The game was won. The trophy was waiting.
More than 30 years? Not this time.
The chant of “UC repeat” filled Hagerstown’s gymnasium Saturday night, moments after Union County put the finishing touches on its second straight Class 2A sectional championship. Three Patriots hit double figures — and a third just missed — as they halted host Hagerstown 61-46 to win Sectional 41.
One year ago, Union County ended a sectional drought that dated to 1979, the year of the Patriots’ third overall title. No. 5 immediately followed No. 4.
“You can’t measure heart, and our guys have just had that all year,” said UC coach Mark Detweiler. “The toughness that they’ve brought, day in and day out, because they were written off back when we lost (our) seniors from last year.
“Expectations were low, and they embraced that. They really embraced that, and just wanted to I think just shock the world. That’s been their mentality all year.”
It’s a mentality that earned the Patriots a return trip to Connersville’s Spartan Bowl for next Saturday’s regional tournament. Union County will face Indianapolis Broad Ripple, champion of its own tournament with a 55-48 win over Heritage Christian.
Getting there, though, meant fending off a Hagerstown squad that racked up 21 victories, an outright Tri-Eastern Conference championship and had an eye on winning the program’s first sectional title since 1965.
The conference rivals traded leads early — until Trey Hannebaum’s putback at the buzzer lifted UC to a 13-12 advantage after one quarter.
The Patriots led the rest of the way.
“One thing that makes our team really dangerous is, we have five guys who can score,” said Hannebaum, a senior who netted 13 points in the final. “Everybody on the court can score at all times.”
Brandon Himes led Union County with 16 points, Kory Finch added 14 and Braden Norris finished with nine points and six rebounds, tying Himes for team-high honors.
“It’s great,” Himes said. “We hustled, and it just panned out the way we wanted it, too.”
Added Detweiler: “Defense has been good to us all year. … We knew we had our hands full. Hagerstown is such a good team, and athletic and big.”
After winning its last two tournament games by a combined six points, the Patriots looked to be in for another tight finish.
Clutch free-throw shooting loosened things up a bit.
The Patriots connected on 11 free throws in the final quarter, with Hannebaum delivering six of them.
Tyler Black scored after an offensive rebound to make it 52-46 with 1:08 left, but Union County responded with the game’s final nine points.
“Having close games all season, we’re kind of used to it,” said Finch, who scored eight of his points in the final quarter. “Coach Detweiler, he always says, ‘Push it, push it. Next play, next play.’ We just go to the next play.”
Bryan Mathews scored a game-high 19 points for Hagerstown, while Daniel Charles added nine points, Cole Bartlett seven and Black snagged a game-high 17 rebounds.
The Tigers finish 21-3. They also won conference and Wayne County Tournament titles this season.
Hagerstown also took the regular-season match-up with the Pats, but just barely. The Tigers won 55-53 on Dec. 7, one of eight games the Patriots played in this season decided by four points or less.
“They (the Patriots) are very quick, they’re very good ball handlers and they’re very good shooters,” said Hagerstown coach Bobby Jones. “You can tell the Union County kids spend a lot of time in the gym. We do, too, during the season, but we need to get to the point where we really work on our skills more often in the offseason. I mean, we do it, but we have a lot of three-sport athletes. And that’s OK.”
Hagerstown graduates seven in Jacob Leitner, Dylan Centers, Bartlett, Charles, Michael Weiss, Kyle Libby and Kain Grose.
“Each of those seven players accepted their role they were given, and were great leaders, on and off the floor. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Jones said.
Union County (18-6) faces Broad Ripple (16-7) at noon in the Class 2A regional. Speedway (19-4) takes on Indianapolis Scecina (13-9) at 10 a.m., with the semifinal winners meeting in the 8 p.m. regional championship.
“I’m just as proud of this group as any I’ve ever been around, just because they’re just tough,” Detweiler said.