South Putnam's Senior Night was spoiled by Owen Valley as the Patriots took home a 44-37 victory at South Putnam High School, the 17th straight victory for Owen Valley over the Eagles.
The South Putnam (8-12) seniors contributed 26 of the home side's 37 points, but Owen Valley (7-12) used an early 11-0 run and solid defensive play to control the Eagle's comeback attempts.
In the first quarter, South Putnam led by a point after hitting three separate contested jump shots, but a poor start to the game from the charity stripe allowed Owen Valley to turn a one point deficit into a 10 point lead before the quarter ended.
"We started off a bit shaky against the press," first year Eagle's head coach Troy Burgess said, "but I told them this is a four quarter game.
"We just needed to chip away at their lead."
Chip away they did. After wrapping up the first quarter down 16-6, South Putnam used a 12-5 second quarter to get back into the game. Their "0-for" performance from the line early on was counterbalanced with five freebies, four of which came from senior guard Seth Hammond. South Putnam cut the lead to three going into the locker room as Owen Valley missed a contested superhoop attempt as time ran out on the first half.
Things continued to look up for South Putnam after the squads switched sides.
Owen Valley senior forward Trent Whitton picked up his fourth foul just under two minutes into the third quarter, relieving a bit of pressure from the pungent Patriot defense.
Unfortunately for Burgess and the Eagles, fouls were being called abundantly and they too found themselves in foul trouble quickly. The teams combined for eight fouls (four each) in just over three minutes in the second half.
Every time Owen Valley tried to pull away, however, South Putnam had an answer. A nifty spin move by Jansen Hight pushed the Patriot lead up to six, but junior center Ryan Chestnut's two free throws a short time later put the game back within two points for the Eagles.
The fouls and free throws continued through the third period, seeing the sides go to their corners with Owen Valley leading by four heading into the last stanza.
If the game wasn't interesting enough to that point, Owen Valley skipper Chad Smith instructed his players to hold the ball through the first two full minutes of the fourth quarter. Burgess, understanding the ploy by his counterpart and feeling the plight of foul trouble, elected to sag back inside of the perimeter, letting the clock run down to four minutes and five seconds before applying any defensive pressure.
The game resumed as normal from that point, but it was all Owen Valley in the last frame.
Jared Gilstrap's four free throws, coupled with a few misses by South Putnam, helped ice the game for the Patriots. The 44-37 victory solidifies the seventeenth consecutive season in which South Putnam found the Patriots to be too much to handle.
For South Putnam, Hammond finished with 12 points in his last home game as an Eagle, with classmate Rob Gibson adding six, Alex Eickhoff and Alex Kelly each with four and Justin Gorham contributing without scoring. All five seniors started tonight's game. Sawyer Arnold also had seven points in the loss.
"Our seniors did a great job as leaders all year," Burgess said with a smile. "They had a great summer, a great off-season, and we are really looking forward to sectionals."
South Putnam now moves into sectional play with the draw for opponents taking place Sunday Feb. 19 at 3 p.m.
The sectional, being held Feb. 28 and March 2-3, will take place at South Putnam High School and includes Cascade, Cloverdale, Covenant Christian (Indianapolis), Monrovia, South Putnam, and Speedway.