By KEVIN HARRIS
RICHMOND – If you are wondering what is the main reason Crawford County will be playing in its first-ever state championship game this weekend at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, it can be summed up in one word - defense.
Crawford County’s matchup zone gave Heritage Christian fits in last Saturday’s Class 2A Richmond Semistate at the Tiernan Center. As a result, the Wolfpack won their first semistate championship in program history with a 49-40 victory over the Eagles (17-10).
Crawford County (22-6) will face Frankton (22-6) in the Class 2A state title game at approximately 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the home of the Indiana Pacers. Frankton was the 2A state runner-up in 2015, losing to Indianapolis Park Tudor in the state final that season 73-46.
Wolfpack seniors Brent Smith and Adam Beasley expressed their excitement to reach the state finals in the semistate post-game press conference.
“It’s awesome. We get a chance to play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse,” Smith said.
“It feels great to be able to go to state for the first time in school history,” Beasley said. “To be able to do it with these guys that I’ve been playing with since fifth grade, it just means everything.”
Last Saturday’s victory continued an impressive defensive trend by Crawford County during its state championship run. During the postseason, the Wolfpack have allowed 36 points per game. The 40 points Heritage Christian scored were the most Crawford County have yielded in the postseason.
For the season, the Wolfpack have surrendered 44.1 points per game, which ranks 18th in the state and eighth in Class 2A.
Heritage Christian seemed to figure out Crawford County’s defense in the first quarter of the semistate. The Eagles pulled out to a 14-4 lead at the end of the period, hitting 5-of-8 from the field and 4-of-4 from 3-point range.
The Wolfpack, though, put the clamps on Heritage Christian’s offense after that. The Eagles scored only 26 points in the final three quarters, misfiring on 30 of their 38 field-goal attempts.
According to second-year Crawford County head coach Levi Carmichael, the Wolfpack did not do anything special.
“We didn’t talk about anything complex at halftime. We just talked about some simple adjustments and what we needed to do. We just went out there and executed,” said Carmichael, who was an assistant coach at New Albany for one season. “For the most part, the boys really just buy into the defensive end, toughness and hustle plays. Our offense will sputter sometimes, but we can control the other end of the floor.”
Beasley paced Crawford County in the scoring department with 12 points. Teammates Gavin Coleman and Josh Thomas each scored 11. Thomas was 5-of-5 from the floor.
Carmichael’s wife, Amanda, is a former player and head coach for the New Albany girls’ basketball program. She was a member of the Bulldogs’ undefeated Class 4A state championship team in 1999. Amanda (Sizemore) Carmichael is the current head girls’ coach at Borden.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Andrew Williams, Heritage Christian – The sophomore guard tallied a game-high 22 points, shooting 7-of-14 from the field and 6-of-11 from behind the 3-point arc. Williams hit three 3-pointers to score nine points in the opening quarter to help the Eagles build that 14-4 advantage.
If it was not for Williams, Heritage Christian probably would have lost by a wider margin.
Honorable mention: Beasley – He posted 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. Beasley was 5-of-5 from the floor in the final stanza. Each of the shots he made in the fourth kept the Wolfpack in the lead and put more pressure on the Eagles.
KEY SEQUENCE: Crawford County outscored Heritage Christian 16-6 in the second quarter to tie the game at 20 at halftime. The Wolfpack hit 7-of-9 shots in the period, while the Eagles were 2-of-9.
“We gave up those 14 (points in the first quarter),” Carmichael said. “Then we kind of shut them off a little bit in that second quarter and then kind of got going a little bit offensively.”
If Crawford County did not make this run, it might have been a different outcome.
UNSUNG HERO: Coleman – The 5-foot-8 junior guard, who averages 6.8 points per game this season, scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds off the bench.
“Gavin had a tremendous week of practice,” Carmichael said. “He really stepped up. He was in a zone the last couple days on this trip and was really focused and it showed. When he does that, he can be that little jolt of energy off the bench.”
Coleman scored seven points in the crucial second quarter. Five of those seven points came in the period-ending 7-0 run to force the halftime deadlock, where he made a layup and hit a 3.
“Coach called my number,” Coleman said. “I just went out there and put my heart and soul into it. I had a good week of practice and I felt good. My shots were just falling.”
WHAT THE WOLFPACK DID WELL: Crawford County’s defense was superb as Heritage Christian was 13-of-38 for the game (34.2 percent), including 4-of-17 on 2-point shots (23.5 percent).
The Wolfpack outrebounded the Eagles 27-19 and Crawford County won the bench-scoring duel 16-1.
AREA OF CONCERN FOR CRAWFORD COUNTY: The Wolfpack got off to a shaky start, giving Heritage Christian a chance to turn the semistate into a blowout. But their defense allowed them to get back into the ballgame.
“I think a little bit of that semistate shock and awe kind of hit us in the beginning of the game,” Carmichael said.
Crawford County will need to get off to a better start Saturday against a Frankton team that averages 69.8 points per contest.
CLASS 2A RICHMOND SEMISTATE
CRAWFORD COUNTY 49, HERITAGE CHRISTIAN 40
Crawford County 4 16 10 19-49
Heritage Christian 14 6 9 11-40
Crawford County (22-6): Adam Beasley 12, Gavin Coleman 11, Josh Thomas 11, Matthew Dearborn 7, Noah Sturgeon 5, Brent Smith 3, Wyatt Allinger 0, Christian Carlton 0, Cameron Marples 0, Tyrell Nickelson 0, Nick Stroud 0.
Heritage Christian (17-10): Andrew Williams 22, Kyle Somers 5, Hayden Wynja 5, Zack Meus 4, Ben Gordon 3, Bennett Coster 1, Jack Arterburn 0, Ross Eckel 0, Joe Geiger 0, Dawson Hancock 0, Sam McCloskey 0, Frankie Young 0.
3-point field goals: Crawford County 3 (Coleman 2, Smith 1); Heritage Christian 9 (Williams 6, Gordon 1, Somers 1, Wynja 1).
Rebounds: Crawford County 27 (Dearborn 6); Heritage Christian 19 (Williams, Wynja 4).
Turnovers: Crawford County 10, Heritage Christian 10.
Free throws: Crawford County 8-15, Heritage Christian 5-9.
Total fouls: Crawford County 12, Heritage Christian 12.
Fouled out: Thomas; Wynja.