Last weekend, the Whiteland boys basketball team was celebrating a second consecutive Johnson County championship on its home floor, while Franklin was relegated to an appearance in the fifth-place game.
Things turned out a little bit differently on Friday night. And with a 45-36 road win against the Warriors, the Grizzly Cubs have put themselves in position to claim a championship of their own in the Mid-State Conference.
“We wanted to play with a chip on our shoulder,” Franklin senior guard Jacob Rockey said. “Our whole team was here watching them win county, and we knew we wanted a little revenge on their court. We had a great week of practice, and we got it done.”
The Grizzly Cubs (8-4, 4-0) grabbed momentum early with a 9-0 burst, one that started with a Tyler Craft 3-pointer and included back-to-back jumpers by Cory Richards. Jacob Rockey hit a 3 later in the quarter to make it 15-6, and he added another with 5:25 left in the half to stretch Franklin’s lead into double digits.
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Whiteland (9-3, 2-1) got within seven on a pair of buckets by Michael Valle, but Craft hit another 3 to increase the margin back to 10, and the Grizzly Cubs finished a low-scoring first half with a 23-15 advantage.
That spread held through a third quarter that saw both teams pick up the pace. Whiteland scored the first six points of the period to briefly get within two, but Richards responded with a pair of baskets, including a 3-pointer, and Thomson tacked on a 3 at the 1:50 mark to give Franklin a 35-25 cushion.
Richards found Hunter Gross with a lob to make it 39-29 with 5:33 left in the fourth before the Warriors made a late push. Buckets by Valle and Brennan Neal cut it to six, and Aaron Gross got loose for a 3, his first and only points of the night, to trim the Franklin lead to 39-36 with 2:15 on the clock.
When Whiteland forced the Grizzly Cubs into a 10-second violation on the ensuing possession, it appeared the home squad was going to have an opportunity to steal the win. But Rockey came up with a steal and layup with 1:18 to go, and Franklin was able to keep the Warriors at bay the rest of the way.
Franklin coach Brad Dickey cited a good week of preparation, coupled with his team’s execution of the game plan, as the driving force behind the victory.
“As coaches, we try to get them a head start and we’re trying to convince the kids how to play against a certain opponent,” he said, “and tonight was a perfect storm where we gave them good advice and they followed it beautifully.
“I can’t even tell you how many times I looked out and I saw one of those scouting report opportunities that our boys got perfectly right, and it was just very satisfying.”
Richards paced a balanced Franklin offense with 13 points, while Rockey added 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. Gross had nine points and 11 boards, and Craft contributed eight points.
For the Warriors, Valle finished with a game-high 15 points and Neal added 10.