Blooming late

The first two-thirds of the 2014-15 boys basketball season didn’t go as hoped for Columbus East.

The Olympians were 8-8 at the end of January and had struggled to put points on the scoreboard.

But then, the lights went on. East won six games in a row to close the regular season before falling to state-ranked Bloomington South in the semifinals of the Bloomington South Sectional.

“The first 16 games didn’t go exactly as we planned,” senior Connor Umphress said. “Finishing 14-9 really isn’t too bad, but it’s definitely not what we wanted. Certainly, losing sectional is not what we wanted. We thought we had a shot to win it.”

The Olympians led Bloomington South 25-20 late in the first half before the Panthers took control on their way to a 54-39 win.

“Every year, we want to be a team that can compete for the sectional,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “We thought we got there at the end of this year and got beat by a really good Bloomington South team. We played really well for three quarters and had one bad quarter.”

The loss ended what had been a nice run at the end of the season for the Olympians. After scoring less than 50 points in six of their first 16 games, they were above 50 in every game during that six-game win streak.

“We wanted to play under control a little bit and tried to run some sets and more motion early,” Brent Chitty said. “We kind of guarded ourselves on it. Then, we just opened it up, and tried to let (junior point guard) Parker (Chitty) get going a little bit and let him create some opportunities for other guys.”

That included Umphress, along with juniors Kevin Williams and Zach Sanders, all of whom had big games late in the season.

“We started coming together a little bit more,” Umphress said. “Our defense got better all-around, and our offense started to click a little bit more. That was a big part of it.”

“I think our guys were becoming more comfortable with what we were trying to do,” Brent Chitty said. “We opened it up a little bit offensively. Our guys put so much pressure on themselves early, they just got comfortable, and then our defense got better the whole year.”

East finished second in the Hoosier Hills Conference with a 5-2 record.

“I thought we could have won 17 or 18 (overall) this year realistically,” Brent Chitty said. “We didn’t play as well as we thought we were going to play early in the year, and I thought we came on and competed in that sectional.”

Umphress is moving on to St. Francis, where he will continue his career. Three other seniors are graduating, including Nate Nolting, who was a starter for most of the past two seasons, along with Kelley Foreman and Matt Sublette.

The other four starters at the end of the season, who will return, are Parker Chitty, Williams, Sanders and junior Alex Galle. Juniors Rhett Myers and Nick Cull also saw plenty of action this season.

“No. 1 will be how the team chemistry evolves and how well we play together, and then how hard we work this summer. If we do those things, I think we could have a lot of success.”

At a glance

Columbus East

Record: 14-9 (5-2 in Hoosier Hills Conference)

Best win: 57-56 vs. Chesterton in Noblesville Tournament

Worst loss: 50-42 vs. Jeffersonville

Key losses: Connor Umphress, Nate Nolting, Kelley Foreman, Matt Sublette

Returning starters: Parker Chitty, Kevin Williams, Zach Sanders, Alex Galle

Other key returners: Rhett Myers, Nick Cull

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.