Parke Heritage did plenty of things they needed to do to beat heavily favored Fort Wayne Blackhawk for the Class 2A boys high school basketball championship Saturday afternoon in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but the Wolves neglected one very important aspect.
They didn't, or couldn't, make shots.
Shooting just 28% from the field, and worse than that in the critical early portion of the game, the Wolves led the Braves and 6-foot-10 all-stater Caleb Furst on just one occasion and lost 55-40 to wrap up a 27-4 season.
Blackhawk, the Class A state champion in 2019, was ranked first in the state in Class 2A the entire season and fifth in the single-class coaches poll behind four Class 4A teams. The Braves had already beaten three of the other teams playing in Indianapolis on Saturday — Class A champion Barr-Reeve and both Class 3A participants, Leo (by 32 points) and Silver Creek. So the Braves had earned their favorite's status.
But on Saturday, Parke Heritage played the game at its own speed, didn't turn the ball over (just four for the game), got Furst in foul trouble early in the second quarter, and would have been in great shape had the ball gone in for the Wolves.
"They're a great team. There's a reason they've won so many games," coach Rich Schelsky of the Wolves said of the Braves after Saturday's game. "But we had the game where we wanted to have the game at halftime."
Blackhawk took the lead on the first possession of the game when Zane Burke hit a 3-pointer. Noble Johnson got a rebound basket for Parke Heritage to get the Wolves on the board and, despite missing one wide-open layup while breaking the Blackhawk press, they took the lead at 5-4 on a basket by Riley Ferguson with 3:10 left in the first quarter.
By the end of that period, however, Blackhawk had taken an 11-5 lead. Parke Heritage made just two field goals, but had three swatted away by Furst, on his way to a Class 2A record of six blocked shots.
"[The Braves] guarded us better than a lot of other teams have," Schelsky said later. "We missed some open shots, but we had some shots at the rim that [Furst] altered."
Although Furst left the game with his second foul in the first three minutes of the second quarter, his teammates picked up the slack. Jake Boyer, Blackhawk's fifth-leading scorer, had exceeded his scoring average with 12 points by halftime and Burke had scored 10, and Blackhawk took an 18-6 lead. Then, for about 10 minutes, the Wolves took over.
A 9-3 run, with Connor Davis getting a basket and four free throws and Ferguson sinking a 3-pointer, cut the Blackhawk lead to 21-15. The Braves hit a 3-pointer to go up by nine, but Davis got four more points and it was a 24-19 game late in the second quarter before Blackhawk's Marcus Davidson hit a 3-pointer six seconds before halftime.
"That 3 before halftime was a big shot for them," Schelsky said later, but his team wasn't finished. After falling behind 29-20, 31-22 and 33-25, Parke Heritage got three beautiful inside baskets — Christian Johnson on an assist from Ferguson and Davis on feeds from Ferguson and Noble Johnson — and was within 35-31 with 2:22 left in the third quarter.
But Furst had stopped fouling and his teammates were going to him every time down the court. He had 10 points and six rebounds in the third quarter alone, and he finished that period with back-to-back baskets, then nailed a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter for a 42-31 lead.
"I thought we did a really good job on Furst overall," Schelsky said after the game. "Except for one dunk that he got when we couldn't get a defensive rebound, I didn't feel he got any cheap baskets. But you have to play him straight up because he's such a willing passer and his team has so many other weapons."
"I was happy to see what I could do against somebody that good," said Davis, who had the assignment of guarding Furst, "but he's really strong, and he was able to push me away."
Parke Heritage never got closer than nine points after Furst's 3-pointer. It was still a 10-point game at 48-38, but Furst got a three-point play to start the clinching 7-0 run for the Braves.
"Parke Heritage is a good team and a very physical team defensively," said coach Marc Davidson of the Braves after the game. "It took us a little while to get into rhythm, and then obviously Caleb took over in the third quarter."
"[Furst is] gonna have a great collegiate career [at Purdue]," said Schelsky, who said fatigue by the Wolves played a part as the game got away late. "If you're gonna get beat, you might as well get beat by the best."
Schelsky added that he doesn't believe in moral victories, but also said, "There is a place in history for the second-place teams."
The Wolves, 50-7 the past two seasons [and still alive when the 2020 tournament was canceled] "have been some of the building blocks of our community," the coach added. "[The Wolves have] become Parke County legends, some of the founding fathers of our [three-year-old] school. Our school culture has been really good, and they're a big reason . . . and at the end of the day, that's bigger than a basketball game."
"I'm proud of our team and the way they fought out there," Ferguson said.
"I wish we could have won," added Davis, who had 19 points and a game-high nine rebounds. "It's been an amazing three years of my life, and [future Wolves] will continue that, hopefully."