Central Catholic tops Barr-Reeve for state title
Sam King:INDIANAPOLIS - Each player took a piece of net home with her on Nov. 3.
It was assistant coach Jeff Dienhart's idea.
"We're going to start the year cutting down nets and we're going to end the year cutting down nets," Dienhart said that day.
He was right.
Saturday afternoon in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, second-ranked Central Catholic hoisted a state championship trophy after defeating previously undefeated and top-ranked Barr-Reeve 52-44.
"We knew going in that we could do this for Jeff," CC coach Craig DeVault said. "Cutting the net means a lot to these girls and I know Jeff is up in heaven jumping up and down."
The man who continues to motivate this group of CC girls basketball players had done it again and the Knights were not about to let him down.
This was everyone's goal, but Dienhart always seemed to really drive the point home that this team was good enough to add to the school's legacy of state titles, Saturday marking the school's 18th.
Emily Burks scored 17 points and Cameron Onken put together a solid all-around game with 16 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block for the program's second state title and first since 2006.
Onken's swat of Megan Graber's shot with 1:27 to go preserved a four-point lead and was the momentum-swaying moment as Barr-Reeve (28-1) mounted a comeback after being down 42-33.
"I usually get yelled at the most for not playing help side and being stuck on my girl," Onken said. "I happened to actually be guarding (Olivia Carroll), but I saw she beat her and Libby (Bonner) wasn't fully stepped up yet. So I stepped over there, got the block and we secured the rebound, went down and got fouled and put in the free throws."
CC ended an undefeated team's season for the third year in a row, defeating Frontier and Attica in the sectional the previous two years before using Onken to exploit the Vikings' defense that led the state by allowing less than 32 points per game.
Onken had nine points in the fourth quarter as CC (24-6) became just the third team this season to surpass 50 points against Barr-Reeve.
"She can play both ends of the floor. You see a lot of offensive players who maybe rest a little bit on the defensive end, but she plays both ends of the floor very very well," Barr-Reeve coach Mark Holt said of Onken. "I think the mark of a truly great player is someone who makes their teammates better and I thought she did a good job of that."
Dienhart, who passed away on Feb. 25 after years of battling cystic fibrosis, had a knack for saying
"Never give up," an ode to former college basketball coach Jimmy Valvano. But Dienhart did more than say it, he embedded it into the brains of CC's players as a way of life, both on the court and off.
Shortly after the final horn sounded, the Knights put on state championship T-shirts. Aptly written above the net on the shirts was "Never give up."
They did not give up when they were down eight in the final minute of semistate. The net from that victory was placed in Dienhart's casket and will be with him forever.
In last week's improbable semistate comeback win over Oregon-Davis and again on Saturday, Dienhart's seat on the bench was left open (watch the final two minutes of this game below).
"More than anyone, Jeff is the one who wanted us to get to state. March 7, Jeff drilled that date into our heads," said senior Maggie Bobillo, who had 10 points. "We never would have gone to state if not for him. He was at that semistate game. I am, convinced. We had that seat open for Jeff because he was here with us the whole time."
Saturday morning was another rough start out of the gate. CC quickly fell behind 7-2 and struggled containing Barr-Reeve forward Tiara Kenney, who scored 14 of the Vikings' 17 first-half points.
CC held the Vikings to four points in the second quarter and players other than Kenney combined to go 1-for-15 in the first half.
"I think we really got into them with our pressure the second quarter on," DeVault said.
Onken began the second half with a three-point play that put the Knights ahead 22-17 and Maggie Bobillo later had one of her own that pushed the Knights ahead 30-24.
Each time, Barr-Reeve fought back, having an opportunity to tie in the fourth quarter with the ball under their own basket while on a 7-0 run. Trailing 42-40 with 2:40 left, the Vikings mishandled the inbounds pass when two players attempted to catch a pass and it deflected out of bounds.
The Knights made sure that was Barr-Reeve's last chance and moments later found themselves celebrating the end of what was Dienhart's belief would be how the season ended all along.
"The first thing that went through my mind (after the buzzer) was that we did this for Jeff," Burks said. "It didn't feel real at first, but it is starting to sink in that Jeff is up there cheering as loud as he can."