Brian Bangs knows about heartbreak — at least enough to realize he’d like to avoid it happening again.
He was a member of West Lafayette’s baseball team that blew a lead against Western in the sectional last spring. Baseball is Bangs’ number one sport, and that emotion of fifth-ranked WL losing a 2-0 lead by giving up three unearned runs stayed with the Red Devil senior.
Bangs elected not to play football his senior year, so basketball season provided his next opportunity for sectional glory.
The 6-foot-5 forward embraced the moment in a big way, grabbing 18 rebounds and scoring 17 points to lead the Red Devils to a 63-55 victory over Maconaquah in the Class 3A, Sectional 20 championship.
“The experience that makes me more appreciative of tonight is my baseball season last year,” said Bangs, who has his share of college basketball suitors, but has decided not to play beyond high school. “In the seventh inning we lost, and it was one of the most heartbreaking sports experiences. That drove me to accomplish this.”
The Red Devils (19-5) advance to next Saturday’s Plymouth Regional to play the host Pilgrims (20-3), a 74-45 winner over South Bend St. Joseph.
Saturday’s victory is West Lafayette’s 10th sectional title and fifth in coach Dave Wood’s 19 seasons. Wood also has now won a career-high 19 games this season. The sectional title was reason for celebration, but not for satisfaction.
The seven-player senior class had expected this all along.
“We haven’t shied away from talking about it, and beyond,” Wood said. “We said the first day, somebody’s going to win the 3A state championship. Why not us? This is the first big step towards that.”
Senior Justus Stanback joined Bangs in collecting a double-double. The IUPUI recruit finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. His 14 first-half points allowed WL to build a 30-17 halftime lead that ultimately proved to be too deep a hole for the Braves (13-10) to crawl out of.
After winning back-to-back sectional titles in 2009 and ’10, West Lafayette made sectional exits the past two seasons. With a sectional title not being the ultimate goal for this group, reminiscing on those setbacks made Saturday night at Twin Lakes one to appreciate.
“I appreciate this because of all the hard work everyone put in, and it paid off this year,” Stanback said.
West Lafayette led 54-36 with 4:34 remaining. With Braves’ 6-foot-10 center Micah Pier fouled out, Maconaquah went on a run spearheaded by senior Tyler Bradley, who scored a game-high 23 points.
The Braves closed the gap to six points in the final minute before WL held on.
“We came out more aggressive than I thought we even could in that second half, and we did everything we could to get back in the game,” Maconaquah coach Andy Steele said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time.”
Stanback, Bangs and Caleb Shinn (17 points) combined for 53 points in a game where all seven seniors seemingly had their moment — all the way down to the injured Jay Chapman, who came onto the floor in the final seconds.
Christian Gatmaitan provided quality minutes with fouls plaguing WL in the first half, Brody Forbes added an additional ball-handler in reserve of Nai Carlisle and Tory Eger knocked down a pair of technical foul shots at the end of the third quarter to put WL ahead, 43-24.
“We worked so hard this season to cut down some nets, and now we are ready to go cut down some more,” Forbes said.