By Justin Sokeland
SEYMOUR – Ghosts from the past are stirring. Bedford North Lawrence, a program that amassed quite a collection of championship nets during its glory days, will take its shot at a grand prize.
For only the fourth time in the last 20 years, the Stars will compete for a crown, facing favorite Jeffersonville in the Sectional 15 finale at Seymour on Saturday. BNL (14-10 with a five-game winning streak) is chasing its first title since 2001.
The Stars and Red Devils (14-6) both reached the sectional final in breathless fashion. BNL shot down New Albany 49-48 in a dramatic semifinal as Ben Cosner hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer, and Jeffersonville survived a triple-overtime duel with defending champion Floyd Central, advancing with a 66-64 triumph as Will Lovings-Watts connected on the difference maker with 2.4 seconds remaining.
And both teams have gone the long way, winning first-round games on Tuesday. Will they have anything left for the championship battle? If momentum and adrenaline count for something, both should be flying high for this rematch.
BNL definitely is. The Stars are in the stratosphere after the thrilling conquest of New Albany, one of the Hoosier Hills Conference champions. They’ve won seven of their last eight games, a similar burst to peak performance when compared to last season’s late charge.
“I just like the way this team had played the last month,” BNL coach Jeff Hein. “They’ve played so well. We really got going at the end of the year last year, and we have the same thing going here. That’s what you want to do, get your kids playing their best basketball at the right time. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
Jeffersonville is riding its own tidal wave. The Devils extended their winning streak to 8 straight, and 11 of their last 12, with the emotional win over the Highlanders. Lovings-Watts powered them to this point with a coast-to-coast dash for a close-range bucket that finally vanquished Floyd Central.
The Highlanders were a tough out. Jake Heidbreder hit a clutch 3-pointer to force overtime, roared to a layup that created the third overtime, and almost got loose for another crack at the game-winner on the final play. He finished with 31 points.
“That’s a classic, a game we’ll talk about for quite a while,” Jeffersonville coach Andrew Grantz said. “It was exciting, stressful, I’m just glad we got the win. We wanted to get Will downhill, get him attacking the rim. I trusted him to make that play down the stretch.“
After BNL’s win over the Bulldogs, Hein joked about hoping the Devils went seven overtimes. He almost got his wish. So the first question is how much energy is left in the gas tank.
“We’ll see,” Grantz said. “At this point in the season, if you play three games in a week, it’s tough. You have to come out ready to play. It’s going to be a grind.”
Jeffersonville, which won a piece of the HHC title, earned the favorite status with a regular-season win at BNL. Lovings-Watts had 22 points as the Devils held off the Stars 54-49. BNL started strong, with Kooper Staley busting two 3-pointers and Colton Staggs bombing another to end the first quarter with a 16-14 lead. When Staley started the second with a 15-footer and Cosner swished another long jumper, the Stars were in front by five and cruising. Then the roof caved in.
Jeffersonville took control with a 15-3 run to end the first half, and the Stars could not recover. They trailed by as many as 9, got within single possessions twice in the fourth quarter, but came up short.
“Bedford does a good job of shooting the basketball, they have good guard play,” Grantz said. “We won down the wire. It’s going to come down to us playing one play at time, being mentally and physically tough enough to fight through some adversity.
“The big thing with Bedford is making sure they don’t get hot. They got hot against New Albany (finishing the fourth quarter with a 16-4 run) and you can’t let their shooters see it go in, or you’re in for a long night. We have to make sure we’re ready to take care of business.”
Cosner paced the Stars in the first clash with the Devils with 14 points while Colten Leach added 13. Kobe Stoudemire had 15 points, all from 3-point range, for the Devils.
Leach leads the Stars in scoring at 13.6, while Cosner (10.8) and Staley (10.1) contribute in double digits. All three were key in the win over New Albany.
“That’s the best win we’ve had in the two years I’ve been here, without a doubt,” Hein said. “It feels good, but we’d like to get one. I like the way we’re playing, the way we’re approaching things. It would be great.
“We’re there, that’s the big thing.”
The winner will advance to the two-game regional, along with champions from sectionals at Whiteland, Bloomington South and Evansville North, at Seymour on March 13.
Regular season: Jeffersonville 54, BNL 49
IHSAA SECTIONAL 15
Class 4A at Seymour
BNL vs. JEFFERSONVILLE
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Records: BNL 14-10; Jeffersonville 14-6
Sagarin ratings: BNL 74.29; Jeffersonville 86.41
Last meeting: On Jan. 29 at BNL, the Red Devils prevailed 54-49. Will Lovings-Watts had 22 points for Jeffersonville, while Ben Cosner had 14 for the Stars.
Game notes: BNL is chasing its first sectional title since 2001. Jeffersonville leads the series with BNL 30-28, including a 7-6 advantage in postseason meetings.
Bedford NL Stars
F – Ben Cosner 6-3 Sr.
F – Jackson Miracle 6-5 Sr.
G – Colten Leach 6-2 So.
G – Kooper Staley 6-1 Sr.
G – Aden Pemberton 5-10 So.
Jeffersonville Red Devils
F – Will Lovings-Watts 6-5 Jr.
F – Jaylen Fairman 6-0 Sr.
G – Brandon Rayzer-Moore 6-5 Jr.
G – Kobe Stoudemire 5-8 Jr.
G – Jered Tyson 6-0 Jr.