What a game.
If that is all I had to say, it would be enough.
Tuesday night, Blackhawk Christian made a furious fourth quarter comeback, but fell to Homestead 69-62 in overtime.
It was just another superb chapter in a great rivalry with one of the best comebacks Bounce has ever witnessed.
Starting in 2016, Blackhawk Christian and Homestead began meeting in the regular season. The Braves were a Class 1A team, somewhere between middling and contender, while Homestead was coming off a state title. That year, they both won sectional titles.
At that point, the addition of the game was a footnote. But here we are six years later and Tuesday’s game between the two teams was once again the biggest game in town, not just of the night but of the season.
And that is something that is undeniable. No game in the Outside the Huddle coverage area is as big as this one in the regular season and really there is nothing on the line but bragging rights. How important is a game when it’s for nothing but honor and it is of the highest level of importance?
Homestead won that first game six years ago by 12. A year later, the Spartans dominated an injury-riddled Braves lineup. In Year 3, as the Braves were on their way to a semistate in 2018, Blackhawk Christian won its first game of the annual battle by three. The last three years may have been the biggest with Caleb Furst and Luke Goode battling and Homestead winning them all.
Going into Tuesday, Homestead owned the series 5-1. But again, how big is the game when the domination of one program hasn’t taken the shine off the rivalry?
The game wasn’t filled with D1 coaches like the bonkers game two years ago, and both teams lost a lot of star power from last season. Even so, the Braves and Spartans didn’t disappoint. And Bounce was happy to see it on a big night that took some of the shine away from this week’s early ACAC and NECC Tournament games.
The crowd and game said it all: Homestead and Blackhawk Christian are still the show; one of the best in Class 4A and the No. 2 ranked team in Class 2A.
While the environment and the build up is what makes this game initially exciting, it almost always delivers on the court too.
Tuesday’s game was back and fourth from the jump. The two teams combined for just two points in the first four minutes. It was a clear display that offense was a luxury and both teams are capable of playing high-level defense.
Fletcher Loyer broke the Homestead drought just past the four minute mark to tie the game at 2.
The points stayed hard to come by as Homestead worked to cut off the entry pass to Josh Furst and Blackhawk tried to slow Loyer with more than admirable defense from Lewis Jones. To show how much defense mattered, the loudest pop of the crowd in the first half probably came on Jake Boyer drawing a charge late in the second quarter.
With 6:48 left in the third, Grant Leeper opened up a 10-point Spartan lead that was immediately answered by a three from Gage Sefton. But once that spread was established, Blackhawk struggled to inch closer in the period. Instead, Homestead began to pull away as its pressure at midcourt forced some timely turnovers. Loyer also began picking up where he had left off in the first half by creating just enough space to make the Braves pay; and he doesn’t need much space to do that.
The third quarter closed with Andrew Leeper getting the better of Furst inside on a blocked shot followed by a big two-handed dunk just before the buzzer that shook the stanchion in ways not often seen in the Blackhawk gym, which is saying something. It pushed the Spartan lead to 19 and gave them 100 percent of the momentum.
But then again, not so fast.
Despite trailing by 19, the Braves rallied back in one of the best showcases of mental fortitude that has been seen in this city in a long time.
Jones came alive offensively in the fourth. His six straight points pulled Blackhawk Christian within eight. It was a big awakening on what had kind of been a silent offensive night for Jones.
With 1:13 to play, Jones put back his own miss to draw Blackhawk within three and the atmosphere it caused was electric. It also set up arguably the craziest sequence of the night as Sefton was fouled on a three-pointer with 15 seconds to play. He hit the first two free throws, missed the third and then recovered a tipped rebound attempt from Boyer to hit a three-point dagger and send the game into overtime.
That 15 seconds was a microcosm of the entire fourth quarter: just chaos. Blackhawk Christian outscored Homestead 27-8 in the fourth after being outscored 39-21 in the previous two quarters.
In overtime, the first seven points were all scored at the free throw line and all by Homestead. Boyer hit a three with 27.5 seconds left for the Braves’ first points of the frame, but it only pulled them to within four and the Braves didn’t have a second full comeback in them.
Homestead had to play big defense in overtime and it did, including a big Grady Swing takeaway and a late Andrew Leeper block of a Sefton three-point attempt; great examples of the defensive stops that sealed it for the Spartans after some OT free throw shooting woes.
It is rare that you see a game that has basically all styles of play: it was controlled and slowed down, it was domination and it was chaotic and intense. It brought a lot of different waves of emotion over every fan, coach and player.
During the contest, Loyer became the fastest Spartan in school history to reach 1,000 career points, doing so in his 40th game with the school. He finished with 31 points to lead all scorers.
Sefton led Blackhawk Christian with 19 points, followed by Jones’ 18.
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