By KEVIN HARRIS
SEYMOUR – Class 4A No. 1 New Albany held off a determined Center Grove squad Saturday morning at Scott Gym to win the first Class 4A Seymour Regional semifinal 57-52.
The Bulldogs (25-3) will take on No. 8 Castle (23-3) in the regional final at 8 tonight. The Knights defeated Bloomington South (22-5) in Saturday’s second semifinal 72-62.
New Albany head coach Jim Shannon expects future opponents to play the Bulldogs extremely tough for the rest of the state tournament.
“It’s going to be the same from here on out. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Shannon said.
Throughout the regional opener when New Albany appeared on the verge of breaking the game wide open, the Trojans (17-8) kept fighting back to stay within striking distance.
Bulldog junior Romeo Langford converted a three-point play with 3:25 left in the second quarter, giving New Albany a 22-15 lead. But Center Grove tied the game at 26 with a little more than six minutes left in the third on a reverse layup by Travis Roehling.
A hook shot by Bulldog freshman Julien Hunter capped off an 8-0 run to put New Albany up 37-29 with about 2:30 left in the third. The Trojans, though, battled back to within four at 46-42 with 3:05 remaining in regulation on a putback by 6-foot-8 center Trayce Jackson-Davis.
With the Bulldogs up 48-42 with 2:20 left, New Albany senior Isaac Hibbard came up with a huge play. Hibbard made a steal, then nailed a high-arching finger-roll layup while getting fouled. Hibbard finished the three-point play with a foul shot to give the Bulldogs a 51-42 advantage.
“The good news was he made a deflection and got the steal,” Shannon said. “That changed the momentum of the game back to us. Our 1-3-1 (trap defense) hurt them.”
At the 10.2-second mark, Roehling had a three-point play to pull Center Grove within five at 55-50. But junior Sean East hit two free throws to increase New Albany’s lead to seven.
Langford recorded game-highs in scoring (21 points) and rebounding (nine). The 6-foot-5 Naismith All-American was 9-of-16 from the field and 3-of-3 from the line, as Center Grove utilized a junk defense in trying to slow down Langford.
“I feel like I have to earn my points almost every day, but especially today,” Langford said.
Shannon gave Langford plenty of credit for driving the ball in the paint to draw fouls on Jackson-Davis. The Trojan sophomore committed four fouls and had to sit on the bench for several minutes to keep from fouling out.
“Getting him out of the game was crucial,” Shannon said. “Ro kept taking it to him.”
East wound up with nine points and Hibbard had eight. Junior forward Blake Murphy had a productive game off the bench with seven points and seven rebounds.
Roehling led the Trojans with 18 points, while Jackson-Davis had 16 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Teammates Nate McLain and Joey Klaasen each chipped in nine points.
“They’re a really good team,” Shannon said. “(Roehling) is fantastic. We were prepared, but stopping them was a different story. Ro had to earn his points.”
New Albany will try to win to back-to-back regional titles for the first time since 1996 and 1997 Saturday night. The Bulldogs also will vie for their 18th regional championship in school history.
CLASS 4A SEYMOUR REGIONAL
NEW ALBANY 57, CENTER GROVE 52
Center Grove 8 12 14 18-52
New Albany 15 9 18 15-57
Center Grove (17-8): Travis Roehling 18, Trayce Jackson-Davis 16, Joey Klaasen 9, Nate McLain 9, Lucas Doyle 0, Ben Nicoson 0, Spencer Piercefield 0.
New Albany (25-3): Romeo Langford 21, Sean East 9, Isaac Hibbard 8, Blake Murphy 7, Julien Hunter 6, Derrick Stevenson 6.
3-point field goals: Center Grove 4 (McLain 3, Klaasen 1); New Albany 4 (East 1, Hibbard 1, Murphy 1, Stevenson 1).
Rebounds: Center Grove 23 (Jackson-Davis 7); New Albany 26 (Langford 9).
Turnovers: Center Grove 8, New Albany 6.
Free throws: Center Grove 8-14, New Albany 11-13.
Total fouls: Center Grove 16, New Albany 13.
Fouled out: none.