Since 2005, Franklin and Center Grove have dominated high school boys basketball in Johnson County, having been the only two teams to win county championships.
So it was to be expected they would square off in Saturday night’s final at Franklin. However, with Center Grove opening the season with a 12-point victory Nov. 26 at Franklin, the Grizzly Cubs did something many thought unexpected Saturday in topping the Trojans 39-32.
With the win, Franklin (8-2) also accomplished something it never had before by repeating as county champs. Franklin beat Center Grove 46-42 last year.
“It’s back-to-back for Franklin, which hasn’t happened, but more important than that, it (takes) us another step in the direction we’re headed,” said jubilant Grizzly Cubs coach Jerry Bomholt, who celebrated with the animated Franklin student cheering section after the game.
“We have not been playing very well. Tonight, I thought we played exceptional. The first time we played them, we let them get started and do some things we can’t allow to happen against our zone.”
Capitalizing on their height advantage, the Grizzly Cubs employed a 1-2-2 zone and limited Center Grove’s offensive opportunities inside. The Trojans were forced to rely on their outside shooting.
Center Grove (7-5) went scoreless over the final 2 minutes, 42 seconds after tying the score at 32 on a 3-pointer by Joey Lenkey.
“I think the stronger, bigger players normally take over in a basketball game,” said Trojans coach Cliff Hawkins. “The way you beat people like that is you have the lead on them. We led them here in November, but we were also hitting 3-point shots at a higher rate. Obviously, at the end, you saw their strength: pounding the glass.”
Center Grove applied full-court defensive pressure after Lenkey’s 3, but the Cubs broke it with relative ease, leading to a layup by Nick King for a 34-32 lead with 2:28 left.
After a missed Trojans 3, Franklin beat the pressure and King shuttled a pass inside to Tyler Thomas, who was fouled and hit 1-of-2 free throws. Thomas took a charge on the ensuing possession and King fed Christian Dickmann for a layup with 50 seconds left to stretch the lead to 37-32. King added a pair of free throws late to cap the scoring.
“We’ve worked really hard with this group the last year-and-a-half to attack the press and make teams pay for pressing us,” Bomholt said. “We took care of the basketball and got the game slow enough to where they couldn’t run up and down the floor against us.”
Thomas led Franklin with 11 points. King and Bryce Platfoot both added nine.
Lenkey scored 11 to lead Center Grove and Michael Benkert had 10.
“It was huge for our city,” Thomas said. “We knew we had two chances to get them back (for the season-opening loss): one at county and one at sectional. We marked this date on our calendar and said this would be our day.”
Franklin (8-2) 39, Center Grove (7-5) 32
Center Grove — Bryant 8, McCoy 3, Lee 0, Lenkey 11, Benkert 10, Crowder 0, Hendershott 0, Leiter 0. Totals: 11 3-7 32.
Franklin — Williams 0, Bertsch 3, Platfoot 9, Dickmann 4, Hardesty 0, Phair 3, Hartkorn 0, Welch 0, King 9, Thomas 11. Totals: 16 5-9 39.
3-point shooting — McCoy, Benkert 1, Bryant 2, Lenkey 3 (Center Grove); Bertsch, King 1 (Franklin). Total fouls — Center Grove 11; Franklin 12.