Carroll High School. Sectional title game. Hopes high.

Snider coach Jeremy Rauch had been there before. A stellar Brandan Johnson effort…a Mike Barnfield travel call…a Jaylen Butz dunk later and Snider was the 2017 sectional runner up. And second place stung.

2020’s story doesn’t have to be about redemption. But it kind of is. At least if you are telling Rauch’s story. Especially if you are telling Snider basketball’s story.

“I probably shouldn’t have said it, but in the locker room last year after we lost [in Sectionals], I said ‘with the group that we have, I will feel like we failed if we don’t get your picture up on the wall,'” Rauch said Saturday night after the Panthers beat Northrop, 59-56, to win a Class 4A Sectional title.

“They bought into leaving our legacy, bought into ‘if we work hard, good things are going to happen.’ I couldn’t ask for better people who happen to be basketball players.”

The Panthers hadn’t won a Sectional title since 2009 until Saturday night’s win over Northrop at – you guessed it – Carroll High School. For a big part of that run, pre-Rauch, they didn’t even win a single postseason game. While Sectional Saturday doesn’t mean the end of things for any team that walks out with that Indiana shaped trophy, it was a culmination of sorts for a program that has fought for steady ground since that 2017 loss to the eventual state runner up.

Duff
Snider senior Dillon Duff pulls up with a three pointer against Northrop during March 7’s Class 4A Sectional title game at Carroll.

This season alone, Snider was a few different moments away from SAC Tournament and SAC regular season titles. The same could be said for the 2018-2019 season. Always so close, never champions. That was the stigma of Snider basketball. And that ended on Saturday night.

“I think the coolest thing, and you can’t put it into words, is just the overwhelming sense of pride in the guys,” Rauch said. “Even from last March or April, you drive ‘focus on the process’ and ‘if you take care of the inputs, the outputs will take care of themselves.’ You want so badly for them to buy into that and believe it and they have. So when it culminates into this, it is a very, very surreal moment.”

The fact that Snider had been so close before, that Rauch was a chess move or two away from cutting down nets with the Panthers, kind of hardens a team in ways. It is why Snider, up 9-1 after the first quarter on Saturday, never could feel comfortable against Northrop. Even when it took the Bruins 11 minutes to hit a shot from the field or Snider led by 12 points at halftime, nothing felt safe.

That was fair. Northrop made their runs. Northrop was always going to make runs and some of them Snider couldn’t even fend off.

“A lot of it had to do with handling the pressure. Live ball turnovers and disrupting our offense. Credit Northrop. We can see them do it to Carroll and then try to walk through it at 11 [a.m.] but you can only simulate so much,” Rauch said. “It took a little bit of time and a couple of different offensive sets to find something that was going to work. I think it came down to think less and play more.”

Barnes
Snider senior Jon Barnes Jr. moves the ball against Northrop during March 7’s Class 4A Sectional final at Carroll High School.

The Panthers kept their edge after three quarters but even that almost went out of control. With 10.8 seconds left and Jayshawn Underwood draped all over Qualen Pettus defensively, the Panthers got a major 5-second closely guarded call their way. Seconds later, before the ball could even be put back in play, Underwood was handed a technical. And Northrop stormed ahead to start the fourth, in part on the strength of that odd exchange and swing. TeNoah Ridley got to the basket at will, pushing the Bruin lead to as many as four.

Snider fans, Snider players…they all had to think ‘not again.’ Why wouldn’t they?

But Snider refused to lose this time. It is a story of redemption, isn’t it? Redemption for 2017 in that gym with Rauch patrolling the sideline for his first sectional as the Snider coach. Redemption for this season; a loss to Carroll, a loss to Bishop Luers and zero nets, zero trophies.

With 2:39 left, Northrop’s Khamani Smith used the ramped up Snider interior defense to float out and hit a triple to push the Bruins ahead. It seems like all of the time in the world was left on the clock, but Snider could have folded. That one shot could have been a back breaker if Dillon Duff hadn’t fired back on the other end with a three of his own. The Panthers could have been done in again 40 seconds later, down two when a Duff three pointer bounced out. But another senior, Isaac Farnsworth, weaved his way through to grab the offensive rebound and have the presence of mind to put back up a shot in the same motion with Pettus fouling him on a box out attempt.

That has been Snider’s calling card across their 19 wins: someone always steps up.

“Jon Barnes came in and handled the ball and steadied it a bit and obviously hit a couple shots and Dillon hit a couple late, but through this whole year, it has been kind of a different guy stepping up. It helps engage the guys and keep them ready to go,” Rauch said.

Rauch
Snider coach Jeremy Rauch cuts down a piece of net after the Panthers beat Northrop on March 7 in the Class 4A Sectional title game.

The biggest play came on a connection from Snider’s two biggest weapons. With 22.6 seconds left and Michael Eley getting trapped on the wing, he heaved a big skip pass all of the way across court to Duff in the corner by the Snider bench. Down one point, Duff didn’t hesitate. Instead, he knocked down the three and Snider was ahead for good. He wanted that redemption too. Though just a freshman in 2017, he was part of that varsity team that left Carroll empty handed and he wasn’t keen on doing that again.

“I came to the bench and coach Rauch asked if I had one in me,” Duff said, deeply out of breath from the post game celebration. “I let it go and it felt so good. It was everything.”

It was just that kind of night and second half for Duff. While it was a win based on depth and roles filled, Duff was a machine offensively. There was no doubt when this game was over about whether or not Dillon Duff played to win or not. Duff finished things off with a pair of free throws with 6.1 seconds left. He finished with a game high 28 points and a lasting legacy.

“This is crazy,” a wide eyed Duff said post game. “Towards the end of the game, I was just thinking about how I’ve felt every year before. I never want to feel like that again. I felt like I had to step up and I’m so glad I did.”

These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH

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