MUNCIE – Jeff Holloway went into the locker room and saw tears in his players’ eyes. So the Muncie Central boys basketball coach reminded them he had sat in the Muncie Fieldhouse locker room after difficult losses during his own playing days as a Bearcat. Yet he knew there weren’t any words he could say to take away the pain of a season-ending loss, though he did take it as a sign of how much his players care.
Holloway said he walked off the court Friday with a sense his team had run into a very difficult opponent. Hamilton Heights defeated Central 75-58 in the semifinals of the Class 3A Central Sectional. Yorktown took down Blackford 69-20 in the other semifinal, so the Tigers and Huskies will meet for the sectional championship at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Muncie Fieldhouse.
“That’s a really good team,” Holloway said. “Physically tough, skilled. They all did their jobs. We ran into a team where it was tough for us to score. We didn’t get anything easy. And that was the difference in the game tonight.”
Hamilton Heights built its lead in the first half, establishing a 13-point advantage by halftime. Purdue signee Grant Weatherford keyed the Huskies’ quick start, scoring 20 points in the first half. He scored 14 of his team’s 16 first-quarter points.
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“He’s a leader, he makes that team go,” Holloway said. “He picks and chooses his spots. I think he gets everybody in place and he gets them where they’re going, he’s never in a hurry. So he’s a really good player.”
Weatherford finished the game with 28 points, the highest total for any player on either team. After he jump-started his team, the Huskies were able to diversify the offense. Weatherford’s younger brother, Sterling Weatherford, scored 16 points and also grabbed 14 rebounds. Hunter Crist scored 13 points for the Huskies.
The game took on a frenetic pace, and both teams were aggressive offensively. The Bearcats (11-12) and Huskies (18-7) combined to shoot 70 free throws, with Hamilton Heights going 25-for-38 at the foul line and Central going 18-for-32. Grant Weatherford led the parade to the foul line, going 15-for-21 at the line.
Holloway said he did not wish to play at such an up-tempo pace, but once Hamilton Heights established a firm lead, the Bearcats felt the need to push the tempo to extend the game. It was a tempo at which the Huskies were happy to play. Hamilton Heights was able to limit itself to four turnovers, while forcing 13 Central giveaways.
“I thought they probably wanted the game more in the 40s, low-scoring, more controlled tempo,” Hamilton Heights coach Chad Ballenger said. “And we wanted to get it up and down. And we did.”