MILAN — A last-second shot lifted Triton Central to a 66-65 win Saturday, eliminating South Decatur in heartbreaking fashion in the 2A Milan Sectional.
With 3.3 seconds left on the clock, the Tigers inbounded the ball from half court. The pass went to the corner, where Josh Kemper caught it. The junior took two dribbles to his left and got into the paint about 10 feet from the bucket. While shooting around a defender, Kemper’s off-balance line-drive hit the glass and banked in.
The Tigers ran to the corner of the floor in pandemonium, while the Cougars walked away slowly in disbelief.
South Decatur seniors Lane Lauderbaugh and Tyler Sporleder reacted by putting their hands behind their heads.
Kemper had made only one bucket on two shots prior to the final play, Wildey said, while teammates David Steele (22 points) and Aiden Lindsey (21 points) carried the scoring load.
“Our kids did a great job of keeping it out of the hands of the ones we thought it would go to,” SD coach Kendall Wildey said. “They couldn’t get it in bounds to them and had to go – I don’t know what option it was, but it was at least their third option.”
It’s Triton Central’s first sectional title since 2012. The Tigers won both games by two points, including coming from behind to knock off Milan 62-60 in the semifinals.
Wildey said the Cougars definitely didn’t take the Tigers lightly after getting a huge win the night before over South Ripley.
“It was devastating for the players – not that we lost to Triton Central, but the manner that it happened. Especially coming off the big win Friday night,” Wildey said. “In no way, shape or form did we take anybody lightly. Everybody kept underestimating Triton Central. They’re 13-8 and have played some really good competition around suburban Indianapolis. They played well, they deserved it.”
Lauderbaugh scored 24 points, but had an opportunity to give South a bigger cushion, missing the front end of a 1-and-1 moments before the buzzer-beating shot.
The Cougars didn’t score in the final 90 seconds after Jacob Scruggs’ bucket gave them a 65-62 lead. They committed a turnover in the final minute, and Wildey lamented some things he could’ve done differently.
“We had chances where we could’ve avoided that last possession, and we didn’t take advantage of those chances,” Wildey said. “Looking back, there are probably a couple things I probably should’ve done, put in, planned for as a coach that we didn’t and I probably should’ve, so I take a lot of blame for that.”
South Decatur ends its season at 15-8, a year after being 24-2 when the pandemic halted their postseason run.
Had the Cougars prevailed Saturday, they would’ve won back-to-back sectional championships for the first time in school history.
Saturday’s loss came one night after likely South’s biggest win of the season, knocking off No. 5 South Ripley 64-62. Lauderbaugh and Evan Wullenweber, who drained five 3-pointers, scored 19 apiece to help lift the Cougars to that victory.
Both of the Cougars’ sectional games featured back-and-forth action, with teams trading buckets amid a raucous atmosphere.
South made 10 3-pointers against Triton Central, with Lauderbaugh, Hunter Johnson and Scruggs each making three, and Wullenweber one.
Johnson scored 19, Scruggs 15, Sporleder four and Wullenweber three.
South racked up 19 assists. Wullenweber and Lauderbaugh dished five apiece, while Sporleder and Johnson dealt four each.
The Tigers lost to the Cougars 76-63 in last year’s sectional meeting. That was their first time competing in Sectional 44 after being in a different sectional in previous years.
Triton Central (13-8) will play Saturday in the Greenfield Regional against Parke Heritage (24-3). The regional also features Shenandoah (24-3) and Covenant Christian (22-4).
Had the Cougars won sectional, they would’ve embraced an underdog role, had fun and enjoyed the experience.
“We would’ve gone to regional as the underdog in both games,” Wildey said. “We would’ve been the fourth team out of the whole regional.”