COLUMBUS — Down again in the Division III tournament, the Centerburg boys basketball team dug deep into its soul Thursday and, once again, discovered the magic key.
The Trojans struggled early, trailed for most of the game, but came through when it counted most Thursday at the Columbus Fairgrounds Coliseum, beating Bloom-Carroll 49-46 in overtime to win the Division III Central District crown.
“This is awesome — a dream come true,” said Centerburg senior Brandt Lambert. “We struggled right off the bat. But we always come back. I don’t know why, but we’ve got to get down 8 or 10 points before we make our comeback.”
“This feels great — feels awesome. This is our first time in Division III that we won the district,” said Centerburg coach Jim Simpson. “It’s exciting. We had great support from the fans. We’ve got to give our community and our fans credit, they were awesome. It was a huge lift for us. They got behind us; we came back and they were coming back and it was a big deal.
“We got so used to coming down here in the early 1990s, it felt like we were home again.”
The Trojans hadn’t been in the district finals since 2002 and the jitters may have gotten to the team early. Bloom-Carroll hit two 3-pointers early and the Trojans didn’t score for the first 5:35 of the game. Senior Lyle Lindsey finally broke the drought, hitting the second of two free throws.
That would be the spark the Trojans (20-4) needed. Skyler Simpson hit a 3-pointer and Brandt Lambert got the bucket and a foul on a nice back-door cut and the Trojans were right back in business.
“I think we had a few jitters early on. We were forcing things that weren’t there and putting up quick shots,” said coach Simpson. “I thought, though, if we could get it back within two, we’d be in good shape.”
Bloom-Carroll (16-7) showed why it has won four district titles in the last six years, making a 3-pointer to stop the bleeding and then opening the lead back up to eight points as the teams entered the locker room at halftime.
Centerburg made another run to begin the second half, but watched that work fade away again as the Bulldogs were able to remain in the lead and actually push it back to six.
But, that’s when Lindsey came through again for the Trojans. The 5-foot-9 senior hit big shots against Africentric and Cardington in the tournament, and once again came through for the Trojans in the district finals. He hit a big three, then got a steal and a layup that put Centerburg up by a point to end the third quarter.
“I think we stopped settling and got more open looks (in the second half),” Lindsey said. “When we were down eight, we knew what we had to do. We played down against Cardington last week, we played down against a couple of teams this year. But, we came back and kept battling it out.”
The Bulldogs weren’t ready to go home yet, regaining the lead in the fourth and still holding a three-point lead with 1 minute to go.
But, that’s when Lindsey came through again. He hit another huge 3-pointer from way outside that knotted the game at 41.
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen, I just expect it to happen. Either at the beginning of the game or late in the game, I know he’s going to come through,” Lambert said of Lindsey’s big basket. “He’s a great shooter. He comes in in the clutch for us.”
“Lyle loves coming off the bench and making things happen,” said Simpson. “The kid loves to play the game and rise to the occasion. He loves the pressure and loves for people to focus on him. He finds a way to do it.
“I thought when Lyle hit that 3, I felt we were going to do it. I just felt like when he hit that three to tie it up, I said if we get to overtime, we were going to pull it out.”
Bloom-Carroll had several opportunities to win it, but missed several shots, including one at the buzzer. The teams were now heading to a pressure-filled overtime.
Lindsey hit another big 3, this time off a nice feed from Troy Lemke with just less than two minutes left that put the Trojans up for good.
“That’s what I’ve wanted forever — to be able to come through in the clutch, hit the shot and win the game. It was crazy. It was indescribable,” Lindsey said. “I looked at the crowd after I hit the three and just all of my body tingled. It was insane.”
The Bulldogs pulled within one, but Lemke and Lindsey were able to each sink a pair of free throws to put the game on ice for the Trojans.
“Lemke has stepped up and hit key free throws all year. That was big for us,” said Simpson.
“I needed some help pretty bad. I blow on my hand because it keeps sweating when I’m nervous. Everytime I go up to the line, I’m always putting my hands on my shirt and blowing on my hands nonstop, just trying to calm down,” Lindsey said of his free-throw attempts.
Defense was a big key for the Trojans all night. They gave up nine offensive rebounds to the Bulldogs, but were able to hold them to just 17 of 59 shooting from the field, including just 8 of 37 in the second half and overtime.
“We wanted them to shoot the ball. We know they are a good shooting team. I’d rather have them shoot outside shots than layups. We got them to shoot outside more — we got them to do what we wanted them to,” Simpson said. “We beat a good basketball team and beat a good coach. Coach (Tom) Petty’s got over 500 wins. He’s been here a ton of times. How do I feel about beating him — great. But, it wasn’t me that beat him. It was the 12 players on the team. I can’t ask more of them or the seniors.”
Lindsey and Lambert both finished the night with 17 points to lead the Trojans. Lindsey also had three assists and three steals, while Lambert pulled down nine rebounds. Skyler Simpson added eight points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
Bloom-Carroll was led by Isaac McGlone, who had 16 points and six rebounds. Tyler Kraft added eight points.
With the win, the Trojans advance to the regionals for the first time since 2002. They will travel to Bowling Green State University on Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. to play the winner of Lima Central Catholic and Ottawa-Glandorf.
“We’ve seen them both twice. They get up and down the court and like to shoot. They’re good, but everybody’s good at this point,” Simpson said.