MICHIGAN CITY | It would've been easy to start dancing. A few chest bumps and pointing to the crowd, also would've been appropriate.
Winning a regional championship in Indiana is not easy. For some schools, that ladder is a lot higher than others. Lake Central is one of the latter schools.
The Indians had not won a regional title since 1984. Coach Dave Milausnic put those historic numbers on the blackboard before Saturday night's Class 4A Michigan City Regional championship game against Penn.
So when a double-digit first-half lead evaporated, it would've been easy for the Indians to fold. But Tye Wilburn had another idea.
He drove the lane with the clock inside 10 seconds in a Ty-ed game. His shot careened off the backboard and his best friend, Tyler Wideman tipped it in.
Lake Central's crazy, neon student body erupted. Milausnic did not.
“There were three seconds left on the clock,” Milausnic said. “I was afraid we'd start celebrating before the game was done.”
Enter “Scoots.” Senior Robert Ryan did what he and his mates did all night. They played nearly nuclear defense. He picked off a halfcourt pass that kept a prayer from going up.
A 57-55 win was in the books. His story was their story.
After playing a matador defense against LaPorte in the semifinal on Saturday morning, the Indians did what they've done all year. They played lock-down, in-your-face defense and like they've said for years, “Defense wins championships.”
“We didn't play good defense at all the first game and we took it personal,” Ryan said. “When I saw the ball go in I got on defense immediately. I saw the ball. I grabbed the ball.
“We won. Right there.”
Milausnic said he felt a lot of stress fly off his shoulders with the win. He's done a great job making a good team almost great. A win over Homestead in next Saturday's semistate will seal that deal.
The maturation of this team, led by seven seniors, has been remarkable. Two years ago L.C. laid an egg at this regional. This time, even though neither game was perfect, they found a way. Together.
Take Matt Meneghetti, for example. He was big against LaPorte. He was big against the Kingsmen. He hit three 3-pointers in the championship in playing his role. They were huge.
In the morning he hit two big free throws after the 91 percent free throw shooter clanked two earlier ones in the fourth quarter.
“It's exhilarating,” he said after the LaPorte game of his three treys against the Slicers. “You feel like you're losing consciousness. Everything feels like it's moving slow.”
As good as this team is, they haven't lost their sense of humor. Wideman had a quick quip about what he was thinking when he saw the game-winner sitting in front of the rim.
“I was thinking about a tip dunk,” he said with a big smile. “But if I would've missed I would've been in a lot of trouble.”
Two years ago, a younger Wideman might've tried to tip dunk it. He might've missed. Or if it went in the whole team might've started celebrating while Penn got a white-knuckle shot off.
But that was the old L.C. This is an entirely different squad.
Milausnic can still write “1984” on the chalkboard next Saturday. L.C.'s only semistate title also came in that year. One game from state. Can you feel the thrill?
“We didn't do this for us,” Wilburn said. “We did this for our school, our community.”
Maturity is a fun thing to watch grow.