INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Crawford County players fought off tears following Saturday’s Class 2A state championship game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Wolfpack were moments removed from a 60-32 loss to Frankton in their first state title appearance. Crawford County trailed by as many as 30 points en route to the final buzzer. The outcome snapped a 13-game win streak for the Wolfpack, which included the program’s first semi-state title, its second regional crown and its first sectional championship since 2002. The dejection was evident.
Still, despite the result, some players couldn’t help but crack a smile as they received their state runner-up trophy. Crawford County’s run culminated in a crushing loss, but coach Levi Carmichael said the unfortunate ending doesn’t take away from the program’s historic journey.
“I’m tremendously proud of this team,” Carmichael said. “It’s the true definition of a team. I hope, as we reflect back on this, one game is not going to be the determination of what this team means. It is a truly special group.”
Saturday’s setback marked the final outing for five Crawford County seniors in Adam Beasley, Cameron Marples, Tyrell Nickelson, Brent Smith and Josh Thomas. Carmichael said the fourth-year players spearheaded the Wolfpack’s improbable state title run. Crawford County (22-7) won 18 of its last 21 games after falling to 4-4 on Dec. 28.
“We made all five of them captains after December. That’s when their run started,” Carmichael said. “They’ve really taken ownership of what this team is going to be and what our program’s going to be moving forward. … It’s a tremendous group. I’m going to miss them immensely, but I think as we look back, it’ll be that team – hopefully in 20 years, we’ll all get together and give each other a hard time and enjoy each other’s company. They’re all like sons to me. I treat them like sons. I’d do anything for them.”
Nickelson, who entered Saturday’s state final averaging 5.8 points per game, led the Wolfpack with 14 points and three steals in the loss. Beasley and Smith added six points apiece, and junior Matt Dearborn chipped in four points and six rebounds.
“I wouldn’t trade this team for anyone else,” Nickelson said. “These are my brothers. We didn’t come out on top, but at least we got to play together one last time.”
Per usual, Crawford County brought with it a raucous fan base to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon. Carmichael cited the constant community support and team maturity as driving factors behind the program’s growth.
“Culture supersedes anything that you do,” Carmichael said. “It doesn’t matter what play you run, it doesn’t matter what defense you run. I hope that’s the thing that’s carried down and is embraced by our younger players. It has been embraced by our community, because it’s a culture. Every day in that locker room, there’s nothing we have to worry about. We don’t have to worry about doing curfew checks because they’re all going to be at a friend’s house making sure nobody makes a mistake. … That’s the thing – it’s the culture that has now been established.”
Saturday’s Class 2A state final began with a Nickelson basket before Frankton answered with a 7-0 run. A free throw from Beasley inched the Wolfpack within 7-6, but the Eagles belted out an 11-3 run to extend their lead to 18-9 after one quarter. The advantage grew to 26-9 with 6:02 left in the second, and despite a 5-0 spurt midway through the quarter, Crawford County trailed 32-14 at the half.
The Wolfpack, who struggled with Frankton’s pressure throughout, turned the ball over 13 times in the first half and went 5-for-17 (29 percent) from the field. Nickelson had 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting at the break, but the rest of the Wolfpack managed just four points on a 1-for-13 clip.
“(Nickelson) was just aggressive,” Carmichael said. “When he’s aggressive, he’s a tremendous player. We just needed a couple more to go along with him in that moment early on just to break Frankton’s streak a little bit.”
Frankton began the third quarter on an 8-0 run and led 40-14 less than a minute and a half into the period. Dearborn snapped the spurt with a 3-point play, and Smith nailed a 3-pointer on the Wolfpack’s ensuing possession, but Crawford County trailed 50-20 entering the fourth quarter. Another 3-pointer from Smith made for a 52-28 deficit midway through the period, but it was all but over.
The Wolfpack finished with 25 turnovers on Saturday, which translated into 36 points for Frankton. Crawford County shot just 27 percent from the field, and its 32 points are the fewest by a Class 2A state finalist in state history.
Despite the ending, though, Smith said the Wolfpack’s historic run should pave the way for continued success in Marengo.
“Hopefully we helped the team break through (and) for years to come they can keep winning sectionals, keep Crawford County a winning program,” Smith said.
Indiana Class 2A state championship
Frankton 60, Crawford County 32
Eagles (23-6): Maurice Knight 23p; Landon Weins 6p, 5s; Kayden Key 8p, 3a; Patrick Spillman 6p, 4a; Rylan Detling 4p; Travis McGuire 3p, 4r; Keegan Freestone 5p; Brayton Cain 2p; Cole Garner 3p
Wolfpack (22-7): Tyrell Nickelson 14p, 4r, 3s; Adam Beasley 6p, 6r, 2s; Brent Smith 6p, 3r; Matt Dearborn 4p, 6r; Wyatt Allinger 2p
► ON THE GO? Download the CJ app for iPhone, Android and iPad
► FOLLOW US: Watch the latest featured video on YouTube