HAGERSTOWN, Ind. – Don’t blink when Northeastern is on the basketball court.
Never was this more evident Monday night than during a lightning quick exchange on the run from Joey Claypoole to Tyler Smith to Grant Esposito. Esposito finished the dizzying sequence with a layup in the middle of a dominant third quarter for the Knights, during another dominant outing for Class 2A’s No. 2 team.
Northeastern earned back-to-back Wayne County Tournament titles, halting Centerville 82-56 in the second meeting this season between the Tri-Eastern Conference rivals.
“Our ball movement has been 1,000 times better this year than what it was last year. It’s awesome to see,” Esposito said. “We’re all sharing the ball equally. We had 14, 22, 22 and 16 points up on the board. That’s something you don’t see every day, and that’s great.”
One of those 22s belonged to Esposito. The other to fellow senior Craig Dingwerth, and both spent time pacing the Knight offense.
Dingwerth scored six of his team’s first eight points, while Esposito netted seven in a 40-second span as Northeastern charged to a 29-17 advantage after one quarter.
“We wanted to come out and start strong,” said Dingwerth, who also grabbed six rebounds.
“They (the Bulldogs) came back in the second quarter, so we had to come out and start like we did in the first quarter, in the third.”
Centerville cut Northeastern’s lead to 42-32 at the break, but, true to Dingwerth’s words, the third quarter was much like the first.
Dingwerth hit two free throws, and Northeastern embarked on a 22-6 run that firmly put the Knights’ in the driver’s seat.
“I was happy how we started the game, and then I thought we had a letdown in the second quarter,” said Northeastern coach Brent Ross. “So I wasn’t real happy at halftime, but I thought that third quarter, we played pretty solid.”
Esposito scored 11 points in the third quarter, and the Knights were up 66-45 with eight minutes to play.
Claypoole finished with 16 points and seven rebounds — and connected on the first six field goals he took, including a pair of 3-pointers — while Tyler Smith scored 14.
Tucker Shepherd had five rebounds and four points for the 11-0 Knights, with teammate Robert Smith grabbing four rebounds.
Northeastern also had four players in double figures in Friday’s semifinal win against Hagerstown. The Knights’ 82 points in Monday’s final was a new tournament record.
“It definitely helps because the defenses don’t really know who to scout because we have so many people who can score a bunch of points on a nightly basis,” Dingwerth said of the offensive balance.
Added Esposito: “It was very important to gain the momentum. In a championship game, anything can happen, so it was very important to get that momentum rolling. The second quarter was kind of rough, but we definitely answered in the third quarter.”
Trevor Miller led Centerville with 13 points, with Matt Stamper adding 11 and Sam Shaw posting eight points and a team-high five rebounds.
Centerville (6-4) was making its first finals appearance since 2012, the final of eight straight county crowns for the Bulldogs.
“To put ourselves in a position to win a championship, or at least to play in a championship, is a step in the right direction,” said Centerville coach Ryan Chiddister. “We’ve had some success here for a few years, and we’re trying to get back to that point. That’s the first step, making it back to the championship game.
“We got some good play out of some individuals this tournament, and some things we’re going to build on.”
Centerville plays host Friday to Knightstown. Northeastern also is at home that night, facing Indianapolis Crispus Attucks.
Both Northeastern and Attucks played in the Connersville regional a year ago. Attucks is currently ranked fourth in Class 2A.
“Saturday was a really good day of practice,” Ross said. “The whole thing was a defensive practice on our press. I thought we came out and executed.
“That third quarter, to come out and put a quarter like that together when you need to is pretty good.”
Josh Chapin: (765) 973-4463 email@example.com or twitter.com/JoshChapinPI
KNIGHTS 82, BULLDOGS 56
NORTHEASTERN (11-0)- T.Smith 7 0-0 14, Dingwerth 10 2-5 22, Esposito 8 5-5 22, Claypoole 7 0-2 16, R.Smith 1 0-0 2, Reynolds 0 1-2 1, Rice 0 1-2 1, Hampton 0 0-0 0, Shepherd 2 0-0 4, Green 0 0-0 0. TOTALS- 35 9-16 82.
CENTERVILLE (6-4)-Miller 3 4-4 13, Torres 1 2-2 4, Cunningham 0 0-0 0, Stamper 5 1-2 11, Witte 0 0-0 0, Brandon 3 0-2 6, North 2 0-0 6, Pruitt 2 0-0 6, Shook 1 0-0 2, Shaw 4 0-0 8. TOTALS-21 7-10 56.
Northeastern 29 42 66 82
Centerville 17 32 45 56
3-pointers- NE 3 (Esposito, Claypoole 2), CEN 7 (Miller 3, North 2, Pruitt 2). Rebounds-NE 29 (Claypoole 7), CEN 19 (Shaw 5). Turnovers-NE 14, CEN 23. Fouls-NE 17, CEN 17. Fouled out-None.
• MVP : Grant Esposito, Northeastern
•Craig Dingwerth, Northeastern
•Tyler Smith, Northeastern
•Joey Claypoole, Northeastern
•Sam Shaw, Centerville
•Trevor Miller, Centerville
•Jared Andis, Hagerstown
•Jacob Kissick, Lincoln
*—Selected by Palladium-Item sports staff