HARTFORD CITY – To see how Bishop Dwenger's boys basketball team has risen from 5-13 to a semistate berth, watch the pass.Senior guard Kyle Hartman drives to the hoop as well as any player around. One time in Dwenger's 43-40 win over NorthWood on Saturday in the Class 3A Blackford Regional, Hartman went coast-to-coast, dribbling behind his back along the way, for the bucket. It was quite impressive.
But it's his pass that tells the story.
The score is tied with 30 seconds left and, during a timeout, Dwenger coach Matt Kostoff calls for Hartman to do what he does best.“The plan was to drive and try to get an easy layup,” Hartman said. “They all collapsed at the end and somebody had to be open. I kicked it out to Marcus, he had his feet set and he knocked it down.”
Marcus Stepp's three-pointer, with 1.7 seconds left, triggered hysteria from the Dwenger crowd.
“Chills ran up my body,” Hartman said. “It was great.”
It was because of the pass, and not just the literal pass, but the figurative one, the moment when Dwenger's players rallied together to share the ride. They had a players' meeting, Hartman said, and stressed accountability and the need to be “family” on the court.
Dwenger (14-13) traveled from nowhere in early February to a second-straight regional championship.
You can see it in the pass.
“Kyle made a great kick (out), and I think that's where we've grown,” Kostoff said. “Maybe two months ago, he tries to force one up there, but he has trust in Marcus and his teammates to kick it out, and Marcus hit a huge shot.”
Dwenger moves on to face Griffith (18-3) in the 3A semistate at 4 p.m. Saturday at Huntington North. The 4A semistate between Homestead and South Bend Riley will follow.
Who knows where the ceiling is for this Dwenger team, which is such a vastly different one than a mere five weeks ago.
“I think we're playing looser,” Kostoff said. “After we got beat by North Side (77-45 on Feb. 6), they spanked us by 30 – once that happens on your home court, you have to reevaluate a lot of things. Players do. Coaches do. The whole program does. Guys were embarrassed. Since then, they've tried to play and enjoy it and have fun and enjoy this ride as long as you can.
“Energy has been a big buzzword,” Kostoff continued. “It's over in March sometime, no matter what. This is the last time this group can play together. Enjoy what you have left.”
The Saints are enjoying the ride, no question. And they're sharing the load. Ryan Christman spurred the offense in the regional semifinal win over Hamilton Heights, scoring 22 points. In the championship game, he scored once. Instead, he helped limit NorthWood's Braxton Linville on defense over the last quarter and a half.
“I think we've finally learned how to win,” Christman said after beating Hamilton Heights. “We've finally learned how to close some games.”
Hartman (14 points), Stepp (11) and David Peters (8) led the way in scoring against NorthWood, although the first lead of the game for Dwenger came when junior guard Austin Burns came off the bench for a bucket.
“We play together,” Stepp said. “Coach preaches that. He's preached that from Day One. It took awhile for us to carry through with that and we finally have, and it's paying off.”
Dwenger's nine-game winning streak, which includes sectional and regional titles,is all about sharing the load. Just watch the pass. You'll see.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.