Sunday, March 25, 2001

Batesville loses in Indiana 2A final

AP Sports Writer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Fort Wayne Harding coach Al Gooden lived with his dream for nearly three decades. Saturday, Gooden finally made it a reality.

        Trai Essex scored 23 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and hit two decisive free throws with 7.3 seconds left as Harding held off Batesville's frantic fourth-quarter comeback for a 73-70 victory in the Class 2A state championship.

        “My heart is pounding a mile a minute, it's beating out of my chest,” Gooden said. “I'm filled with joy now. This is just the way I pictured it when I was in eighth grade.”

        Gooden never got the opportunity to celebrate a state title as a player. But Essex's MVP performance changed everything.

        Gooden won his first state title by leading the Hawks (23-5) to their first state title. It also marked the first time a team from Fort Wayne won a state crown since 1974 when Northrop defeated Jeffersonville — and Gooden was an eighth-grader.

        “I'm a big man right now,” Gooden said, laughing as he explained why he leapt into the air. “It was just the joy I had inside of me at the end.”

        Essex, a senior, was the primary reason.

        His 14 rebounds were a Class 2A championship record and his last — off Matthew Robbins' errant 3-pointer at the buzzer — ignited the celebration at mid-court.

        In fact, Essex loomed even larger in the closing minutes.

        He scored 10 of the final 14 points for Harding, including the two free throws with 7.3 seconds left that sealed the victory.

        “I can't explain it. I wish I had the words,” Essex said, describing his emotions. “It's incredible. I wish I had this feeling all the time.”

        The Hawks would have preferred keeping the feeling throughout the fourth quarter. But Batesville, which trailed 55-42 entering the quarter, refused to walk away from its first state championship appearance since 1943 without a fight.

        So the Bulldogs (21-6) went to their top two scorers — Robbins and Jacob Garvin. The two spurred the comeback by accounting for 20 of 28 fourth-quarter points.

        “In the first half, we might have been too perimeter-oriented,” Batesville coach Mel Siefert said. “Our kids played hard and we were able to run our offense the way we wanted in the second half.”

        Especially, during the final eight minutes.

        Batesville used a 10-3 run to close within 60-53 midway through the quarter, then used a 10-2 run to get within 66-65 following Garvin's three-point play with 2:18 to go. Garvin finished with 30 points, a 2A championship record.

        Harding answered with its own record-setter — Essex, who completed a three-point play to make it 69-65.

        But after the Hawks missed four straight free throws in a 32-second stretch, Chris Steinfort made two free throws with 30.2 seconds left to give Batesville a 71-70 edge.

        For Harding, it seemed like deja vu.

        “When he hit those free throws, my mind went blank,” Essex said. “Then I thought, 'We can't have this happen again' because last year we lost to Westview by one point. We've got to win the championship this year.”

        The Hawks had Courtney Reese drive to the basket with 14.5 seconds left, fake a pass to Essex and put in a layup. Then, after Robbins dribbled the ball off his leg with 7.8 seconds left, Essex made two free throws and grabbed the final rebound to start the celebration.

        Robbins, who scored seven of his eight points in the fourth quarter, was named the Trester Award winner for mental attitude.

        Essex was joined on the all-tournament team by two of his teammates — Davis Tubbs, who had 12 points, and J.T. Langston, who had 11. Garvin and Steinfort, who had 16 points, also were named to the team.

        FORT WAYNE HARDING (23-5) — Baker 3-6 0-1 6, Langston 4-7 2-2 11, Essex 8-18 7-8 23, Reese 3-6 0-3 6, Tubbs 6-11 0-1 12, King 2-3 0-0 6, Gooden 3-3 3-3 9, Norfleet 0-0 0-0 0, Greene 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-55 12-19 73.

        BATESVILLE (21-6) — Macyauski 2-3 0-0 6, Steinfort 5-9 4-5 16, Hertel 3-7 4-4 10, Robbins 3-11 1-2 8, Garvin 9-16 12-15 30, Weigel 0-0 0-0 0, Neumeier 0-1 0-0 0, Salvitti 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-47 21-26 70.

        Harding 18 18 19 18 —73

        Batesville 15 11 16 28 70

        3-Point Goals—Harding 3-7 (King 2-2, Langston 1-1, Reese 0-2, Tubbs 0-2), Batesville 5-11 (Macyauski 2-3, Steinfort 2-4, Robbins 1-4). Fouled out—Hertel. Rebounds—Harding 29 (Essex 14), Batesville 29 (Hertel 8). Assists—Harding 14 (Reese 6), Batesville 8 (Robbins 6). Total fouls—Harding 21, Batesville 20. A—12,077.

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