FEARLESS EAGLES FLY
Brian Smith, Sports Editor
There was no flight phobia Saturday night with the Lanesville Eagles.
Written on the white board in the Lanesville locker room was to ‘be fearless from start to finish’ for the Class 1A Sectional championship played at Borden High School.
Not quite an Xs and Os message, but it stood out above all else when facing No. 13 Christian Academy of Indiana. The fearless start featured a 9-0 burst out of the gate by Lanesville.
The end? That’ll be talked about for ages.
A drive and kick by Tripp Dillion to teammate Connor Nolot set up his unforgetable shot. Firing on a catch-and-shoot from the right wing in front of a standing Lanesville fan-base, Nolot’s ball caught nothing but twine. The 3-point shot gave the Eagles a 64-62 lead, which held after CAI’s TJ Proctor put up a final attempt from 18 feet that bounced off the rim.
Sectional championship No. 5 for Lanesville, in an upset fashion, was soon a mob-like celebration near mid-court.
‘I told (Nolot), ‘I’m going to get you the ball,’ and he knocked it down,’ Dillion said. ‘It’s a great feeling.’
Nolot, a junior, scored 10 points while drawing plenty of defensive attention from the Warriors. He was more than ready for the opportunity.
‘I’ve been dreaming of this moment my entire life,’ Nolot said. ‘Playing basketball growing up, this is what every kid wants. Growing up, I’d practice hitting those shots in my head. It finally happened.’
Inbounding the ball from the opposite end of the floor with 13.7 seconds left, Lanesville executed its final offensive possession without hesitation.
‘We worked on our full-court plays this week,’ Lanesville coach Mikel Miller said. ‘When (CAI) hit that shot, I said we are going to run ‘out-of-bounds two.’ We got it to Tripp through some ball movement and put our shooters on the corners. We got the ball around to Connor, and he knocked that sucker down. He didn’t hesitate one bit. It was outstanding execution. It’s a situation we work on in practice over and over.’
CAI, previously unbeaten against 1A schools, including a 40-35 regular season win over Lanesville, had to claw back after trailing by 10 in the first half. Once the Warriors took their first lead on a pair of Bailey Conrad free throws early in the final stanza, it was back and forth from then on.
A corner trey from Nicholas Conrad put CAI up 55-50 with 4:35 to play. Dillion, who finished with 24 points, made field goals off the window and a baby hook to bring Lanesville back within one.
‘Tripp was a tough match-up for them,’ Miller said. ‘Connor was a tough match-up too. We also had some tough match-ups. Going to the end against a quality team, you want an opportunity to win in the end, and we did.’
Stepping up to take two critical charges against the Warriors inside the final three minutes was Lanesville’s Griffen Reynolds. The first came off a made Mason Miller basket inside. Dillion pushed Lanesville up 58-57 with a jump shot.
‘We had the opportunity to take some charges,’ Miller said. ‘We had some guys like Griffen step up and take a few.’
After the second charge call, Kevin DeSpain saw a path to the rim and converted a 3-point play while drawing contact.
‘I hit the and-one, and everything seemed to get crazy after that,’ DeSpain said.
Up 61-57 with a minute to go, the Eagles still couldn’t slow Bailey Conrad. The 6-foot-8 junior hit a contested 3-pointer with 51.3 seconds left. After Lanesville missed a pair of free throws, Conrad was back at it again, rising to sink a contested jumper to put CAI up 62-61. Conrad closed with a game-best 31 points.
‘He’s tough because he can go inside, hit 10- to 12-foot shots, but he can also hit 3-pointers,’ Miller said of Conrad.
Out of Lanesville’s final timeout, Nolot went on to hit the eventual game-winner.
‘They were face-guarding me a lot in the second half,’ Nolot said. ‘I found a way to get a shot. We’ve been running that play all week in practice. We’ve been ready for it. It opened up, and I let it fly.’
On CAI’s final possession, Lanesville’s Justin Bailey denied Conrad the ball as Proctor worked his way for a straight-away shot off the bounce, which misfired.
‘I’m on cloud nine,’ said DeSpain, who finished with 11 points and five rebounds. ‘After four years, this is just surreal. You think about all the hard work everyone has put in, the hours and dedication; it doesn’t get better than this. This is satisfaction. To be my senior year, there is no feeling like it.’
The sectional was the fifth for the program, all under Miller, and the first since 2014. A year ago, the Eagles lost a tough one against CAI in the semi-final. The two squads have become rivals in the class era (since 1998), having met 14 times in the postseason. Lanesville now leads the post-season tally, 9-5.
‘We’ve played these guys a lot over the years,’ coach Miller said. ‘It’s fun. They are hurting because they are a good team that had big dreams and hopes, but, so did we. Last year, the roles were reversed when they beat us in the semi-finals. Then, they almost won regional last year.’
With a large gathering of Lanesville supporters, there was no shortage of tears as the Eagles accepted the trophy and cut down the nets.
‘It’s great for our kids and community,’ Miller said. ‘The support is all the time with our community. They were out here hugging and kissing on each other. People maybe we haven’t seen all year showed up tonight. We want to drag them, and more, out west next weekend. It’s great.’
‘Go home and get on those firetrucks,’ Dillion said. ‘I can’t wait to do that.’
For DeSpain, one of three seniors with Jack Kaufer and Ben Stacy in the class, it’s a post-game celebration he didn’t want to leave.
‘I just don’t want to take this jersey off. I might not,’ DeSpain said. ‘We want to carry this momentum into next week and take it as far as we can. Beating (CAI) puts our name on the board.’
The flow of the game went about how the Eagles’ season as a whole has gone. They shot out of a cannon, winning seven of their first eight games, including versus 3A Corydon Central and 4A Roncalli.
Saturday night, Lanesville took off on a 9-0 start. Bailey hit a 3-pointer while Dillion and Nolot added points.
‘The thing was, they beat us a little over a month ago without (Conrad),’ Miller said. ‘The first few minutes of this game, going up 9-0, now you know we can play with them. Not only can we play with them, but have a chance to win. The belief in that helped propel us.’
During the middle of the season, the Eagles lost eight straight games while dealing with injuries and illness. Since the calendar flipped to February, they’ve found a winning groove again.
‘The regular season, we had that stretch where we lost games but we always looked forward,’ Dillion said. ‘We would practice and practice toward this goal. It’s great for the town of Lanesville. For the boys and girls to win a sectional (in the same season), that’s incredible. It’s a big deal.’
Justin Bailey had three long balls fall in the first half, part of his 10 points. The Eagles also had to deal with five players issued two fouls within the first 16 minutes.
‘It’s a good all-around effort by our kids,’ Miller said. ‘We had guys on the bench with two fouls in the first half so our bench ” Jack (Kaufer), Jensin (Philpott), Griffen (Reynolds) and Jacob (Wernert) ” did a really nice job getting us through the first half to maintain a lead.’
Lanesville led 37-29 at halftime. CAI roared back to go on a 14-6 run, evening the score at 43-all in the third. Mason Miller bounced the Eagles back with a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to ensure a lead after three quarters.
‘As we progressed through the season, there were teams that weren’t going to play (Mason) so he had to shoot,’ coach Miller said. ‘The last four or five games he’s looked to shoot. That was a big 3 tonight.’
As a team, the Eagles shot 53 percent, leading to the end result of a spot at the Loogootee Regional to face West Washington at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
‘This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,’ Nolot said. ‘This is awesome. Unbelievable.’
The strong final stretch of the season, and closing out the championship, required a lion-hearted approach.
‘We didn’t stop,’ DeSpain said. ‘We kept going. We had the big run at the beginning, then later we had a little slump. It was a game of runs. I felt like we rebounded well and were relentless. Coach said to always play fearless, which is what we did.’
Christian Academy of Ind. 14 15 17 16 – 62
Lanesville 17 20 11 16 – 64
Christian Academy of Indiana (16-8) – Bailey Conrad 31, Proctor 17, Dunn 5, Nick Conrad 3, Carrier 3, K. Ballew 3.
Lanesville (14-11) – Tripp Dillion 24, Kevin DeSpain 11, Justin Bailey 10, Connor Nolot 10, Mason Miller 5, Jacob Wernert 3, Griffen Reynolds 1.
3-point goals – Christian Academy of Indiana 7 (B. Conrad 3, Proctor, N. Conrad, Dunn, Ballew); Lanesville 7 (Bailey 3, Nolot 2, Dillion, Miller).
Eagles to face West Washington
The four-team Loogootee Regional will take place Saturday at Jack Butcher Sports Arena.
Lanesville (14-11) is slated to play in game one versus West Washington (10-15) at 10 a.m. Game two will take place at noon, pitting Evansville Day (11-11) versus No. 2 Barr-Reeve (23-2). The championship will take place at 7:30 p.m.
Lanesville and West Washington have met twice previously in post-season play, both won by the Senators in 2002 and 2003 in sectional action. The last regular-season meeting between them was in 2015-16 in the championship of the Springs Valley Holiday Tournament, which was won by the Senators 54-51.
West Washington, a member of the Patoka Lake Athletic Conference, reached the regional by defeating Southern Athletic Conference-squad Crothersville 53-41 in the championship.
Regional ticket information
Regional tickets are on sale at the Lanesville Junior-Senior High School office this week. Times to purchase tickets are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Thursday and on Friday from 8 a.m. to noon.
The school is selling the all-session tickets for $10 each. Tickets at the door on game day at Loogootee will be $7 per session or $10 for an all-session pass.
Loogootee High School is located at 201 Brooks Ave.
The early session will begin at 10 a.m., and the final session (championship) will be at 7:30 p.m. Doors will open one hour prior to tip.