Northeastern High School cheerleaders applaud before a basketball game Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Union City.
UNION CITY, Ind. – Brent Ross had a message for his four seniors.
The Northeastern coach wanted them to know just what the Knights’ 68-38 victory Thursday night over Union City meant to the boys basketball program.
It meant a second straight outright Tri-Eastern Conference championship. It meant the first time the team reached 20 wins in the regular season.
And, it meant just another boost of momentum for a team that has even more goals ahead.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Ross said. “I don’t think they’ve realized what they’ve done for Northeastern, or Northeastern sports in general.”
The Northeastern quartet — Craig Dingwerth, Grant Esposito, Joey Claypoole and Tucker Shepherd — played a part in bringing the Knights their first TEC title in 30 years a season ago.
Then, they did it again. In dominating fashion, too.
Dingwerth ended the first quarter with an alley-oop pass to sophomore Tyler Smith for a rim-rattling dunk that put the Class 2A No. 5 Knights ahead 26-12.
Esposito later swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Northeastern a 40-25 advantage at the break.
That lead swelled in the third quarter. The Knights embarked on a 14-0 run at one point, and led by 30 points with a quarter to play on their way to a perfect 7-0 conference mark.
“It was nice to come out here and take care of business,” said Dingwerth, who has helped Northeastern win TEC titles in four separate sports — basketball, football, baseball and tennis.
“We came out here and got the job done. We came out here with a lot of intensity.”
Smith and Esposito led all scorers with 20 points each, with Dingwerth netting 16 and Claypoole seven.
Northeastern was efficient. Dingwerth made his first six shots from the field, Esposito missed just once and Smith established himself as a threat both to drive to the basket and to shoot from the 3-point line.
“He did a great job of shooting and it’s hard to guard him,” Union City coach Dustin Baldwin said of Smith.
Smith and Esposito both canned four treys, with Nate Reynolds connecting on another.
Shepherd also scored for the Knights, who improved to 20-3 overall.
“It’s pretty nice to win something back-to-back two years in a row, especially when your team hasn’t won one in 30 years,” Smith said. “To win back-to-back is really special.”
Isaac Davison paced Union City with 14 points, while Bailey Hughes added 10.
The Indians (9-11, 2-5) play host tonight to Southern Wells in their regular-season finale.
“The first half, we had some turnovers that let them get it to 15, and offensively we had some mental breakdowns and some bad passes that led to easy baskets for them,” Baldwin said.
“The second half they brought the press back and we didn’t execute against it. We made some bad passes and some long passes, and they try to bait you into those long passes.”
Claypoole led all players with seven rebounds. Esposito added five and Dingwerth and Smith had four each.
Northeastern has now won 15 straight TEC games. Hagerstown finished second in the conference at 6-1.
The Knights are off until March 6, when the defending sectional champions face the Union County-Eastern Hancock winner in a Class 2A Sectional 41 semifinal.
“We’re hoping we’ve got a lot more basketball games to play,” Ross said.
Josh Chapin: (765) 973-4463 firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/JoshChapinPI
KNIGHTS 68, INDIANS 38
NORTHEASTERN (20-3, 7-0)– Smith 8 0-0 20, Dingwerth 8 0-0 16, Esposito 7 2-2 20, Claypoole 3 1-1 7, Reynolds 10-0 3, Rice 0 0-0 0, Hampton 0 0-0 0, Shepherd 1 0-0 2, Schuler 0 0-0 0, Clay 0 0-0 0. TOTALS– 28 3-3 68.
UNION CITY (9-11, 2-5)-Davison 5 0-0 14, Wine 0 0-0 0, Ka.Whitesel 0 0-0 0, Thornhill 0 0-0 0, Hughes 5 0-0 10, Jeffries 1 1-2 4, Carpenter 1 0-0 2. TOTALS-16 1-2 38.
Northeastern 26 40 63 68
Union City 12 25 31 38
3-pointers– NE 9 (Smith 4, Esposito 4, Reynolds), UC 5 (Davison 4, Jeffries). Rebounds-NE 29 (Claypoole 7), UC 20 (Hughes 5). Turnovers-NE 16, UC 20. Fouls-NE 5, UC 4. Fouled out-None. JV-Northeastern 45, Union City 40.