As it has all season, the Union County boys basketball team found itself in an underdog role Saturday afternoon, facing the No. 11 team in Class 2A.
But as the Patriots have done all season, they refused to let that stop them from playing their game, controlling the tempo the majority of the first half during the IHSAA Class 2A regional semifinal at the Spartan Bowl.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, Indianapolis Broad Ripple was too athletic, made a few extra plays and used a key run to defeat Union County 52-35.
Champions of Class 2A’s Sectional 41 for a second straight season, the Patriots finish a fourth straight winning season at 18-7.
Union County won its first sectional title since 1979 in 2012, but graduated six seniors, including all five starters.
“I just told our guys I couldn’t be more proud of a group,” Union County coach Mark Detweiler said. “They are one of those feel-good stories that you hear about and they got to live it. A team that was written off and nobody expected them to be here and I think it’s just a testament to their heart and their character, the way they’ve done things all year.
“It hasn’t been just about the last couple weeks and what they did last week, or making it here. It’s just been about what they’ve done all season. They’ve been this way all year. Whenever you hear ‘the heart of the champion,’ whatever that is, our group represents that, I think, and I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys.”
The sixth man from 2012 and this year’s leading scorer, junior Braden Norris, was held to two points Saturday, as the Rockets rode 19-points from Darian Fitzgerald to victory.
Brandon Himes scored 10 points to lead the Patriots, Kory Finch added eight, Dillon Miller six, Trey Hannebaum five and Norris, Jake Goecke and Matt Fields each scored two.
Broad Ripple got ahead early, but the Patriots were within striking distance for the entire first half.
Chase Parker scored six points and Fitzgerald five, as Broad Ripple led by as many as eight in the opening period, but a pair of treys from Himes helped the Pats remain within 15-12 after the first.
Norris’s only points got UC within one to start a low-scoring second quarter, and an eventual 3 from Finch tied the game at 19-all with 5:07 to play, but that would be the only time the Patriots pulled even.
The Rockets finished the frame on a 5-0 run, leading 24-19 at halftime, and opened the third quarter with seven straight.
“It was 19-all, we just couldn’t get the lead,” Detweiler said. ” … That 12-0 run, obviously the difference in the ballgame, but (Broad Ripple is) good. I think they’ve got all the pieces to win it all.”
Himes had the first pair of Patriot points in the third quarter, but by then Broad Ripple held a strong 31-21 lead.
The Patriots scored just six points that quarter from Himes, a Hannebaum 3-pointer and a Finch free throw as the Rockets led 44-25 heading into the final frame.
“I think we came out, played well,” Hannebaum said. “It wasn’t our best shooting game, but we didn’t lack intensity or anything. Everybody played pretty good.
” … (Broad Ripple is) just a great team. … Just a real good team.”
Miller hit a pair of fourth-quarter 3s, the second one bringing UC as close as it would get, 46-33, with 4 minute to play.
Matt Fields hit a pair of free throws with 0.2 seconds left and Broad Ripple headed to the regional championship game.
“I’m just super proud of this group,” Detweiler said. “The heart that they have. They’ve certainly impacted me more than any group I’ve ever had in the past.”