SYRACUSE — Embroiled in their first sectional title game in five years against a Wawasee team that has had their number over the past several seasons, the Columbia City Eagles dealt out the losing to the Warriors after facing a 12-point first quarter deficit to take a nine-point lead of their own.
With the game coming down to a single possession, the Eagles needed a defensive rebound on a missed Wawasee free throw to claim the class 3A Wawasee sectional title 67-66 over the host Warriors.
For the second night in a row the Eagles found themselves involved in a very emotional contest. Unlike Friday night’s win over cross county rival Whitko, when the Eagles took a commanding lead early, Columbia City found themselves knocked back on their heels as the Warriors ran out to a 10-0 lead to start the contest.
“Considering where our guys were at in the beginning of the game, and to even be in a position to win the game, I am extremely proud of the way these guys battled back,” Columbia City head coach Chris Benedict said. “We got a lot of contributions out of all of our guys. That’s what we’ve always been about, getting something out of everybody.”
Wawasee’s Logan Hatfield started the contest with two straight three-pointers to help build the Warrior lead.
The Eagles got on the board when junior Matt Rethlake threw down a two-hand dunk to give the Eagles their first points.
“I dunk it in practice everyday, but there’s no better time to get your first dunk than a sectional championship,” Rethlake said. “I knew we were getting down on ourselves. All it takes is coming together and hitting a couple big shots to get us going and once we get going, there’s no stopping us.”
A three by sophomore Drew Benedict and another basket by Rethlake cut the Warrior lead to seven at 14-7.
The Eagles fell back behind by 11 points on two baskets by six-foot-four-inch Wawasee senior Riley Stichter, before Benedict cut the margin with three free throws after being fouled on a long three-point attempt.
The Eagles played much of the first and second quarter without three of their starters after Derek Hinen, Daniel Woll and Tyler Mosher all picked up their second fouls early.
With the Warriors in the bonus and 3:35 left in the first quarter, Wawasee ran out to a 23-13 lead at the end of the first period.
The Eagles cut that margin in half in the second period, outscoring the Warriors 23-18 in the second.
Benedict hit a basket and a three and Mosher notched four straight free throws, but the big gun for the Eagles in the second was sophomore Derek Hinen.
Hinen hit 3-of-4 field goal attempts and four free throws to lead the Eagles with 10 points. Junior Brandon Gay added four points to help Columbia City cut the Warrior lead to 41-36 at half time.
Two straight baskets from the right side by CC sophomore Daniel Woll to start the second half brought the Eagles to within one at 41-40.
Following two baskets by the Warrior’s Stichter and three free throws by Benedict, the Eagles’ Tyler Mosher proved to be an inside force.
A tough move inside by the CC senior knotted the score at 45-45. Two more baskets in the paint by Mosher pushed the Columbia City lead to 51-45. A three-point play by Hinen helped push the Eagle lead to 57-46 entering the fourth quarter.
A basket by Wawasee’s Clark knotted the score at 62-62 with 1:38 left in the game to set the stage for a nail-biting finish.
Two free throws by Clark gave the Warriors a 64-62 lead. Hinen went to the basket for the Eagles knocking down the basket and getting fouled in the process. Hinen converted the free throw putting the Eagles back in front 65-64.
The Warriors’ Hatfield missed a long three-point attempt and Derek Hinen pulled down the rebound with 24 seconds left and a one-point lead. The Eagles brought the ball down court and ran off 14 seconds before Wawasee’s Clark was called for an intentional foul when he grabbed Brandon Gay and threw him into the first row of the bleachers.
With 9.9 seconds on the clock, Gay hit the second of the two free throws, putting the Eagles up 66-64 with the ball.
Before the Eagles could inbound the ball, Mosher was fouled. The Columbia City senior hit one of two putting the Eagles up by three at 67-64.
The Warriors (17-6) hurried the ball down the floor taking a three–pointer by Trevor McKibben. The shot came off the back of the rim and was rebounded by Wawasee’s Cody McBride, who scored and was fouled by Mosher.
Following a Columbia City time out, McBride went to the line with 2.2 seconds on the clock and a chance to send the game into overtime.
McBride missed the free throw and CC’s Hinen went high to pull down the board, taking a dribble and tossing the ball to the other end of the court as time expired giving the Eagles the title with a 67-66 win.
“You get the double bonus and the ball back with less than 10 seconds and you figure you’re in pretty good shape,” Benedict said. “We obviously didn’t want to foul a shooter, but at this point we will take it any way we can get it.”
Winning their first sectional title since 2004, the Eagles (17-5) will travel to Blackford High School Saturday to take on Delta (16-7) in the 10 a.m. game of the class 3A regional.