Perhaps on another night, in another gymnasium, Center Grove could have snatched the Johnson County boys basketball title away from defending champ and top-seeded Whiteland.
But on Saturday night, in the Warriors’ home gym, it wasn’t happening.
Aaron Gross scored a game-high 18 points and Michael Valle added 14 as Whiteland won its second straight county crown by grinding out a 53-47 victory over the Trojans.
“As a coaching staff and a group of players, we laid out a plan to become a championship ball team,” Whiteland coach Matt Wadsworth said. “And the players have bought in every step of the way, throughout the summer, the fall, up to this point in the season — and it paid off tonight.”
A Gross 3-pointer with 4:40 left in the third quarter broke a deadlock and put the Warriors (9-2) on top for good, and the senior added another trey off a long offensive rebound early in the fourth that stretched the lead to 39-33.
Center Grove was still within five midway through the final period, but the 6-foot-7 Valle — playing largely on the perimeter down the stretch to keep Trojan center Trayce Jackson-Davis away from the paint — found Noah Hale open for a corner 3 that made it 46-38 with 3:17 remaining.
Center Grove still had a chance down six with the ball in the closing seconds, but a steal and a layup by Valle cemented the outcome and set off an extended postgame celebration for the Warrior faithful.
For the second straight night, Gross turned in a brilliant all-around performance, finishing with seven rebounds, three blocked shots and a pair of steals.
“I guess there’s just something about playing Center Grove that makes me want to play better,” Gross said.
Travis Roehling led Center Grove (7-5) with 15 points, while Jackson-Davis finished with nine points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
In the third-place game, Eric Moenkhaus scored 22 points to help Greenwood fend off Indian Creek, 61-56. The Woodmen (7-6) held a slim lead in crunch time by making free throws, something that had plagued them in a semifinal loss to Center Grove.
“I was really happy with just how focused we were on what we wanted to do and how we wanted to play,” Greenwood coach Bruce Hensley said.
Jeffrey Reynolds and Braydon Kincaid added 14 and 13 points, respectively, for Greenwood. Jared DeHart led the Braves (8-5) with 23 points in defeat, while Bryce Hogue had 15 and Tim Abel contributed 11.
Franklin began play Saturday by pulling away for a 71-45 win over Edinburgh. Reece Thomson and Nolan Smith led a balanced attack with 11 points each, while Jacob Rockey and Cory Richards each scored 10.
Parker Bryant had 13 to pace the Lancers (4-11), who also got 12 points from Cameron Cravens.
At night’s end, though, the floor belonged to the Warriors, who were thrilled to defend their title but also have larger goals in mind come season’s end.
“It’s just good experience for us, playing close games like this in tournaments,” Whiteland junior guard Riley Higdon said, “because farther on in the season we’re just more experienced and we’ll know what to do in situations like that.”