WHEATFIELD | One by one the six seniors for Calumet sauntered out of the locker room.
An offseason of dedication, commitment and confidence that this team could win its first sectional since 2000 had disappeared, and anguish was all that remained.
College ball awaits some, while another offseason of workouts paired with regret are in store for the remaining underclassmen.
In three seasons at the helm, Calumet coach Matt Justin went from two wins to six to 12, but he found that postseason momentum, 3-pointers and wins can be fleeting as New Prairie closed the second quarter on a 17-5 run and ousted the Warriors 66-57 Friday night in the first semifinal of the Class 3A Kankakee Valley Sectional.
“That killed us,” Justin said of the run. “At one point it was a one-point game. All of a sudden we looked up and we were down nine. I was proud the kids fought to the end, but that killed us.”
The Cougars (13-8) will take on Andrean tonight after the 59ers overcame a foul-soaked game and predictably handed Knox its 20th and final loss of the season by a count of 69-46.
The 59ers (12-9) have won four consecutive sectional championships, while New Prairie is appearing in its first title game since 2008 and seeking its first title since 2003.
New Prairie’s Jasen Webb, who scored 23 points in a win over Wheeler on Tuesday, matched that number on Friday. Of those 23, 14 came in the second quarter, including a pair of three-point plays in the final 31 seconds.
While New Prairie shot 22-for-33 from the free throw line and Calumet was 12-of-22, the Cougars nailed six 3-pointers while the Warriors managed just one.
“Our game plan was to get out on the perimeter and close out on the 3-pointer,” Justin said. “They got loose multiple times. We lost them, and they made us play.”
The lone 3 for Calumet (12-9) came off the hands of talented junior Anthony Harris, who had a game-high 25 points before fouling out in the final minute.
Senior Dantrell Brooks had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Classmate Javota Whitehead added eight points and three assists.
Whitehead’s alley-oop dunk with about four minutes to go cut New Prairie’s lead to 10, but Calumet stayed behind by double figures for most of the second half.
“The seniors committed all offseason, and it makes me sick that that’s the way it ended,” Justin said. “It’s frustrating.”
While New Prairie had to keep its rotation players in the game all night, Andrean was able to rest its starters plenty in the decimation of Knox (2-20).
“Our goal was to speed up the game and have more possessions,” Andrean coach Scott Hicko said. “We had to adjust to them calling a tight game, and we’ve got to get smarter about that.
“They fouled us hard, but they’re a hard-nosed team. I don’t think they’re dirty.”
There were 19 fouls committed in the first quarter and 44 for the game. The 59ers led 20-9 after a quarter, 41-21 at halftime and never trailed in cruising to the win.
Knox had a flagrant foul early and was part of a double-technical foul in the third quarter, but Andrean kept its cool.
“Coach always tells us we’ve got to be respectful and know how to control ourselves,” said senior Ramon Guerrero, who had 10 points for Andrean.
“Just because they were 2-19 didn’t mean they wouldn’t fight hard. We ran our plays, played hard defense and came out to win.”