“Coming in we were pretty young so it’s kind of a wild-card season,” senior Tyler Mosher said. “No one really knew what we were going to do ... We’re really proving ourselves out here.”
Columbia City proved it can win a regional championship Saturday with last- second senior heroics and big numbers from its sophomore class.
Amongst a school fighting to keeps its program alive and others with senior-laden squads, the band of Columbia City youth led by two seniors came out on top at the class 3A Blackford boys’ basketball regional.
“We’re young but we have some great seniors and we just try to play hard every time,” regional championship leading scorer Derek Hinen said. “It means a lot to our program. We get to hang another banner up. We haven’t done that for almost seven years.
“It’s great to get back out here and play for Columbia City. This is what I’ve dreamed of since I was in third grade, playing for coach (Chris) Benedict, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Hinen lived out his dream on the court with a game-high 23 points in the Eagles championship win over Fort Wayne Harding 55-47. Along with a win earlier in the day over Delta 59-57, Columbia City bought a ticket to the semistate Saturday at Huntington North High School against Culver Academies.
“They’re getting more and more comfortable in their roles each time out,” coach Benedict said. “We’ve just stuck together and played. Everyone is finding a way to chip in. It’s a fun group to be around and be a part of.”
The Hawks came into their final game as a program never seeing a lead.
Columbia City’s first regional title since 2004 had the Eagles making four of their first five shots to break out to a 9-2 lead.
Hinen’s presence in the lane opened the door for Columbia City to extend its lead into double digits for most of the first half.
Making tough baskets inside, sometimes against two forwards standing over six-foot-six-inches, Hinen drove the lane shooting 8-for-16 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
“I just tried to utilize my shot fakes when I got in there,” Hinen commented. “They’re really athletic so if I got them in the air I tried to draw some fouls. I got a couple of lucky rolls in there but I’ll take them any day of the week.”
Hinen and fellow sophomore Drew Benedict both scored 12 points in the first half as Columbia City (19-5) went into the locker room up 31-20.
Post players Tyler Mosher and Daniel Woll — the Eagles heros from their semifinal win over Delta — helped limit the Harding offense in the paint.
Despite the Hawks grabbing 14 offensive rebounds, the two Eagles combined for 17 rebounds and 33 percent (20-for-61) shooting from the field.
“Mosher and Woll really set the ton defensively early with their rebounding,” coach Benedict noted.
Columbia City made 17 of its first 18 free throws against Harding (10-11). The Eagles finished 20-of-25 from the charity stripe.
The Hawks’ leading scorer sophomore Victor Beachem, Jr. got his team within five points with eight of his 11 points in the second half.
Both teams struggled from the three-point line. Columbia City went just 1-for-8 (12.5 percent) from behind the arc but won with free throws and inside play.
At the start of the season, most would admit they didn’t see Columbia City coming this far but the belief from their coach kept the Eagles believing.
“Coach always told us that he knew there was something special about this group,” senior Ben Murphy said. “At first you think ‘there are two seniors’ and you don’t believe it.
“As things go on, you start to believe it. More and more we believed it and bought into what coach was saying. That’s what’s got us this far.”