By MATTHEW CRESS
WASHINGTON — Even after its magical postseason run had come to an end, the Silver Creek boys' basketball team found itself facing one last gauntlet.
This one may have been the hardest of them all.
The Dragons emerged from a locker room in Washington's famed Hatchet House to find a seemingly never-ending stream of fans, friends and family arrayed in a makeshift receiving line, a final outpouring for the journey that Silver Creek — up against its fourth consecutive ranked team — had just concluded.
A huge underdog coming in, the Dragons mostly stuck to the script their followers had become accustomed to, taking the fight to Class 3A No. 1 Greensburg from buzzer to buzzer. Silver Creek overcame an early 8-0 hole to take the lead at halftime before finally succumbing 70-60 to the defending state champion Pirates in the semifinals of the Class 3A Washington Regional on Saturday morning.
"There were a lot of nerves — it's been 14 years since we've been here," said Silver Creek sophomore Christian Reed, who delivered eight points and 10 rebounds despite battling foul trouble throughout. "The crowd was crazy and our fans stuck with us and carried us when we needed it most."
As hot as Silver Creek's fans were, its team was even hotter, turning one of the toughest postseason draws — in any class — into a Cinderella story that raised eyebrows across the state. The Dragons, who appeared to be reeling after a three-game losing streak to conclude the regular season, won the North Harrison Sectional by knocking off No. 13 Madison (55-51), No. 6 Corydon (74-51) and No. 7 Brownstown (37-36) to march into the school's first regional appearance since the 2000 season.
That left a showdown with the eventual regional champion Pirates, a juggernaut that has gone 73-3 coming into Saturday, including last season's state championship with a 73-70 overtime triumph over Fort Wayne Concordia. Greensburg's experience — it was making its third straight regional appearance — and abundance of Division I-level athletes left few believing that the Dragons would find much success.
The first quarter did little to change their minds.
The Pirates came out gunning, turning the opening tip into a long jump shot from Northwestern-bound point guard Bryant McIntosh. A wing jumper from leading scorer Sean Sellers and four free throws, along with the second foul on Reed, put Silver Creek at an 8-0 deficit. It appeared the Dragons would be closed out before they could get their bearings in the 7,090-seat Hatchet House, a legendary venue that had nearly 6,000 fans on hand despite the 10 a.m. tipoff.
"They tried to knock us out early," Silver Creek coach Brandon Hoffman said. "They threw that first blow and it landed."
Silver Creek (15-9) finally settled down after two free throws from Nick Tinsley and a 3-pointer from Gabe Bauer that banked in off the glass. Still, the Pirates next three baskets came from the 3-point line and they kept a comfortable cushion, taking a 22-16 edge into the second quarter.
That's when Silver Creek punched back.
The Dragons — their confidence seemingly growing with each made basket — retaliated with the game's next 10 points, the first five coming from senior Zach Davidson. Tinsley's jumper for the lead rolled off the rim, but seconds later Bauer drove around a well-placed screen from Reed to put Silver Creek on top 23-22. Tinsley came back with a deep 3 to make it 26-22 and suddenly Greensburg looked as frustrated as the Dragons did in the early going. Pirate coach Stacy Meyer called a timeout and his team responded with three quick points, but a jumper from Davidson kept the Dragons ahead at the intermission, 28-27.
"The second quarter was Silver Creek basketball, we held them to five points" Hoffman said. "The message [at halftime] was this: We're just as good as these guys."
McIntosh, however, quickly showed himself as the best player on the court.
The 6-foot-3 senior quickly grabbed the momentum back for Greensburg with the first two buckets out of the locker room, then began to create a flurry of open shots for his teammates. That opened the inside for 6-8 junior Ryan Welage, who singlehandedly outscored Silver Creek 8-3 over the next three minutes to push Greensburg ahead 39-35. Macy Holdsworth then delivered a 3 to put the Pirates up seven with 2:44 left in the third period.
Reed, who rallied to score seven points in in the first six minutes after halftime, picked up his fourth foul on a drive by Sellers, who followed two free throws up by taking a feed from McIntosh and throwing down a dunk while drawing a foul. That gave Greensburg its biggest lead to that point and Silver Creek would not get any closer the rest of the way.
"The bottom line is that we lost to the defending 3A champs," Hoffman said. "We didn't beat ourselves. Our kids did exactly what we wanted them to do. Our kids showed a lot or resiliency, but the better team won today."
The Pirate lead grew to 57-41 after four more points from McIntosh to open the final eight minutes. Greensburg would get ahead by as many as 17 at 63-46 midway through the fourth period.
Silver Creek did manage to close the gap with a pair of 3s from Bauer and another from Shae Durham as the final minutes ran out.
Bauer led a balanced Silver Creek attack with 18 points, while Davidson finished with 12. Durham and Tinsley also found double figures with 10 points each.
Sellers had 20 points and 10 rebounds to pace Greensburg, though it was McIntosh who did the steadiest amount of damage. He had 15 points and eight assists with eight rebounds, narrowly missing a triple-double. Later in the evening, the Pirates routed Evansville Memorial 73-50 to claim the regional crown.
It was an anticlimactic ending for a Silver Creek team that turned the postseason into a steady stream of highlights, but it turned into an emotional farewell for the three Dragon seniors — Davidson, Durham and Brooks Howell — as the team made its way through the procession on their way out of the Hatchet House.
"We talked a lot about how the seniors have made a path for us," Reed said after breaking a tearful embrace with Davidson. "For the rest of us, now we have to live up to what they did. We feel like we can get back here next year, and if we do, we feel like we'll be doing it for them."
CLASS 3A WASHINGTON SECTIONAL
GREENSBURG 70, SILVER CREEK 60
Greensburg 22 5 24 19—70
Silver Creek 16 12 13 19—60
Greensburg (25-1): Macy Holdsworth 7, Colin Rigney 6, Bryant McIntosh 15, Ryan Welage 18, Sean Sellers 20, Thomas Lawrence 4.
Silver Creek (15-9): Nick Tinsley 10, Zach Davidson 12, Gabe Bauer 18, Christian Reed 8, Shae Durham 10, Jake Steele 2.
3-point field goals: Greensburg 5 (Rigney 2, Sellers 2, Holdsworth); Silver Creek 6 (Bauer 3, Durham 2, Tinsley).
Rebounds: Greensburg 26 (Sellers 10); Silver Creek 22 (Reed 10).
Assists: Greensburg 11 (McIntosh 8); Silver Creek 7 (Tinsley 2).
Steals: Greensburg 4 (McIntosh 2); Silver Creek 5 (Bauer, Tinsley 2).
Blocked shots: Greensburg 2 (Rigney, McIntosh); Silver Creek 1 (Reed).
Free throws: Greensburg 19-27, Silver Creek 12-15.
Turnovers: Greensburg 10, Silver Creek 6.
Fouled out: None.
Technical fouls: None.