COLUMBIA CITY — Columbia City’s basketball team started the season 0-3, but the Eagles showed no sign of backing down last week against Northrop.
Facing 6-foot-8, Division I-bound Sydney Curry and the undefeated Bruins, many didn’t expect a close game.
However, much to the fans’ surprise, the Eagles were fighting for a win in the final minutes, falling 54-50 in a barn-burner.
“You don’t want to lose, but when you watched them warm up and you watched us warm up, I don’t think many people gave us much of a shot tonight,” Columbia City coach Brett Eberly said.
The opening minutes didn’t prove to be promising for Columbia City, which trailed 11-1 to start the game, led by Curry who had seven first-quarter points. Columbia City’s offense found it’s groove, however, as Mitch Wilson and Max Bedwell scored 3-pointers, Bryce Taylor sunk a pair of field goals and Michael Sievers added a field goal to his free throw. By the end of the first quarter, Columbia City only trailed 17-13.
“We showed a lot of resilience,” Eberly said.
It was all Wilson for much of the second quarter, and Columbia City’s defense held Northrop to 11 points. Wilson scored 14 points in the second quarter, and Bedwell scored to give Columbia City a 29-28 lead just before the end of the half, which ended on a pair of Wilson free throws, 31-28.
Northrop found an answer to defending Wilson, who struggled offensively in the third quarter, but Columbia City was able to count on six points from Michael Sievers, which were key in keeping the game close.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Eagles trailed by four, 45-41, but fought hard through the last second. With 3:58 left in the game, Wilson nailed a 3-pointer to narrow Northrop’s lead to 49-48. Columbia City picked up several defensive stops in the ensuing minutes, but the Bruins still managed to find Curry under the basket. Curry scored eight points in the quarter, including several in the final minutes.
Curry gave the Bruins a five-point lead, but with 43.5 seconds left in the game, Bedwell stole the ball and scored, making it a one-possession ballgame.
In an attempt to stop the clock, Columbia City fouled Northrop several times, in which the Bruins missed multiple free throws. Northrop missed six of eight shots from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter and was only 5-of-21 on the game.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, one of those fouls turned into a technical foul, and not only did the Bruins have the opportunity to shoot free throws, they got the ball back with only 7.4 seconds left on the clock and a four-point lead. Forced to foul again, Northrop missed both free throws again, but Wilson was unable to draw a foul and score a 3-pointer before the buzzer.
“The team that made the most plays won,” Eberly said. “It’s not like a team gave it away. Neither team was going to back down. We were just a possession or two short.”
Wilson finished with a game-high 22 points and Northrop’s Curry had 20. Other scorers for Columbia City included Sievers, 11; Bedwell, 9; and Taylor, 4.
Dillon Sheiss returned to the floor after suffering an injury before the season opener. Though he didn’t score many points, the 6-foot-6 junior was a key defender for Curry, who committed to the University of Miami in Ohio.
“He did a really good job of fighting and battling,” Eberly said. “He missed shots that he’s going to make in the future.”
An 0-3 start is not what the Eagles want, but Eberly is pleased with the team’s improvement, especially against Northrop.
“They are a really good basketball team. I thought they took their best punch, and we took it and punched back. These guys grew up tonight. This night was a success because we took steps toward becoming the team we can become.”
The game was one of the loudest and most exciting the fans have seen in the gym for some time.
“I don’t think anyone can leave saying we didn’t have fun tonight,” Eberly said. “We’ve gone through really hard times in my first 2.5 years — losing guys, playing short — but the fire still burns inside of me and our players, and this is the type of game that, if you’re young, you’re saying, ‘I want to play like that. I want to hit a three like Mitchell. I want to make a big stop.’”
Most younger players, however, will never have the chance to play in the Donald S. Weeks gymnasium, which will soon be a memory for all Columbia City basketball fans when the new high school opens in 2020.
“There’s only one thing I’ll miss about this high school and we’re standing in it (the gymnasium),” Eberly said. “It’s a special barn for us and we always want to come out here and compete.”
Eberly is going to continue to focus on improvement.
“We’ll be pleased if we keep moving forward,” Eberly said. “It doesn’t get any easier. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us.”
Columbia City’s JV squad fell 64-44 to Northrop, trailing 17-12 at the end of the first quarter and 35-20 at halftime.
Alex Hedrick led the Eagles with 12 points, including 10 in the second half. Brooks Longenbaugh scored nine points and Mason Baker added six.