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Trojans rally for OT win at Connersville

By RON GREESON - For The Courier-Times

CONNERSVILLE — For three and a half quarters, it seemed like another winning result for Connersville varsity boys basketball on the Spartan Bowl hardwood.

But a resilient and resourceful New Castle team never folded, and when opportunities to come back appeared and shots started to fall, the Trojan pulled out a thrilling 70-69 overtime win over Connersville Saturday night.

The nearly-miraculous late rally to victory lifts New Castle to 5-5 on the season, while the host Spartans fell to 8-6 with a loss in a game that Connersville seemed to have won almost all the way.

But like Yogi Berra said years ago, “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over.”

The Spartans led by as many as 17 early in the fourth quarter, 45-28, before a scoring outburst broke loose for the visitors from Henry County.

The first of seven fourth-quarter treys from suddenly hot Trojan shooters made it 45-31 when New Castle varsity Head Coach Daniel Cox used his third timeout with 5:57 remaining in regulation.

Frigid cold shooting from beyond the arc had punctuated the first three quarters for New Castle, with just four made treys in 21 attempts, many shots just spinning out, or going down into the hoop before popping out.

No matter. The Trojans kept firing, and down they started to go.

Nicholas Grieser and Mason Hardwick treys cut the deficit to eight at 47-39 with 4:08 to play, but Connersville recorded six of the next eight points to take the lead back to a dozen at 53-41.

Back again came the never-say-die Trojans.

Five straight points made it 53-46, then a three-pointer from Bumbalough more than offset two Spartan points and it was suddenly a two-possession game, 55-49, with 1:48 to play, as Coach Cox used his fourth timeout for New Castle.

Amazingly, the Trojans would score 14 points in the last 1:48, sending the game to overtime tied at 63.

How it happened is maybe more astounding than the fact that it did at all.

Down the stretch, Connersville missed some free throws, had a couple of costly turnovers, and a couple of hasty, missed shots that turned into scoring opportunities for New Castle.

Another Bumbalough trey cut the margin to five at 57-52, then it moved to four at 59-55. Another Trojan trey cut the deficit another point to three at 61-58, and when NC got the ball, down three, with 25.4 seconds left, another oddity occurred.

A Spartan player fouled Bumbalough just over half court, as the scoreboard read only five team fouls whistled on Connersville in the second half, with a common foul to give.

When the foul was recorded at the scorer’s table, it was noticed that the foul given was actually the seventh foul of the half on the Spartans, not the sixth.

Thus, a one-and-one opportunity was awarded to the senior standout Bumbalough, and the Trojan guard calmly swished both charity tosses, making the score 61-60, Connersville, with a called Spartan timeout.

With the free throws, Bumbalough had scored 17 points in the final quarter alone, giving the state’s second leading scorer 35 points in the game. Plus, New Castle had scored 32 points in the fourth quarter, to this point, but the biggest, and last, three points for the visitors were still to come.

Back to action, Connersville sophomore guard Jonah Graham took the inbounds pass, and with 21.1 seconds left, a foul was whistled in the back court, sending Graham to the line for two pressurized free throws.

This time, the Spartans converted on both, putting the hosts ahead 63-60, with just seconds remaining. Connersville defended Bumbalough tightly, forcing the senior to give up the basketball. But two passes around the perimeter later, sophomore Cole McDaniel flashed open on the left side, behind the three-point arc.

McDaniel caught the pass, took one dribble to the left, and jumped to shoot a fall away trey, with 6-7 junior Jacob Brown flying out at him, hand up, to distract the shooter.

No matter.

McDaniel arched the ball over the onrushing Spartan center and the ball rain bowed up and over the hoop, swishing through the net, sending the visiting NC faithful into virtual hysterics.

On the other side, it was a stunned Connersville crowd as the game went to overtime tied at 63.

The trey by McDaniel was the seventh of the quarter for the Trojans, but his first of the game, and the finishing touch on 35 points for the visitors in the last eight minutes of play, to finally get even with Connersville. The Spartans had led since nosing ahead 4-3 in the first quarter.

And there were still more dramatics to come.

A missed shot from Connersville standout Noah Belt resulted in an offensive putback basket for Brown to put the Spartans ahead 65-63 early in the four-minute overtime period.

Blake Burris came right back for NC, however, draining a three to put the Trojans ahead 66-65. Next came two charity tosses for Belt, as the Spartan senior finished a 22-point night, putting his team back ahead 67-66.

Then it was Nicholas Grieser’s turn for a big shot, as he worked free inside for a two-point field goal, and New Castle led 68-67, with 29.8 seconds left in overtime.

Once more, it was Brown shaking free inside for Connersville, hitting a shot to complete a 18-point, 10-rebound night, with nine field goals made in 10 attempts.

But New Castle had the last chance to score, and with the offense now clicking on all cylinders, the Trojans converted.

Once more, the Spartans defended Bumbalough well, forcing the senior to pass to a teammate for a better chance to score. It was Nicholas Grieser that put up the shot, which missed, but the ball bounded directly to Burris on the left baseline, and the senior put up a second shot that did go through with four seconds left, and the Trojans took a 70-69 lead.

One more alert play was needed to ensure victory for the green-clad Trojans.

Connersville quickly grabbed the ball when it went through the net, jumped out of bounds, and fired a long pass down the left sideline towards a player streaking towards the basket.

But an alert Bumbalough saw the play developing, sprinted back, and intercepted the pass, then whirled and fired the ball up into the rafters, and the Trojan celebration began.

In fact, while the Connersville faithful quietly filed out of the gym, the NC fans stayed and savored the dramatic win, applauding minutes later when team members filed out of the locker room to board the bus for the ride back to the Henry County seat.

Varsity head coach Daniel Cox was emotionally spent, but happy and proud after this team’s dramatic battle back to victory over one of its traditional rivals.

“That (the comeback win) was crazy,” Cox said with a smile. “We were down so far, and here at Connersville against the Spartans, but everybody on the team stepped up. I loved the way my team fought, played with urgency, but did not panic. This team has overcome obstacles all season, has worked hard, and have overcome the loss of Mason (Gillis, due to injury), so we just stayed the course, and refused to fail.”

Besides the 35 points of Bumbalough, Burris had 11, Hardwick 10, Nicholas Grieser nine, and McDaniel five. Playing key minutes without scoring were Brandon Matney, William Grieser and Collin Blessinger.

Now 5-5, after road wins on back-to-back nights at Richmond and Connersville, New Castle is home for two games this weekend, hosting Greenfield-Central in a girls/boys varsity doubleheader Friday, then welcoming Rushville Saturday.

It was a thrilling junior varsity game that started the night’s play, as Connersville took the lead early, then held on for a 39-38 victory.

New Castle was led in scoring by Michael Holmes with 12 points, on four second-half treys. Trey Miller added 10 and Dillon Bergum nine, on three treys, for the JV Trojans.

Derek Tabor of New Castle sank a long jumper at the buzzer, which looked like a game-tying three-pointer, but it was ruled a two-point field goal, leaving the Trojan team one point short of tying.

New Castle 70, Connersville 69 (OT)

NEW CASTLE (70)

Bumbalough 11-24 8-10 35, N. Grieser 4-6 0-0 9, Burris 4-9 0-0 11, Hardwick 4-10 0-0 10, McDaniel 2-4 0-0 5, W. Grieser 0-1 0-0 0, Blessinger 0-0 0-0 0, Matney 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 8-10 70.

CONNERSVILLE (69)

Belt 6-9 9-10 22, Brown 9-10 0-2 18, Garrison 3-7 4-4 10, Smith 4-7 0-0 8, Wickes 3-4 0-2 8, Graham 0-2 3-4 3, Sullenbarger 0-0 0-0 0, Logan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-39 16-22 69.

New Castle 7 10 11 35 7 - 70

Connersville 16 12 13 22 6 - 69

3-point goals – New Castle 12 (Bumbalough 5, Burris 3, Hardwick 2, N. Grieser, McDaniel), Connersville 3 (Wickes 2, Belt). Rebounds – New Castle 17 (Bumbalough 7), Connersville 20 (Brown 10). Total fouls – New Castle 19, Connersville 13. Turnovers – New Castle 9, Connersville 8. JV score – Connersville 39, New Castle 38. Records – New Castle 5-5, Connersville 8-6.