Moments after coaching his 611th and final game at Franklin Community High School, Walt Raines addressed a room filled with players wiping away tears.
His message came down to two words:
Center Grove’s emotional 63-54 victory against the Grizzly Cubs in Friday night’s first semifinal of the Center Grove girls basketball Sectional signaled the end of an era.
After 28 seasons, Raines, the dean of Johnson County coaches — girls and boys — would finish his Hall of Fame-worthy career with a record of 339-272.
“I’m proud of these kids. They went out and they battled. Down the stretch we just couldn’t seem to get any offense created and (Center Grove) knocked down free throws. That’s the biggest difference right there,” Raines said. “I’ve had a great career because I’ve been lucky enough to have teams like this. When you have kids like that who play their hearts out for you, then you have nothing to complain about.”
Sophomore Cassidy Hardin’s 19 points led the Trojans (11-12), who return tonight to face Greenwood in the championship game. Junior Madelyn Bitterling was close behind with 18, while senior point guard Lauren Rau knocked down 10 of 13 free throws on her way to 12 points.
Center Grove, which led most the game, built the lead to 11 points by 3:09 of the third quarter when a 15-0 Franklin scoring run — nine of the points coming from the Cubs’ lone senior, guard Maci Eads — put Raines’ squad ahead, 42-38.
The momentum proved to be short-lived.
Hardin’s trey at 6:33 of the final stanza started what amounted to a 15-0 run by the Trojans for another 11-point advantage. Franklin twice pulled to within six points at 58-52 and 60-54, but could get no closer.
With 12.9 seconds remaining and the outcome no longer in doubt, the 5-foot-8 Eads, the fifth-leading scorer in Franklin girls basketball history, shared a teary final embrace with her coach as Franklin fans gave them both a standing ovation.
Eads and 6-1 junior center Allison Barnard each scored 15 points for the Cubs (9-15). Junior guard Delanie Hill came off the bench to add 10 points with junior Makenna Bertsch made 3-of-7 shots from long range for nine.
Trojans players knew Franklin would be extra motivated to keep its season going.
“They definitely had momentum moving into this game coming off the (Tuesday) win against Martinsville,” Hardin said. “I think we just kept our cool. We knew that that run they made wasn’t us. We were like, ‘Just calm down. We know what we’re doing out here. Just play basketball.’ ”
Playing in tonight’s final means Center Grove remains in contention for its third sectional title under seventh-year coach Shawn Sanders, whose 2011 and 2015 ball clubs cut down the nets.
Sanders, too, knew his team was about to get the Grizzly Cubs’ best effort.
“There were two things that scared me. Number 1 with it being’s (Raines’) last game whenever it happened to be, they were going to be playing with emotion. I know he was coaching with emotion, their whole staff was working hard. Everyone in that program was trying to win it for coach,” Sanders said.
“Number 2, I thought (beating) Martinsville gave them a lot of confidence. They had it in their heads that they can beat anybody, so we wanted to make sure our kids were ready for that emotion. This whole week has been about defense and stopping penetration and rebounding.”
Center Grove won the rebound battle, 22-19. Allison Utterback grabbed seven boards for the Trojans, while Hardin and Bitterling were responsible for six each. Barnard collected seven rebounds and Eads five for the Grizzly Cubs.
The Trojans converted 24 of 29 from the free-throw stripe compared to Franklin’s 10 of 13.