Whiteland fourth-year boys basketball coach Matt Wadsworth had been waiting to see his team be rewarded for its effort.
It happened Saturday night when his Warriors captured their first Johnson County Tournament title since 1955 by edging Center Grove 48-46 in the championship game at Indian Creek High School.
“The biggest thing for me is a reflection back on the past four years and the hard work these kids have invested and the belief in what we do,” said Wadsworth, whose team improved to 10-2.
“I’m just blessed to coach these guys, and I appreciate from the players, their parents and assistant coaches to help us succeed.”
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It was a rematch of last year’s tournament final that the Trojans won, 55-45. This one went to the final buzzer when Center Grove’s Nate McLain’s deep 3-point shot bounced off the back iron.
Whiteland senior guard Terr’e Moss came up big for the Warriors. His 3-pointer tied the game at 44-all with under 3 minutes left. Moss then hit two free throws with 17.9 seconds left to give the Warriors the lead for good at 47-46.
“(Moss) puts in a lot of time in the offseason to get that done,” Wadsworth said of those big contributions.
After Michael Valle blocked McLain’s shot, Whiteland’s Will Higdon was fouled with 3.3 seconds left and hit one of two free throws to provide the final margin.
“One of the things we did was talk to our kids on focusing on what can go right,” Wadsworth said. “Our kids stayed focused and worked our way to the top.”
Prior to a semifinal victory against Indian Creek on Friday night, the Warriors’ top scorer, Tom Purdie, was suspended for disciplinary reasons.
Moss said younger players like freshman Brennan Neal (nine points) stepped up to provide needed support.
“It’s been our goal to win this (county title) since the end of last season,” Moss said.
Valle said everyone has been getting better as the season has gone on.
“Our team is a great team, and I love them,” Valle said.
Whiteland led 39-34 after three quarters, but Center Grove came out with an 8-0 run. The Warriors maintained their composure.
“I think the experience from last year (being in the final) carried over to this year,” Valle said.
Valle led the Warriors with 13 points, and Moss added 11. McLain was leading scorer for the Trojans with 14.
Center Grove coach Zach Hahn said he hopes the loss will motive his Trojans (6-7).
“Because you are going to play all the teams again in the sectional,” Hahn said. “At the end of the game all you can ask for is a chance to win it against any team. We had some chances to get stops late. We didn’t get stops. We fouled and they made free throws.
“We had chances to get layups and we missed layups. So there were a lot of things that were in our control and we didn’t finish.”
Whiteland had edged Center Grove, 68-66, in overtime on Dec. 18.
“Whiteland is a great team. They’ve improved since we played them last time, and I think we’ve improved,” Hahn said. “We’ve grown a lot as a team.”
In the third-place game, Franklin rallied from a 27-24 halftime deficit to beat Indian Creek, 62-50. Jarrett Bertsch led the Grizzly Cubs’ (8-3) balanced attack with 16 points. Andrew Hartkorn added 13 points and Cameron Rigley 12.
Jared DeHart was high for the Braves (12-3) with 20. Greenwood (5-7) blew by Edinburgh (3-12), 82-50, in the fifth-place game.