By Justin Sokeland
SEYMOUR – Trey Wilson had not scored a point all night. That was not his main job. But with the crowd roaring, with the postseason fate of two basketball teams in his hands, he dropped a free throw that dropped Bedford North Lawrence to its knees. Heartache does that to the strongest of men.
Wilson’s clutch free throw, the result of a crucial offensive rebound on Jennings County’s final possession, with 2.3 seconds left was the ultimate difference as the Panthers muscled to a sectional semifinal victory on Friday night.
Jennings completed a sweep of the Stars, conquering BNL 44-43 while advancing to the Sectional 15 championship. The Panthers (14-11) will face Floyd Central (17-6) in that final, with both seeking to end long championship droughts.
BNL (15-10) will suffer through another year without a trophy to take home. And this one will sting, like the physical blows the Stars absorbed, like the mental anguish that will linger as a five-point lead disappeared in the final 3:37.
Wilson’s free throw capped a dramatic close to a tense, tough battle. The Stars had one final chance, possession from the opposite baseline with 2.0 remaining after Wilson missed the second free throw. But Kooper Staley caught the long pass in front of the BNL bench and stepped on the sideline, setting off waves of emotion on both benches.
Jennings can now chase its first sectional crown since 2005. Aaron Martin powered the Panthers to that point with 21 points. His 3-point play started the JC comeback from a 41-36 deficit.
”I don’t think there was ever a time in that ballgame we thought we were going to lose,” JC coach Josh Land said. “We made plays when we had to. That game could have gone either way down the stretch, and we were lucky to have the ball in our hands.”
BNL had victory in its hands after Brayton Bailey, who played his final high school game, drilled two free throws for the five-point edge. Martin crashed the baseline for his and-one bucket, and Carson McNulty added two free throws after a BNL turnover against a trapping press.
Bailey came back with two more free throws for a 43-41 lead with 1:45 left. Jennings sophomore big man Jacob Vogel made a pair at the line at 1:32, and Staley missed an open 3-pointer. The Panthers went for the final shot, and freshman Keegan Manowitz took it, driving the left lane under heavy pressure. But Wilson was there to collect the miss and a foul. The rest is history.
“It should never come down to the last play,” BNL coach Jeff Hein said. “We made so many mistakes, that we hadn’t been making the last 10 games of the year.
“Made some mistakes, some ill-advised mistakes at the wrong time, took a couple of bad shots and a bad turnover. A couple of do-or-die threes. If they go in, we win.”
BNL didn’t make much. The Stars struggled for paint baskets, although Staley and Ben Cosner combined to hit 6 treys. The Stars were only 5 of 20 from inside the bonus line.
“We were in trouble with their physicality,” Hein said. “That was the difference in the ballgame.
“We got pushed around all night long. They were a lot stronger than us, a lot more physical than us, and we struggled inside the arc shooting the ball. We couldn’t score in there.”
Jennings zipped to a 6-0 lead, and the Stars took the first hit when freshman starter Colten Leach went down with a left calf injury. He returned in the second quarter, suffered the injury again, and finished the night on the sideline. The Panthers set the tone and tempo the entire half as Martin blasted his way to 11 second-quarter points for a 28-22 halftime lead.
“I thought the first half we played scared, which is something I had not seen in our kids’ eyes in a while,” Hein said. “We came out with more intensity in the second half, scrapped ourselves back in it. We dug down after a poor first half.”
The Stars were more stable in the third. Staley stroked a trey, Colton Staggs drained another, and Cosner capped the comeback with a corner bomb for a 35-32 advantage. BNL opened the fourth with a Bailey drive and free throws from Staggs and Bailey, the latter for the fateful five-point lead that vanished.
“You have to give Jennings a lot of credit,“ Hein said. “They played a great game and defended us well. We just didn’t get it done. Didn’t make enough shots.”
Bailey finished with 18 points, Cosner added 10, and Staley totaled 9.
Vogel and Manowitz had 9 points each for the Panthers.
“Aaron Martin showed a ton of toughness,” Land said. “Wilson did a really good job on Bailey, just containing him. We were able to turn them over late, they missed a couple of shots, a couple of free throws. That really helped us.”
Jennings suffered a 49-46 overtime loss at Floyd Central on Jan. 24. This rematch means a whole lot more.
“That’s what we play for,” Land said. “Anything can happen on Saturday night.“
Floyd Central 61, Jeffersonville 47 – Jake Heidbreder scored 17 points as the Highlanders dismantled the Red Devils, roaring to a 20-point lead in the second half.
Caleb Washington had 10 points and Grant Gohmann totaled 11 for Floyd, which avenged a regular-loss loss to the Red Devils. Floyd Central has not won a sectional since 1989.
Caleb Mason had 17 points and Jacob Jones totaled 14 for Jeffersonville (18-6).
BEDFORD NL STARS (43)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
31 Jackson Miracle, f 0-0 1-3 0-0 4 5 2
11 Ben Cosner, f 3-7 3-9 1-4 2 2 10
13 Kooper Staley, g 3-9 3-9 0-0 2 4 9
22 Brayton Bailey, g 0-0 4-13 10-10 9 3 18
24 Colten Leach, g 0-0 0-1 0-0 1 0 0
20 Colton Staggs 1-3 1-3 1-2 4 3 4
21 Zach Sasser 0-0 0-1 0-0 2 2 0
5 Dylan Nikirk 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Totals 7-19 12-39 12-16 26 19 43
JENNINGS COUNTY PANTHERS (44)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
11 Aaron Martin, f 0-0 6-7 9-11 8 4 21
44 Jacob Vogel, c 1-2 3-6 2-2 6 2 9
13 Trey Wilson, g 0-1 0-3 1-2 9 1 1
20 Carson McNulty, g 0-1 0-6 4-4 2 3 4
22 Keegan Manowitz, g 1-2 3-11 2-2 0 2 9
30 Lance Bailey 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 1 0
3 Owen Miller 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
33 Joe Kelley 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
Totals 2-7 12-34 18-21 26 15 44
Bedford NL 11 11 13 8 – 43
Jennings Co. 15 13 4 12 – 44
Turnovers – BNL 7, Jennings County 5
Field goal percentage – BNL 12-39 (.308); Jennings County 12-34 (.353)
Free throw percentage – BNL 12-16 (.750); Jennings County 18-21 (.857)