Someone forgot to tell Center Grove’s boys basketball team that the future is supposed to come later.
Last week’s sectional was supposed to belong to Franklin Central, which had won it the last four years and had a senior-dominated lineup playing on its home floor. Or perhaps to Whiteland, which won the Johnson County tourney championship and beat Center Grove twice in the regular season.
But instead it’s the impatient young Trojans, with three sophomore starters, who are headed to the Class 4A Seymour Regional after back-to-back victories against the Warriors and Flashes.
Though it was senior Travis Roehling who came up with the game-winning play in Saturday’s title game, the Trojans’ youth movement has played at least as large a part in the program’s surprising rise.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, little by little growing more comfortably into his 6-foot-8 frame, is a blossoming force in the paint — one just as capable of affecting a game with his passes out of the post as with his shot blocking. Fellow sophomore big Lucas Doyle provides energy and athleticism off the bench, as he did with a pair of buckets during the first half Saturday.
Spencer Piercefield is the most lethal of the Trojans’ many perimeter options and borderline automatic from the foul line. His backcourt mate, Ben Nicoson, wasn’t even in the lineup at the start of the season. But on Friday, Nicoson was not only tasked with locking up Whiteland’s Aaron Gross, but he led the Trojans in scoring.
These young bucks have impressed their older teammates, particularly during a stretch run that has seen Center Grove win six of seven.
“It’s a huge turning point for what’s to come in the next few years,” Roehling said after Saturday’s win. “We’ve got a young team this year, so I don’t expect anything less from them the next couple of years.”
The next couple of years appear promising for the Trojans with most of the key pieces set to return. As for this season, Center Grove may be playing with house money at this point, but it’s not ready to cash out just yet.
This Saturday morning brings a daunting challenge in the form of Romeo Langford, easily the best player in Indiana and likely a future NBA lottery pick. New Albany won the Class 4A state title a year ago and is a contender to do so for as long as Langford is on its roster. The Bulldogs were very much expected to get to this point.
Center Grove, not so much. Its 2016-17 campaign hasn’t been without its bumps. But the shaky midseason stretch it endured — one that included defeats against Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference powers Carmel, Warren Central and North Central as well as county rival Whiteland — might well have helped set the stage for the team’s big finish.
They might not get past New Albany (and the Castle-Bloomington South winner) in this weekend’s regional — but this group, here before its time, certainly won’t be intimidated.
The Trojans weren’t supposed to be here. But they are. And they’re ready.
“We’re battle-tested now,” said Trojans coach Zach Hahn, “and I think we’ll be ready to go next Saturday.”