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Connersville wills way to critical conference win

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

ST. LEON — Nearly three weeks ago, the Connersville Spartans saw a 23-game Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference win streak come to an end, as the boys team suffered a 49-48 setback on the road at Batesville.

The loss also tossed the Spartans into limbo, as far winning their fourth consecutive EIAC title, as the team found itself mired in the standings with the Bulldogs, Greensburg and East Central.

A lot of things have happened in the 20 or so days since that loss, however, none of them bigger than Connersville’s accomplishment on Thursday night.

Traveling to East Central to face a Trojan team that was unbeaten in the conference (3-0), CHS played its traditional defensive trump card, holding its opponent below 40 percent shooting for the game.

As a result, the St. Leon team was held nearly 20 points below its average, and the Spartans came away with a 50-36 victory.

“This was a really good win for us on their floor. It gets us back in the thick of the conference race,” Connersville head coach Kerry Brown said. “Now, both of us have one loss in the conference.”

Connersville turned a five-point halftime lead (21-16) into a much more comfortable 16-point cushion (35-19) through the first five minutes of the third quarter, using a 14-3 run to strengthen its advantage.

The large run was keyed by Wes Smith and Garrett Silcott, each of them scoring two baskets during the five-minute push.

The Trojans closed the frame with five

unanswered marks, then added a 3-pointer from Tyler Koelling to carve the deficit to 35-27 with 7:40 remaining in the game.

“Tonight’s win wasn’t easy,” Brown pointed out. “There was a stretch where we sat there on the bench, and (assistant coach) J.D. Miller and I were recalling a game here a few years ago where we were up 10 going into the fourth quarter, almost identical to where we were tonight. In that game, they came all the way back and beat us.

“As coaches, you don’t forget things like that, particularly when you see them make a little run at us to end the third and start the fourth, cutting that lead.”

Not this time, however.

Connersville would push the margin back to 10, and hold it there through the next five and-a-half minutes, taking a 44-34 lead into the final 2:15 of the contest. 

“I give our kids all the credit in the world, as they were able to stretch it back out, primarily doing it on the defensive end with some stops,” Brown said.

One of those stops was a steal by Clay Garrison, the theft setting up a lay-up on the other end.

“Clay (Garrison) had a couple of big steals in tonight’s game,” Brown said. “He does a good job with his anticipation. He’s quick and tenacious, and if he gets a hand on it, most of the time the ball is going to be his.”

Garrison wasn’t the only CHS player, coming off the bench to make his presence known.

“It took a good performance here from all the kids,” Brown said of his bench. “Jacob (Brown) and Drew (Sherck) came in and put in a lot of work against their big kid, and Tyler Combs came in and gave us a lot of effort, making a big play on the baseline to create a turnover. There were others that had a role in this win as well. 

“We’re just like that right now, playing a lot of people and getting contributions from all of them.”

Silcott led the Spartans with 17 points. He was followed by Dalton Lee with eight, and the duo of Noah Belt and Smith, both with six points.

East Central was led by Tyler Koelling, who finished with 17 points. Freshman center Luke Collinsworth added 11 tallies.

“Koelling got loose on us a couple times, and it seemed like every time he came off a screen, and we failed to communicate, he made it count,” Brown said. “He’s a great player, and we knew that coming in.”

The win moves Connersville into first place in the conference at 4-1. East Central is second (3-1), followed by Greensburg (4-2).

In spite of that lead, Brown warns that there is still work to be done, if the Spartans are going to lay claim to their fourth straight title.

 “We’ve got two more games in the conference, so we’re still going to have to go out and take care of business,” he said. 

In the junior varsity game, Connersville led 9-3 after one quarter, and 16-10 at halftime, on the way to a 36-26 victory.

“They’ve done a good job,” coach Brown said of the CHS reserves. “They’ve got some really good kids on that team. In other years, some of those kids would have been putting in some time in varsity games.

“But right now, we’ve got some kids that we’re committed to, and they’re committed to us. That said, there are a lot of kids on the JV team that I could see playing for us, under different circumstances.”

Ethan Smith led the reserves with nine points, followed by Colton Sullenbarger with eight.

Both Connersville teams improved to 16-4 with the two wins.

CHS travels to New Palestine on Monday night, for a tilt against the Dragons, a potential Class 4A Sectional 9 opponent. The junior varsity game will start at 6 p.m. and the varsity contest will follow at 7:30 p.m. 

Spartans 50, Trojans 36

(at East Central High School)

Connersville 14 21 35 50

East Central 11 16 24 36

Connersville (16-4, 4-1 EIAC) — Dalton Ailes 0-0 0-0 0, Clay Garrison 1-3 0-0 3, Garrett Silcott 7-12 2-4 17, Braxton Revalee 2-3 0-0 0, Garrett Wickes 1-2 0-0 2, Dalton Lee 3-6 0-0 8, Tyler Combs 0-0 0-0 0, Noah Belt 2-7 2-4 6, Wes Smith 2-2 2-4 6, Dylan Logan 0-0 0-0 0, Ethan Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Drew Sherck 2-3 0-0 4, Jacob Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-38 6-12 50.

East Central (12-7, 3-1 EIAC) — Tyler Koelling 5-11 2-2 17, Matt Mages 0-1 0-0 0, Alex Maxwell 1-4 0-0 3, Jared Volpenheim 2-4 0-0 4, Trevor Becker 0-1 0-0 0, Luke Collinsworth 5-12 1-3 11, Jack Kirchgassner 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 13-34 4-7 36.

3-pointers — Connersville 4-16 (Lee 2-3, Garrison 1-2, Silcott 1-5, Wickes 0-1, Belt 0-5), East Central 6-14 (Koelling 5-9, Maxwell 1-3, Mages 0-1, Volpenhien 0-1). Turnovers — Connersville 6, East Central 15. Steals — Connersville 3 (Garrison 2, Silcott 1), Total fouls — Connersville 15 (Belt 4, Scherck 3, Brown 3, Lee 3, W. Smith, Revalee), East Central 12 (Volpenhein 4, Maxwell 2, Becker 2, Collinsworth 2, Koelling, Kirchgassner).

JUNIOR VARSITY

Connersville 9 16 26 36

East Central 3 10 19 26

Connersville (16-4) — Jonah Graham 1 1-3 4, Tanner Brock 0 1-2 1, Dylan Logan 2 0-0 4, Trevor Young 0 1-2 1, Colton Sullenbarger 4 0-2 8, Damon Huffman 0 0-0 0, Ethan Smith 3 3-4 9, Sebastian Burch 2 2-2 6, Garrett Wickes 1 0-0 3. Totals 13 8-15 36.

East Central — Aiden Knecht 1 0-0 3, Adam Lyness 0 0-0 0, Matt Mages 0 0-0 0, D.J. Stroud 1 0-0 3, Drew Strewing 0 0-0 0, Logan Rohrbacher 2 0-0 4, Jack Hutchings 2 0-1 5, Jack Driggers 4 2-2 11, Kyle Gutfreund 0 0-0 0, Troy Teepe 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 2-3 26.

3-pointers — Connersville 2 (Graham, Wickes), East Central 4 (Knecht, Stroud, Hutchins, Driggers). Fouled out — East Central 1 (Lyness). Total fouls — Connersville 11 (Logan 4, Graham 2, Sullenbarger 2, Smith 2, Wickes 1), East Central 13 (Lyness 5, Hutchins 3, Driggers 3, Gutfreund, Teepe).

EASTERN INDIANA ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

Standings (as of Friday morning)

Conf. All games Streak

Connersville 4-1 16-4 Won 4

East Central 3-1 12-7 Lost 2

Greensburg 4-2 15-5 Won 1

Rushville 4-3 5-13 Won 3

Batesville 3-3 12-6 Lost 1

Franklin County 2-3 6-11 Lost 1

Lawrenceburg 1-4 12-6 Lost 1

South Dearborn 1-5 5-13 Lost 7