Franklin seniors Tyler Thomas and Nick King were aware of the history.
They just wanted to make a little of their own.
And after the Franklin boys basketball team earned a 39-32 victory against visiting Center Grove in Saturday’s final of the Johnson County Tournament to claim its second consecutive and fourth overall county championship, they had added to the program’s history.
“We have half of Franklin’s county championships, which just means a crazy amount to us,” Thomas said. “It means we’re in history as one of the best teams at Franklin.”
Before this season, the Grizzly Cubs won just three county titles. All three have come since 2005, when the tournament was resumed after a 40-year absence. Saturday marked the first time they had consecutive championships.
After Franklin (8-2) beat Center Grove (7-5) for last year’s title in coach Jerry Bomholt’s first season at Franklin, Thomas, King, and Franklin’s three other seniors, Bryce Platfoot, Christian Dickmann and Alec Bertsch, were in position to defend their title.
“We knew that coming in,” King said. “We have a great junior class, sophomore class and freshmen class, for that matter. We want to continue with the three in a row. We’ll be back supporting the senior class.”
In Saturday’s bid for a repeat, the Cubs had just one problem. They needed to get past Center Grove, a team that beat them 56-44 on Nov. 26 to open the regular season. In that game, Center Grove senior Tyler Bryant (34 points) and junior Michael Benkert (18 points) combined for 52 of its 56 points.
“We play Center Grove first all the time,” King said. “And our defense was sluggish the first time we played.”
That game, and the other games leading up to the county tournament, had Bomholt concerned because he didn’t think Franklin was playing defense the way it was capable.
But with Franklin’s trademark 1-2-2 zone defense, it was able to clog the lane and get out enough on 3-point shooters to limit Center Grove’s perimeter opportunities.
And the defensive effort, more than the history, is what pleased Bomholt.
“More important than anything that happened this weekend, probably even more important than the county tourney championship, was that we were able to step up our play on the defensive end,” Bomholt said.
Franklin held the Trojans to 13 second-half points, forced them to shoot 22 of their 29 attempts from the perimeter, and allowed them just five offensive rebounds. The Cubs also limited Bryant and Benkert to just a combined 18 points.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Bomholt said. “I thought they did an unbelievable job. Everything that we asked them to do on the defensive end (they did). And as a result, they had a chance to win a championship.”
Center Grove coach Cliff Hawkins said both teams know each other pretty well and know how to exploit the other’s weaknesses.
“(The Cubs) truly, with their size, dominated us,” Hawkins said. “And the thing that makes them even double tough, besides the guys underneath, is their wingspans outside.”
That wingspan makes it difficult to pass around Franklin’s zone.
“We really had difficulty tonight because we basically shot 3-point shots,” Hawkins said.
Center Grove junior Joey Lenkey’s 3-pointer with 2:42 remaining tied the game at 32-32, but the Trojans didn’t score again as they missed a 3-pointer and committed two turnovers on their next three possessions.
Thomas scored a game-high 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds. In a third-quarter Center Grove won 7-6, he had two key offensive rebound put-backs.
King, who scored seven of his nine points in the fourth, hit a huge 3-pointer to tie the game at 29 early in the fourth. Platfoot scored nine points and grabbed four boards.
Franklin’s next game is Friday against visiting Mid-State Conference rival Franklin. Center Grove hosts Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rival Ben Davis on Friday.
In Saturday’s third-place game, Edinburgh beat Whiteland, 64-48.
Bob Simpson and Dakota Sneed led the Lancers (6-3) with 16 and 15 points, respectively. John Hubler led Whiteland (6-7) with 21 points, and teammate Jacob Stidham had 14.
In the fifth-place game, Greenwood defeated Indian Creek 55-47.
Jaren Hornbeak led the Woodmen (3-7) with 22 points. Cameron Smith paced the Braves (3-8) with 16.