NEW CASTLE, Ind.
For two years, it was Kellen Dunham.
On Friday, it was Brogan Gary. And Sean McDermott. And Kurt Talbert.
Playing Richmond at tournament time seems to bring out the best in Pendleton Heights. This time was no different.
The Arabians remain the Red Devils’ roadblock during the sectional, halting Richmond 66-54 in a Class 4A semifinal at New Castle.
It was the third straight year Pendleton eliminated Richmond. The previous two came in the sectional final, with a Dunham-led Arabian squad.
Pendleton (14-9) faces host New Castle at 7:30 tonight in the final at New Castle Fieldhouse. New Castle (13-9) defeated Greenfield-Central 63-49 in Friday’s other semifinal.
“Mentally, they’re very tough,” RHS coach Joe Luce said of the Arabians. “We got beat by a team that was better coached and outplayed us tonight. It’s just the way it is.
“It’s frustrating to spend that much time going over the things we did, and then losing focus defensively and not getting it done. Maybe we just didn’t do a good job of getting the message across and delivering what needed to get done.”
Pendleton came into the semifinals with momentum, including a victory over North Central in the regular-season finale, then surviving a two-overtime battle with Connersville during Tuesday’s opening round.
The Arabians never trailed against Richmond. The Red Devils tied the game 15-all after one quarter as Davious Webster ended the frame with six straight points.
But Pendleton took a 26-23 lead into the break, then outscored RHS 9-2 to start the third quarter.
Gary paced the Arabians with a game-high 21 points, McDermott netted seven of his 15 points in the final quarter and Talbert had a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Levi Buck was the fourth Arabian in double figures, finishing with 12 points.
“It’s sectional time and you want to play your best,” said Pendleton coach Brian Hahn. “Richmond’s a great team. It’s a history-rich program. Our kids knew we had to be focused, and they knew they had to play well. They came out and did that.”
They also fended off a late Red Devil charge.
Richmond fell behind 42-31 to start the final frame, but cut it to seven a few times late.
It got no closer.
“I’m disappointed for our guys, especially for our three seniors,” Luce said.
Gary swished a critical 3-pointer that put Pendleton’s lead back in double digits midway through the fourth, and Talbert and teammate Peyton McCardwell continued to snag rebound after rebound.
“Rebounding was huge,” Hahn said. “It was critical that we rebounded well. Kurt Talbert and Peyton McCardwell were huge on the boards for us. We knew that Richmond is a very good offensive rebounding team, and we really limited their opportunities there.”
Webster scored a team-high 13 points for Richmond, followed by 12 by Charles Hampton.
Joel Okafor netted seven, with Jai Wright, Reggie Jones and Mike Tillman scoring six apiece.
Hampton, Wright and Nathan Jones are seniors. Richmond finished the year 15-8.
“I really enjoyed the three seniors we had. Again, I’m just disappointed we had to end this way,” Luce said.
Richmond advanced to the sectional final the past two seasons. The Red Devils’ last championship came in 1996.
Pendleton has won eight total sectionals, and two straight. New Castle’s last sectional title of 57 overall came in 2008.
Both of Pendleton’s most recent championships came at New Castle Fieldhouse. Pendleton held off New Castle 61-60 on Feb. 12 in the last meeting between the two teams.
“You always look forward to coming here. It’s the best facility in the state, and it’s a great atmosphere,” Hahn said. Obviously (tonight) is going to be a tough game, but we’re looking forward to having the opportunity.”