I vividly remember sitting in Concordia Lutheran’s gym during Sectional play three years ago and having that feeling something special was building at Garrett. Three freshmen stood out above most players in a loaded postseason bracket: Faith Owen, Nataley Armstrong and Morgan Ostrowski. There was just something about each of them that made me think that they could have a really fun run in their careers.
Turns out, it wasn’t fun…or just fun, it was special.
The tip of that iceberg – for now – was making it to Saturday’s Regional final, where the Railroaders upended Benton Central 41-39 in one of the best games all season, adding a fourth title to their record setting season.
“They so deserve it. Every coach says they deserve it, but these kids have paid the price. They have paid the price in every aspect from putting in their individual work, to be leaders to playing 72 minutes in a day. They just truly deserve it and that is what makes me the happiest,” Garrett coach Bob Lapadot said.
It was never an easy trip to build the legacy this particular Garrett team has over the past four seasons. The night after I saw those three as freshmen, the team got blown out by eventual rival Angola. A season later, they added a new freshman in Bailey Kelham, who set records on the way to leading Garrett to a Sectional title before running into a Benton Central juggernaut in the morning game of Regionals in 2020. Last season, Taylor Gerke transferred in and a great season was cut down twice by the Hornets again.
It wasn’t easy to keep coming back, but Garrett did. They kept coming back too on Saturday morning, from every push and nudge from Hamilton Heights. A late three from Owen was the catalyst in stopping the Huskies in an exhausting double overtime. It set up a game in the finals with Benton Central, which of course makes sense; for three years, every season had ended with a loss to Benton Central or Angola.
But not this time.
“It sounds weird, but it was just part of the plan. This has been the plan since, really when we lost last year. But when we got to June, this was the plan. We were going to make the hardest schedule we could make and we were going to win every trophy they were going to give out when we were in the gym,” Lapadot said.
“They just believe. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as calm going into a game as I was tonight. It was just the plan.”
Neither team gained much traction ever in Saturday night’s Regional title meeting between Garrett and Benton Central. That led to an affair that had everyone on the edge of their seats with neither team ever leading by more than five points. It was Kelham’s three pointer from the top of the arc with 3:54 left in the game that gave Garrett a 38-35 lead, one they would never give up.
“We knew they were the team to beat. We came out my freshman year and we got smoked by them so it was good to come back and get that kind of revenge. I can’t even put words to this feeling,” Kelham said.
Garrett diversified who got to the rim early, while Benton Central focused almost solely on Kennedy Tolen. The senior took the majority of the Bison’s shots across the first quarter as they went after the defense of Ostrowski. Second chance opportunities helped Benton Central take a 13-10 lead after one. But, back to back three pointers from Owen and Makenna Malcolm to start the second gave Garrett back a lead in a low scoring quarter that saw the Railroaders lead 20-19 at the half.
Although Garrett would get a five point lead in the third, Benton Central would storm back and take a lead with 35 seconds left on Tolen’s put back to make it 31-29. From there, it was about Kelham who stormed back after a slow start to the game. Kelham had been getting to the basket well, but wasn’t able to finish or get a foul call as she went up against contact multiple times at the rim in the third quarter. The fourth quarter changed a lot for her, going on a 7-point run that included a baseline jumper, a hard charge through a defensive gap to score at the rim and tie the game at 35 and, finally, that three pointer to give Garrett the lead for good with 3:54 to play.
“Morgan’s girl wasn’t leaving her so it was kind of the game plan for her to set screens and us to get open. I’ve been working with my trainer on those jump shots so I finally said I would put them to use,” Kelham said.
While the big five of Garrett are always the focus, including an injured Gerke who wasn’t able to play in Regionals, plenty of props should go to current fifth starter Malcolm. While nowhere as experienced as her fellow starters, the moments were never too big for Malcolm in Saturday’s finale. In fact, she bookended Garrett’s scoring, opening the game’s scoring with a driving layup and then hitting a major three pointer with 2:11 back to extend Garrett’s lead to 41-37. That was their final basket of the game.
“Ever since we lost Taylor, Makenna has had to go in there and she’s been special,” Lapadot said.
The Railroaders now head to LaPorte for a meeting with South Bend Washington next Saturday in semi state. They do so with a four season record of 76-22, going 47-4 the last two seasons alone.
“It means these kids trusted. They trusted each other, whether trusted me or not, but they trusted each other and they got to the ultimate goal to this point. We’ve got one more step to get somewhere this program has never been,” Lapadot said.
“The trust that we have in each other is unreal and that is why I feel the plan doesn’t end next Saturday.”
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