CLOVERDALE — Defense travels.
The mantra of Parke Heritage basketball, it was the defense that carried the Wolves to the 2A Sectional 43 championship with a 48-42 win over North Putnam Saturday.
It was the 21st time this season that the defense held an opponent under 50 points.
They are 21-0 when doing this, and now they are sectional champions.
“Our guys are relentless defenders,” PH coach Rich Schelsky said. “Our style is to wear teams down, grind it out.”
It took that defense, plus a little offense, to pick up a second win over the Cougars this season and give the Wolves back-to-back sectional titles.
The offense was bookended by senior center Connor Davis, who scored 10 of his 17 points in the first quarter, and sophomore guard Christian Johnson, who scored eight of his game-best 23 points in the fourth quarter, including a 6-of-6 effort from the line.
It was 9-0 Wolves to start, a 15-9 lead at the end of the first quarter, an 11-3 margin in the third and 12-10 in the fourth
But for eight minutes of the second quarter and the first three of the third, it was all Cougars.
Going 8-of-13 from the field in the second quarter, and dropping four three-pointers, NP went from down as much as seven to up as much as six, and led 29-25 at halftime.
That did not sit well with the defense-first attitude.
“North Put can really stroke it,” Schelsky said. “If I wasn’t coaching against them, I really enjoy watching them play. In walk-through, we said they were going to make a bunch of three’s. What we couldn’t do was get caught up in all the other stuff. They beat us to 50-50 balls, and got some offensive rebounds, so we challenged the guys at halftime. We let them (North Put) play at their pace, like a pickup game. In the second half, we took some pride in our defense, attacked the ball, and limited them to 13 points.”
The 15-4 run had the Cougars up at the break, but there was only one field goal in the next eight minutes, and PH took the lead back on a Anthony Wood’s steal and only basket of the game with 4:52 left in the third. The Wolves would score seven more, and led by anywhere from two to six points from then on.
“They (Parke Heritage) are very good,” Cougars coach Vince Brooks said. “They have lots of strength and lots of athleticism. We really battled — our guys gave everything and I’m so very proud of them. We had some shots that almost went in and a couple that looked like our legs were a little tired, but that is part of two tough nights of grinding it out in the tournament. I just can’t say enough about our seniors and the incredible job they have done the last two years. I’m so sorry they couldn’t get a sectional. I love those kids.”
Leading the way for NP was Aaron Pickel. The junior had 13 points and six boards. Mason Brooks, who drew the defensive assignment on Davis after the first quarter 10, added 12 points and had a team-best eight rebounds. For the game, the Cougars were 16-of-43 from the field, 9-of-25 from long range and Brooks 1-of-4 were the only free throw attempts. After hitting seven treys in the first half on 14 shots, they connected on 2-of-11 in the second.
For the Wolves, Johnson’s 23 was game-best, and he completed his seventh double-double of the year with 11 rebounds. In the first meeting in December, Johnson had a career-best 17 boards against the Cougars. Davis finished with 17 points and eight off the glass, including four put-backs.
RP was 18-of-42 from the field, 4-of-12 from long range and 8-of-14 from the line. They won the rebound battle 34-26 and had only six turnovers, compared to the Cougars eight.
North Putnam finishes its season at 17-8 and is now 0-5 all-time against Parke Heritage, including the two sectional championship losses.
The Wolves, now 24-3, who never got a chance to play in the their first regional last year when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the nation, will get that chance Saturday when they travel to Greenfield Central. They will play Triton Central, who won the Milan Sectional. The game is scheduled for a 10 a.m. tip.