HARTFORD CITY – So here was the formula, in so many words, for the continue-to-be un-squashable Bishop Dwenger Saints: Say cheese.
Say cheese down there in the mad scrum in the middle of the floor, where moms and dads and older brothers and younger sisters posed and smiled and posed and smiled, over and over again, in the wake of the Saint’s 50-47 overtime win over Muncie Central in the 3A regional championship game Saturday night.
And, yes, oddly enough, say cheese before that, when the title looked as if it were sliding away from the Saints (17-8) mere minutes before.
Even when we were down in overtime, they kept their composure, said Dwenger coach Matt Kostoff, whose team plays Bowman Academy in the semistate Saturday at either West Lafayette or Huntington.
Mike (Fiacable) was on the bench telling them, Smile, smile, everybody smile.’
And we came through. Very proud of them.
They came through in what turned into a low-possession game that looked as if it belonged to the Saints until the closing act of regulation. Until the Bearcats (11-12) finally caught the Saints at 39-39 on Joe Williams’ 3-pointer with 3:19 to play, Dwenger had trailed only twice and been even only twice, tenaciously protecting a lead that had never been more than six points.
No, not really, said Kostoff, when asked if a low-possession game was the plan. The way the first quarter started, I think everybody got up and down.
But I think nobody’s used to playing two games in one day anymore. And I think the legs on both teams kind of got a little tired the second half. But our kids fought through.
They had to when 6-foot-8 Tyler Arens tied it again at 41-41 with two minutes left, after which neither team scored again. And when Arens, who had 13 of his 19 points in the second half and overtime, cashed a bucket and free throw with 2:23 to play in the overtime, the Bearcats led 47-43 and looked to have finally wrestled away the momentum.
We were still upbeat, said forward Grady Eifert, who scored half his team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. We talked about battling that adversity, and knew there was gonna be a lot of adversity out there in the regional championship game. We knew when we got down we just have to have that extra push.
And so the Saints forced two straight turnovers to cut it to 47-46. Eifert dropped a pair of throws with 49 seconds left to give the lead back the Dwenger at 48-47, and the Saints never trailed again.
It ended an eventful day for the Saints, who beat NorthWood 50-44 in the morning. The Saints led NorthWood the entire game and were up 32-16 at halftime, were outscored 16-4 in the third, but managed to hang on for the win. Jeff Mugg scored 15 points to lead the Saints.
There’s no quit in these guys, and that’s been the key about the last month or six weeks, Kostoff said. They play hard and I think they’ve learned what it means to play for each other. There was no panic.
Only smiles and a title.