The second semifinal of the Johnson County boys basketball tournament played out not all that differently than the end of the original “Rocky” movie.
Whiteland, the heavy favorite, consistently landing shots and staying ahead on points. Indian Creek, the plucky underdog, throwing haymakers until the very end, hoping for a stunning knockout.
When the final horn sounded, with both teams completely drained, it was the top-seeded Warriors that had held on for a 67-63 triumph, earning a spot in tonight’s championship game against Center Grove, which disposed of Greenwood in Friday’s opener.
Indian Creek stayed with the Warriors early thanks largely to the hot shooting stroke of Tim Abel, who scored 10 points to help stake the Braves to a 16-15 edge with just under a minute to go in the opening period.
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Elijah converted a three-point play to give Whiteland a brief lead, but an Indian Creek entry pass intended for Bryce Hogue was deflected into the basket just before the horn, leaving the sides tied at 18-18 entering the second.
The end of the first half saw the Braves go cold, however, and Whiteland (8-2) took advantage. Indian Creek didn’t score again after a Hogue bucket at the 4:43 mark, and the Warriors closed the half with an 8-0 run, made up of four points apiece from Michael Valle and Aaron Gross, to build the first double-digit margin of the night at 34-24.
“What got us was the second quarter,” Indian Creek coach Derek Perry said. “We just settled for outside shots. … If we had played like we did the other three quarters, I think we win the game.”
Down but not out, Indian Creek battled back after halftime. A Jared DeHart 3-pointer closed the gap to 44-39 by the end of the third quarter, and consecutive three-point plays by Hogue got the visitors back to within a bucket, 52-50, with 5:09 remaining. The Braves stayed within striking range into the last minute, cutting the deficit to 61-58 on a basket by Isaiah Lacey with 45.7 seconds on the clock, but just six seconds later Abel fouled out, and Gross and Riley Higdon helped seal it for Whiteland with six late free throws.
Hogue led all scorers with 22 points for Indian Creek, adding four assists and three blocked shots. DeHart also scored in double figures with 18 while Abel finished with 10.
“We came together at the end as a team, and that’s something we hadn’t done all year,” Abel said of his team’s effort.
The Warriors did much of their damage inside against the undersized Braves. Valle wound up with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Gross put together a well-rounded stat line with 15 points, 13 boards, four blocks and three steals.
“If you’re taller than the guy, it’s harder for them to block the shot,” the 6-foot-7 Valle said. “So we just went inside.”
Brennan Neal contributed 10 points in the victory.
Now, Whiteland will seek a repeat county title — if they can muster the energy.
“We’ve just got to go home and get some good rest, ice and come back ready to work tomorrow,” Gross said.