PSC Championship Round - Panthers win over Patriots is golden
Wade Bell, Sports Writer
In the championship game of the Perry-Spencer Holiday Classic, not many people were giving the Corydon Central Panthers a chance against a bigger and talented Patriots squad from Heritage Hills. The Patriots had 6-7 freshman Trent Sisley who already has several D-1 schools with hopes of a successful recruitment. There was also 6-6 senior Alex Schaffer who could be a major headache in the paint, not to mention a number of perimeter shooters looking to give the Panthers a rough night.
“Sisley is going to be our main point, and we’ve got to make sure we lock them down on the perimeter,” Corydon Central coach Joseph Hinton said after topping Crawford County in the semi-finals. “They’re going to throw a 1-3-1 at us and they’re going to throw a little bit of a diamond at us. Since we run diamond, hopefully, we’ll know how to figure it out. It’s going to be a tough fight for us, and it’s going to be an interesting fight. When you’re playing for a championship, there’s more on the line than just a regular season game here, and I think our boys are ready for it.”
And, oh, were they ready. The Panthers put on their best performance of the season. Except for one bad quarter, Corydon Central ruled over the Patriots, allowing just four players to score to bring the golden ball back to the school for the first time since 2014.
“I’ve been an underdog my whole life, and these kids have been underdogs their whole lives,” said Hinton. “You’ve just got to believe. These kids worked their butts off. They go into practice every day and work so hard, and they have so much talent. If they put their minds to it, they can do anything they want. I’m just so proud of them. It doesn’t matter who counts you out. It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down. It’s about how many times you get back up.
“Rocky Balboa, baby!!” Hinton smiled. “One of my favorite movies. Our guys played some real good Hoosier basketball today, and I’m just so proud of them.”
The Panthers, however, had some bumps to get over to get that golden ball. There were three lead changes in the first four minutes of the first period, then Tyler Fessel dumped in a three-ball and converted off a Patriots’ turnover for a 16-10 lead. Heritage Hills then launched a series of three-balls while the Panthers managed just deuces to close the gap to one, 20-19. Bryce Weber punched in a jumper in the final minute, giving the Panthers a 22-19 after one quarter.
Owen Shireman drilled a three for the Panthers to start the second quarter. Sisley converted two of four free throws, then JT Smallwood drilled back-to-back threes that was followed by two more freebies by Sisley, the Patriots going back in front 29-25. Shireman scored in the paint but Sisley countered again with a deuce-and-one. The Patriots called timeout with just under 30 seconds to go in the half but failed to convert, leaving the score at 32-27 at the break.
“I knew they were a shooting team,” Hinton said. “They have some special players with Sisley out there, and the rest of them around him are just some great shooters. If you leave them open, they’re going to knock it down. Our guys got out on them there in the second half and really made sure they didn’t get those open shots.”
Hinton said what his team would do at the start of the second half would be the most important part of the game.
“Us, going into halftime, when we let them get on that run, I told them it was time to show up,” said Hinton. “This is the big time. This is for a championship. This is what we want to play for down the road when it comes down to tournament time. This is a big game for us against a really good ball club.”
The Panthers took the challenge and more, charging out with a 12-0 run, Anthony Martin and Weber drilling threes. Sisley finally got a basket inside, but that was negated by Shireman. Sisley then drilled a three, and Martin countered. The Patriots’ big freshman scored again inside trying to keep his team in the game, but that was countered by Martin. Sisley scored the last basket of the period, leaving Corydon Central with a five-point advantage with eight minutes to go.
“Our guys really took the challenge, and they stayed focused and they went out there and played hard,” said Hinton. “They came out with a 12-0 run in that third quarter, and I told them how we come out in that second half is going to show us what we can do the rest of the game. … Our guys took that to heart, and they came out hard.”
Fessel went into the lane against Sisley to score inside to start the fourth, then Schaffer tried to get his team sparked with a bone-rattling dunk and then a three-ball moments later, the gap closing to four. Corydon Central kept its composure with a 6-2 burst, T-Mac Wilkinson coming off the bench to drill a three, Corydon Central’s lead at 58-50.
Braxten Biever put in two free throws for the Patriots. Fessel missed the front end of a bonus with 1:50 to go, but Sisley also misfired on two attempts from the charity stripe. Shireman sank a single, then Sisley scored inside again. Weber and Martin put in singles, keeping the Panthers’ lead at seven as the clock wound down. Smallwood drilled his sixth three of the game, which would be the Patriots’ final basket. Corydon Central converted four of six free throws and went on to get the championship win, 65-57.
“That was the best basketball our guys have played all year,” said Hinton as he celebrated with his team. “They played together. They played hard. They played with some pride, and our guys were focused the entire game. I was so proud of these guys that this is the best basketball I’ve seen them play in three years. This is what coaches live for. To see our players succeed like this and the way they did it, I’m just so proud.”
Corydon Central put four players in double figures with Fessel leading the group with 15. Weber finished with 13, and Martin and Austin Vaughn had 10 points each. The Panthers put in 24 of their 45 field-goal attempts and went 10 of 18 from the charity stripe. The Panthers had five turnovers for the 32 minutes.
“We got a couple of big defensive stops and we got a couple of easy baskets, and then all of a sudden the flood gates opened,” Hinton said. “When a couple of easy baskets go in and the ball moves, the big shots are going to go down. I thought our guys moved the basketball well, and it was some good, team basketball. We’ve got some great individuals, but tonight they played great team basketball and showed everybody what our potential can be.”
Sisley led the Patriots with 23, and Smallwood finished with 18, hitting six from behind the arc. Heritage Hills put in 6 of 10 free throws and had 11 turnovers.
“I thought we guarded Sisley as good as we possibly could and limit him the best we could possibly do,” Hinton said. “He’s a great player. He’s fantastic. He’s going to be big time one day. I’m very proud of the way we guarded the ball in the second half. A good player like this is going to get his. He made some really tough shots, and we played some great defense. We made it hard on him. Everything he got he earned.”
Hinton said winning the PSC was a big step for his team for the second half of the season.
“This is a turning point for us,” he said. “We’re not looking back. We’re just looking forward. We want to be the best basketball team we can going toward the end of the season. This is such a great opportunity for us to play in a setting like this, with the fans, the crowd and everybody supporting us. It was big for us to turn around here and show what we can do. We may have started out slow at the beginning of the season, but our guys are starting to figure it out.”