paid off! great team chemistry and team support from fans.

-- Posted by thunderoad on Thu, Mar 15, 2012, at 12:29 PM

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Enough said
B.J. Hargis
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