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COLUMBIA CITY — A win Thursday night had higher stakes attached to it in boys’ basketball Northeast Hoosier Conference.
In the final games of the conference schedule, Columbia City held on to hopes of a championship barring a little help.
The Eagles controlled their destiny for, at worst, a second-place finish. A win locks it up.
However, Columbia City’s chance at a NHC crown were dashed on the road Thursday by a senior-lead Carroll 47-40.
With a win over Norwell 58-55, Homestead clinched the NHC title going 7-0 in the conference.
The Eagles’ loss slipped them into a two-way tie for second with the Chargers.
Even with the disappointment Thursday, Columbia City turned its fortunes around in one season going from a 2-5 record last season to 5-2.
“We were 2-5 last year in the conference and we’re 5-2 and again in the mix in the last game of the conference season,” Columbia City head coach Chris Benedict. “They put themselves in a position to be here. Proud of them for that.”
All signs pointed to a defensive game headed in Columbia City’s favor.
After being down 7-5 in the first quarter, the Eagles (11-4) opened the second quarter up on a 7-2 run. The spurt, led by the game’s leading scorer Drew Benedict with 15 points, gave Columbia City its first lead 12-9.
“I was really proud about how they competed defensively,” Benedict said of his team.
The Eagles held on to that lead at halftime 14-13.
It wouldn’t last long as the second half got underway. Carroll (12-5) opened with a 7-0 run to surge back into the lead.
Offensive rebounds and a three and half minute scoring drought by Columbia City helped the Chargers extend their lead to 20-14.
The dribble drive of Tyler Ault hurt the Eagles in the second half. Ault led the Chargers with all nine of his points coming in the second half.
“When possessions are that tight you have to maximize your possessions,” coach Benedict noted. “I think tonight we struggled with that a little bit on each end of the floor.”
The Carroll lead grew to as much as 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Columbia City faced a 44-34 deficit with 1:08 remaining after two free throws from Carroll’s Tanner Ginder.
The Eagles quickly cut the lead to four points behind back-to-back three-pointers from sophomore Derek Hinen. Six of Hinen’s 10 points for the game put City down 44-40 with 41 seconds left.
The Eagles shot 6-for-14 in the fourth quarter but couldn’t get another shot to fall.
The Chargers took a marginal advantage at the free throw line going 14-for-19 while Columbia City struggled 3-for-10 at the line.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” coach Benedict said. “Not much into moral victories but I think our guys are making strides.”