Columbus East came close to breaking a long sectional championship drought Saturday night, but fell three points short against the state’s No. 5-ranked team in Class 4A.
The Olympians, which lost to Bloomington South by 16 points in January, gave the Panthers all they could handle in the rematch. But Bloomington South hit 9 of 10 free throws in the final 1:01 to hang on for a 55-52 victory.
“There’s a reason they have the record they have, and there’s a reason they’ve beaten the teams they’ve beat, and I just thought our kids gave them everything they had tonight,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “We just hit some free throws and take care of the basketball a little bit better … but I’m awful proud of our kids’ effort.”
The sectional title was the fourth in a row for the Panthers (26-2), who move on to play 4A No. 3 New Albany in the semifinals of Saturday’s Seymour Regional.
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But the Olympians (13-11) hung tough all night against Bloomington South. The Panthers never led by more than seven points.
East led only one time for 35 seconds. That came at 15-14 on a 3-pointer by Thomas Myers in the opening minute of the second quarter.
“We played the hardest we can,” Myers said. “We knew going in we were going to have to play hard to beat them. Just a few plays went a different way from us coming out on top. But (Bloomington South) played great. They played hard, and they deserved what they got.”
The Panthers’ biggest lead came at 41-34 with 6:16 left in the game, but baskets by Matt Frost and Myers brought the Olympians within three. After a Chance Coyle free throw for Bloomington South, East’s Drew Hasson scored from inside to cut it to 42-40, and Myers had a good look at a 3-pointer for the lead, but it wouldn’t go down.
The Panthers pushed the lead back to 46-40 before a 3-pointer by Frost cut it to three with 45 seconds left. But that was as close as the Olympians could get until Drew Johnson hit a long 3 at the buzzer.
“It’s really tough, especially being the last game of the season,” Hasson said. “A couple shots here and there or a couple plays, it could have been a different result. But Bloomington South is a great team, and they deserve this.”
Coyle, a University of Southern Indiana recruit, led Bloomington South with 28 points.
Frost scored 19 points and grabbed five rebounds to lead East to a 16-10 advantage on the boards. Johnson finished with 11 points, and Hasson added 10.
“I thought every night and every day in practice, we played our hardest,” Hasson said. “We were always hustling. I thought we played great as a team during the season, and it was a great year.”
The Olympians had advanced to the title game with a win against Columbus North on Friday. East was seeking its first sectional championship since 1996, the next-to-last year of the one-class era.
The Olympians were playing in their first sectional title game since 2011.
“It’s been a long season, but we’ve come a long way from starting off in summer league at Bellarmine and getting our butts kicked by some teams and getting all the way to the sectional championship,” Myers said.
Hasson, Myers and fellow starter Max Nolting will be graduating. Also gone will be top subs Dane Denniston, Luke Poindexter and Wyatt Koopman.
“From where we started to right now, I couldn’t be prouder of a group of young men,” Chitty said. “All the kids are going to college, and one (Poindexter) is going to the Air Force to serve our country. You surround yourself around kids like that, it’s a blessing to coach them.”