We are basketball fans. The game draws us in as participants in the success of our team that thrives from roaring crowds to never give up. We shout our encouragement, disagreements, and pure noise just to see the players come one point closer to winning. Whether the team has had a season of wins or losses, it is our desire to show up on game day to continue our support to the end. When Elkhart Central High School’s basketball team lost to their rival school Elkhart Memorial at the Sectionals Championship by just 4 points, we decided to follow the tradition of Indiana high school basketball by traveling to Michigan City to see the Elkhart Memorial Chargers play the Valparaiso Vikings in the Regionals bracket.
Elkhart represented their city in freshly printed 2018 Sectional Champs T-Shirts in red contrasting the Valpo fans decked out in bright green. As Memorial Coach Sears’ conversed with Valpo Coach Coolman during warm-ups, their festive colors reflected the joyful excitement of their fans.
At 15 wins and 12 losses, the Chargers were the underdog taking on the Vikings sitting on a season of 21-5. A slow start soon gained momentum for an emotionally charged Elkhart Memorial as they held their ground in the 1st quarter and kept fighting to narrow the ten-point gap. By halftime, Memorial was down by just 5 points and eventually tied up the game in the 4th quarter with 10 minutes left. This is where the real fun began. At 3:25 minutes, Memorial took the lead with 51-50 and put on the pressure as Valpo missed key free throws and their Big 10 recruit, Brandon Newman, fouled out.
Above: Valparaiso’s Brandon Newman pumps up his teammates to pick up the pace
With just 12 seconds left, Memorial was down 54-57 when Memorial’s Henry Smith made a 3-point shot to put the team into overtime. With the extra time, Memorial built up their lead to win the game at 67-60.
Below: Henry Smith brings the ball down the court to shoot for a 3-pointer
Above: #10 Iyan Jennings puts the pressure on the offensive team.
The crowd was wild with excitement and the energy from the student section put Michigan City event staff into a panic as the weight of the bleachers buckled from their jumping fans.
The second game in the bracket was the undefeated South Bend Riley Wildcats 25-0 versus the Lake Central Indians at 16-14. Riley’s team used their height and speed to their advantage to run the ball to the hoop with fast breaks. Lake Central held their own to maintain a tight score in the first half of the game at 25-25. After halftime, LC’s luck ran out with missed shots and free-throws giving SB Riley a sizeable lead at 31-25 in the 3rd quarter.
#15 Wildcat, Shamar Dillard, pops the ball up for a layup in the semi-final Regional game versus Lake Central High School at Michigan City, IN.
The South Bend crowd fired up when Shamar Dillard dunked with seconds to spare at the end of the 3rd quarter. Riley hustled to rake in the points while Lake Central lost their focus. By the end of the 4th quarter, Riley was full throttle at 50-33 and dribbled the ball in place to run the clock down for a game end at 54-38.
The semi-final championship would face off South Bend Riley against local high school, Elkhart Memorial. While Riley had the advantage going into the game, Memorial was not going to let them have the game without a fight. The Chargers came out strong taking one possession at a time to keep a close game with the Wildcats. Memorial’s Henry Smith aced 6 points in a row from the 3-point line without hesitation to put the team in the lead at halftime with 27-23. It remained a passionately close game in the 3rd quarter at 47-45 with Memorial trailing by only 2 points and again at 55 (Riley)-52 (Memorial) in the 4th. Elkhart Memorial was all in but the Wildcats quietly made up the difference to outlast the Chargers at 75-68 by game end.
The biggest surprise of the day was the fight that Memorial put up to stay in the running for winning the semifinal championship. The Chargers played with heart in a close overtime game that morning with Valpo and came back ready to win against the big-time Riley that night. Until the buzzer ended the game, the Memorial team was not going to give up. The fans knew that they were giving it their all and we respected them for it. The passion and energy that the Memorial players demonstrated is just one reason why we love to follow sports. It made for an exciting day for us to cheer on the underdog to take their season as far as it could go with everything they had.