Spartans repeat as sectional champs
BICKNELL – For the first seven minutes it was anyone’s ballgame.
But ultimately the Eastern Greene Thunderbirds were unable to keep pace with the hot-shooting, board-crashing South Knox Spartans.
South Knox hit nine of its first 11 shots, then outscored Eastern Greene 20-6 in the second stanza for a 43-22 halftime advantage. And the defending Class 2A Sectional 47 champion Spartans made it two in a row, defeating the Thunderbirds 72-44 in Saturday’s sectional final at North Knox to repeat as sectional champions.
“They (South Knox) shot really well,” Eastern Greene coach Jon Neill acknowledged. “But we didn’t contest as well as I wanted to.”
For the game South Knox shot 63 percent, connecting on 29-of-46 from the field. The final number is somewhat deceiving as the Spartans went 4-for-10 in the final stanza when the outcome was all but decided.
South Knox hit 17-of-23 (74 percent) in the first half and was still firing at a 69 percent clip (25-of-36) through three quarters.
Offensive rebounding contributed greatly to the Spartans’ accuracy from the field. South Knox enjoyed a whopping 34-13 advantage on the boards.
The problem for the Thunderbirds was, with South Knox missing so few shots there weren’t a lot of defensive rebounds to be had. And the shots that were missed most often wound up in Spartan hands. Eleven of South Knox’s 34 caroms came at the offensive end.
As Neill succinctly put it, “And then you top it off with this – they missed 17 shots and had 11 offensive rebounds. That makes life really hard.”
Despite South Knox’s torrid early pace Eastern Greene rallied to overcome an early 9-2 deficit. Behind nine points from Ethan Helton and seven from Caleb Hamilton the T-Birds pulled within a point, 17-16 late in the opening stanza.
But as the Thunderbird coach pointed out, “Even through the first seven minutes we didn’t feel like we guarded anywhere near the way we are capable and the way we wanted to.”
And the Spartans’ 7-of-9 shooting up to that point bore out Neill’s statement.
Then the flood gates opened. South Knox went on an 18-2 run, scoring the last six points of the first quarter and extended the margin to 35-18 three minutes into the second stanza.
Brandon Fickling’s spin move in the paint led to a 3-point play. Gage Bobe, who threw in a 50-footer at the end of the first quarter the night before against North Daviess, again nailed a buzzer-beating three as the Spartans led 23-16 at the first break.
South Knox then proceeded to run off 12 of the next 14.
Brandon Fickling grabbed a rebound and took it coast-to-coast, then scored inside the next trip down. Nick Johnson and Bobe buried trifectas and Luke Marchino bagged a pullup jumper from the baseline to cap off the spurt.
After Helton drained a long two, Bobe responded with his fourth triple of the half.
Fickling got loose in transition, drawing Helton’s third foul and converting the and-one with 2:06 remaining until halftime.
Bobe again beat the buzzer, this time on a layup. Fickling found Bobe open on a backdoor cut as the Spartans took a 21-point lead into the locker room.
All 16 of Bobe’s points came in the first half.
“We talked before the game – you know, the old cliche 'Defense wins championships.'" Neill said.
“When they’re scoring on about every trip it makes it challenging to play against. We needed to be better defensively and we weren’t.”
Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds it was more of the same after intermission.
Brandon Fickling had his way in the paint, scoring 11 third-quarter points on his way to a game-high 25.
Younger brother Justin posted a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds. Six of his 11 boards were of the offensive variety. Johnson tossed in 13 as the Spartans placed four scorers in double figures.
South Knox, remember, had lost to Eastern Greene 44-38 on its home floor January 20. When asked what made the difference Saturday night, Spartans coach Mark Rohrer replied, “Mindset. Just the focus we had tonight I thought was really good.”
As Rohrer pointed out South Knox had beaten Vincennes Lincoln the night before the Eastern game.
“We were on such a high and we never came back down,” he explained. “We came out flat and they (Eastern) played very well.”
But the coach said his players learned from the experience.
“I honestly think that game helped us a bunch tonight with our mindset and understanding we still have to play the game,” Rohrer said. “Nobody gave us a trophy to cut down the nets Tuesday night (after the Spartans beat Linton in triple overtime to advance). So we had the mindset to get that done.”
The Thunderbirds got no closer than within 22, 56-34 midway through the third quarter. Jaysce Skinner drove the lane for a slam dunk, Isiaha Padgett swished a trey and Helton scored on a nifty spin move in the lane.
Helton closed out his high school career in fine fashion, hitting 8-of-12 shots for 19 points. Hamilton added double-figure support with 10.
Eastern bids farewell to three other seniors – J.W. Howard, Joel Weimer and Isiaha Padgett.
“This (loss) doesn’t take away from the career those seniors had and the year they had,” Neill said. “They ll be able to look back on this season and be proud. They just came up one game short.”
CLASS 2A SECTIONAL 47
At North Knox
SPARTANS 72, THUNDERBIRDS 44
South Knox 23 20 20 9 – 72
Eastern Greene 16 6 12 10 – 44
SOUTH KNOX (17-9) – Gage Bobe 6-11 0-0 16, Luke Marchino 1-2 0-0 2, Nick Johnson 5-8 0-0 13, Justin Fickling 5-8 0-0 10, Brandon Fickling 9-13 7-9 25, Zach Welage 0-0 0-0 0, Bryce Coomes 2-2 0-1 4, Will Carie 1-1 0-0 2, Garrett Holscher 0-0 0-0 0, Walker McCrary 0-1 0-0 0, Trevor Malott 0-0 0-0 0, Logan Anthis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-46 7-10 72.
3-point shooting: 7-16 (Bobe 4-9, Johnson 3-5, Marchino 0-1, J. Fickling 0-1). Rebounds 34 (J. Fickling 11). Assists 12 (Marchino 4, J. Fickling 4). Steals 3 (J. Fickling 2). Blocks 4 (B. Fickling 3). Turnovers 11. Personal fouls 10. Fouled out: Johnson.
EASTERN GREENE (14-12) – J.W. Howard 1-7 0-0 2, Ethan Helton 8-12 2-2 19, Isiaha Padgett 1-5 0-0 3, Jaysce Skinner 2-5 0-0 5, Caleb Hamilton 3-11 2-2 10, Joel Weimer 0-0 0-0 0, Drew Helton 0-1 2-2 2, Layton Anderson 1-1 1-1 3, Bradley Padgett 0-0 0-0 0, Cory Cramer 0-0 0-0 0, Tyler Richards 0-0 0-0 0, Brayden Myers 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 16-42 7-8 44.
3-point shooting: 5-17 (Hamilton 2-3, Skinner 1-1, E. Helton 1-3, I. Padgett 1-5, Howard 0-4, D. Helton 0-1). Rebounds 13 (Skinner 5). Assists 7 (Howard 3). Steals 1 (I. Padgett). Blocks 1 (E. Helton). Turnovers 11. Personal fouls 12. Fouled out: None.