By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – For the first time in 12 years, and in basketball terms that’s about equal to 84 in dog years, Bedford North Lawrence donned a crown. It’s been so long since the last coronation, did it still fit? Everything seems to shrink or expand with age. Drum roll, please . . .
Just like a favorite ball cap that had been missing, still a perfect fit. Feels good, familiar, comfortable.
The Stars won their first Hoosier Hills Conference title since 2011, clinching a piece of that coveted prize with a rugged conquest of New Albany on Friday night. BNL will share the top honor with Jennings County and Jeffersonville, and didn’t win this one on style points. But so what? Just like a golf scorecard, it only asks how many, not how.
BNL topped the Bulldogs 43-37, finishing its league run at 5-1. Colten Leach scored 12 points, Colton Staggs added 11, and the Stars (15-6 overall) made clutch free throws in the fourth quarter to muzzle the howling dogs and quiet their doubters. It’s the 13th HHC championship in program history, and none have been more satisfying.
Remember the old playground pick-up games? If BNL was lined up next to its league foes, others would be picked first. The Stars lack the athletic sparkle to pass the eye test, lack the respect from those who scoffed when they were mentioned as contenders. That’s why this co-championship ranks high on the list of team accomplishments.
“No one would have thought we would have done it,” Leach said.
“You look at us, and we won’t wow anybody with looks,” BNL coach Jeff Hein said. “We’re not very big, we’re not super strong, we’re not super quick, we’re not very athletic. But there’s a lot of things that we are.”
And if there’s one word to describe this team? “Guts,” Hein said. “They just play with a lot of guts.”
That’s what it takes to play a patient, deliberate, probing style. That’s what it takes to defend superior athletes, to look up to taller opponents and cut them down. This victory was like so many – no flash, no panache, just fundamental, gritty basketball. And by King George, it works.
It worked because BNL hit three first-quarter 3-pointers to edge in front. It worked because Staggs scored three times as the Stars took a 20-13 lead at the half. It worked because Leach ended an inexplicable 0-for-15 shooting slump (earning a Bronx cheer from the sideline) with seven points in the third as BNL’s lead expanded to 27-15. And it worked when the Stars converted 14 of 16 free throws in the final period to clinch it.
Mostly, it worked because BNL defended like a kingdom was at stake. New Albany (9-11 overall, 3-3 in the league) made only 4 of 19 shots during the middle two quarters.
“Our defense kept us in the game, really won it for us,” senior Kaedyn Bennett said.
The Bulldogs pointed to one key statistic as the difference. While BNL scored its final 14 points at the line, New Albany was only 8 of 17 from there. The Bulldogs, already struggling to find cracks in BNL’s defense, left points out there.
“The difference was the free throws,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “They hit 15 of 17. If we hit 15 out of 17 . . . I don’t know if it would have been closer, but mathematically it had to be.
“Bedford is very scrappy, they run their stuff extremely well. They make sure they get exactly what Coach Hein wants. They played really hard-nosed defense, they don’t get enough credit for that. Their defense is very good, and sometimes we have a drought. If you get behind, you’re done. Give credit to BNL on the conference. They earned it.”
In the third quarter, Leach slithered through traffic for 12-footer, cut back door for a layup off a Trace Rynders diagonal pass, then drove past a defender for a 3-point play. Rynders started the fourth with a slashing drive, and that was the last BNL field goal. The Stars played a lot of keep-away from that point.
“Free throws were big,” Hein said. “They had to extend the game, and we were able to step up and knock them in. It was going to be a grind-out game. These are kids that don’t care if they win 28-27 or 88-87. They just want to win.”
Josten Carter paced New Albany with 8 points while Jeremy Rose and Chris Lampkins added 7 each. Lampkins grabbed 10 rebounds.
Leach had another double-double with 10 rebounds. BNL didn’t shoot well, got outrebounded, had 8 turnovers in the second half – yet found a way to secure part of the title.
“It’s a win, an ugly win we would say,” Leach said. “But if you win, you can’t really complain. It doesn’t matter, as long as we get the win. Now we’ve got the first goal done.”
Ugly? That royal crown looks pretty darn good. BNL is a team that defines what Aristotle meant when he said “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
“We play together on both ends of the floor, we have great kids who care about each other and share the basketball,” Hein said. “They want to see each other do well, and they hold each other accountable. Our leadership has been excellent, and it’s got us to where we are now.
“It feels great. This group of seniors has worked exceptionally hard to get to this point, and they were able to finish it off as co-champs. But like I told them in the locker room, there are no co-champs in the sectional.”
That’s the next goal. BNL will learn its sectional fate when the IHSAA announces the pairings on Sunday. And other teams will be listed a favorites before someone finally picks the Stars.
“We’re more focused on the sectional,” Bennett said. “We’d rather win that. This feels good, not as good as it’s going to be to win a sectional, or try to win a sectional. But it’s pretty awesome.”
The Stars will close the regular season and celebrate Senior Night on Thursday, hosting Jasper.
NEW ALBANY BULLDOGS (37)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
3 Tommy Devine, f 0-2 0-4 2-2 3 2 2
13 Rylan Schrink, g 0-0 1-1 1-1 3 1 3
11 Jordan Treat, g 0-1 2-3 0-0 2 2 4
4 Josten Carter, g 2-6 3-13 0-0 3 2 8
5 Jeremy Rose, g 1-2 2-8 2-2 1 3 7
25 Chase Loesch 0-2 2-6 0-0 2 2 4
23 Kenny Watson 0-0 1-1 0-0 1 3 2
22 Chris Lampkins 0-0 2-2 3-10 10 3 7
Totals 3-14 13-38 8-17 26 18 37
BEDFORD NL STARS (43)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
4 Kaedyn Bennett, f 1-3 1-3 2-2 2 4 5
2 Colten Leach, f 0-0 3-10 6-7 10 4 12
22 Colton Staggs, g 0-3 4-10 3-4 3 2 11
1 Trace Rynders, g 1-4 2-5 0-0 4 2 5
11 Noah Godlevske, g 2-7 2-7 2-2 0 8
34 Jett Jones 0-0 0-0 0-0 3 3 0
14 Kole Bailey 0-0 0-0 2-2 0 1 2
5 Houston Corbin 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Totals 4-18 12-35 15-17 23 16 43
New Albany 10 3 6 18 – 37
Bedford NL 11 9 7 16 – 43
Turnovers – New Albany 9, BNL 9
Technical foul – Treat
Field goal percentage – New Albany 13-38 (.342); BNL 12-35 (.343)
Free throw percentage – New Albany 8-17 (.471); BNL 15-17 (.882)