In the first eight minutes of their Sectional 23 quarterfinal contest at Norwell High School on Tuesday evening, the Mississinewa Indians allowed the Oak Hill Golden Eagles to make seven of their 13 shots and score 18 points.
In the final three quarters, however, the Indians’ defense stepped up in a big way, holding their longtime rivals to just 25 points.
And behind that stout defensive effort, the Indians punched their ticket to the semifinal round, defeating the Golden Eagles by a score of 57-43.
“I could not be more of this group for how they battled through that first quarter and then just maintained it the entire game,” Mississinewa Head Coach James Reed said. “Honestly, it was about finding our rhythm again. We have been out of rhythm, which is why this was a scary game for us. Tonight, we needed to find it. It’s the end of the season. Our defense is under our control. Our offense comes from that, and all of our energy comes from that.”
After allowing seven field goals in the first quarter, the Indians’ defense allowed just eight field goals in the final three frames. The Golden Eagles shot just 2-of-15 in the second quarter and made just one shot in the fourth.
Landen Swanner scored the first five points of the game for the Indians, giving them a 5-0 lead, but the Golden Eagles responded with a 15-2 surge, grabbing an eight-point advantage with 2:03 remaining on the clock. During the run, Oak Hill knocked down three of their four shots from beyond the arc.
Mississinewa was able to cut the lead to five on a Trey Miles field goal and a Tai McClung three-point play, but the Golden Eagles led 18-12 after the first quarter of play.
In the second stanza, the Indians, behind strong quarters from Colin Yoder and Bryce Oglesby, were able to regain control of the contest. An Oglesby three with 4:42 remaining helped to cap off a 12-2 Mississinewa run, and seven straight points from Yoder in the final 3:47, which included a three, put the Indians up 31-24 at the halftime break.
“We really were focused on stopping [Ryan] Pederson and [Tristen] Hayes [in the post], and they hit some outside shots. We adjusted a little bit. We played more inside-out, got out to their shooters, and [slowed] them down. Our guys stayed consistent to our game plan.”
While Mississinewa’s defense did a nice job of limiting Oak Hill’s offense for most of the contest, the Golden Eagles certainly did not help themselves. For the evening, Oak Hill missed 23 shots from inside the arc, and several crucial misses in the paint kept them from re-establishing the offensive rhythm they had in the first quarter.
“That’s been kind of a bugaboo of ours. We get off to good starts, [and the] kids follow what we want to get accomplished pretty well,” Oak Hill Head Coach Kevin Renbarger said. “They were locked in, and they hit shots.
“But then, whether it was fatigue or whatever, we [got] loose with the basketball, and I think tonight, a large part of it was just missing shots. We were pretty solid on the defensive end for the most part, but we missed a ton of shots in the first half that would have kept that game [close.]”
Neither team shot well in the third quarter, but the Indians continued to maintain their advantage, leading by as many as nine. Tahj Johnson cut Oak Hill’s deficit down to four points at the end of the third quarter, but several key baskets from Swanner in the fourth helped the Indians pull away.
His first three of the quarter put the Indians up seven at 42-35, and with 3:37 to go, his second triple put the Indians up by double digits.
“He was feeling good,” Reed said. “Obviously, Oak Hill was keyed on him, and we are keying on getting the ball inside. We had a talk on the sideline before one of his big [threes,] and he was like, ‘I’m feeling good, Coach.’ And I said, ‘Well, if you find one, it better go in.’ The very next possession, he found one, and it gave us that [lead] that we needed to pull it out and grind the game out.”
Mississinewa did not trail by any less than 11 the rest of the contest, making all six of their free throws down the stretch to secure the 14-point triumph.
“They locked down on us in the fourth quarter,” Renbarger said. “Give them credit. They locked down on us in the fourth quarter and took away some quick, easy shots that we wanted to get around the basket.”
Anthony Horton led the Indians’ offense, scoring 12 points and coming down with seven rebounds, while Swanner finished with 11 points. Yoder and Oglesby both finished the contest with nine.
In his final basketball game as a Golden Eagle, Tahj Johnson left it all out on the court. The senior guard finished the contest with 14 points to along with five rebounds.
Early in his basketball career, he was just an athlete.
But in his senior season, it was clear that Johnson had completed his metamorphosis into a complete basketball player.
“He really stepped up his game this year, and I’m really proud of him,” Renbarger said. “I’m proud of all the seniors. I thought all the seniors did an outstanding job, and I thought they showed themselves well and represented the school well. Tahj has great things coming in other sports, but this year, he took pretty big steps to becoming a good basketball player.”
Tristen Hayes collected a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Kody Dubois finished his high school career with nine points on three treys.
Mississinewa will continue their playoff run on Friday night, where they will face off against the Heritage Patriots this coming Friday at 7:30 pm.