MICHIGAN CITY – Warsaw was poised and in prime position to pull off another postseason upset Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Joe Beard had other ideas.
Beard, all 5-10 of him maybe standing on his tiptoes, hit the biggest shot of the season and the regional semifinal clash to lift his South Bend Adams squad past the Tigers 48-46 in a boys basketball regional thriller.
Senior guard Beard rose up and drained a 17-footer over a pair of Warsaw defenders with just four seconds to play as the heavy favorite Eagles just barely survived the first semifinal of the Class 4-A Michigan City Regional.
Beard’s big time shot, after Adams held the ball for 1:12, propelled the Eagles into the title game Saturday night.
Adams advanced to play Merrillville in the regional championship game. The Pirates upended previously undefeated Munster, who they had lost to 61-49 during the regular season, 55-52 in Saturday’s second semifinal contest. Munster, who entered regional play 25-0, was ranked No. 1 in the final coaches poll of the season and No. 2 in the last AP Class 4-A poll.
The Eagles lost 76-55 to Merrillville in the finale at Michigan City Saturday night. Merrillville (22-3) will play No. 1 Carmel (23-2) in the North Semistate March 16 at Lafayette Jefferson High School. That contest will follow the Class 1-A semi state game between No. 10 Triton and No. 6 Lafayette Central Catholic, which tips-off at 4 p.m. EST. Adams sees its season end at 22-3.
Warsaw, which stunned many by winning the Elkhart Sectional a week ago, finishes at 13-11. The resilient Tigers won a pair of overtime games in the sectional, including knocking off heavy favorite Concord (who was 19-1 at the time) in triple overtime in the semifinals.
The Tigers, who had tied the game at 46-46 on a free throw by Taylor Cone with 1:16 to play, had one final chance after Beard’s nothing-but-net jumper. After timeouts by both Warsaw and Adams with just 1.5 ticks left on the clock, a long inbounds pass from Jordan Stookey glanced off Jared Bloom’s hand in the front court in front of the Warsaw bench. Adams then called a timeout with .6 on the clock and just threw the ball towards their own basket and the clock expired as an Eagles player touched the rock.
Jared Bloom capped off a stellar senior season with a game-high 14 points to lead the Tigers. Junior Jordan Stookey scored 13, senior Taylor Cone nine, sophomore Rashaan Jackson six and senior John Swanson four for Warsaw.
AJ Glick of the Eagles really hurt the Tigers. The 6-4 senior, who was averaging just seven points-per-game, scored a team-high 13 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field, including a clutch 3-of-3 on treys. Junior Michael Bush netted nine points, senior Juwan Johnson eight and Beard six for the Eagles.
Adams, which lost 73-70 to Elkhart Memorial in the regional final in 2012, hit just 5-of-15 free throws to make the contest very interesting in the end. The Eagles, who had made 183 treys on the season, did convert on 7-of-21 from distance.
“We were in a position to win at the end,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle. “It’s where we wanted to be with a chance to win it at the end. I just really appreciate how our guys competed and fought today. It’s disappointing to lose, but we were right there.
“We wanted to take our chances at the end with Beard shooting a pull-up 17-foot jumper like he did. We just didn’t want him to drive and get to the basket. Credit him. He’s a winner and he hit a clutch shot.
“It’s fair to say we overachieved in winning the sectional. I know how far we’ve come. Could we have won the sectional and been right in this game with Adams until the end a few weeks ago. I don’t think so. We were playing our best basketball at the end of the season. The guys just stayed together and kept bringing effort to practice to get better.”
The Tigers, who led 28-25 at halftime, finally succumbed to the quickness and defensive pressure of the lightning-fast Eagles. Warsaw finished with 16 turnovers (Adams had just six), including a key seven in the third quarter when they were outscored 14-7 to fall behind 39-35.
“If we handle the ball just a little better, especially in the third quarter, we win this game,” Ogle said. “But, it’s hard to play against them because of their quickness at every position. It’s so tough to deal with. It’s just very difficult because it just wears you out, the constant pressure. We hadn’t played a team with that kind of quickness and you just don’t see high school teams that have that like Adams does.
“They have a lot of firepower, but I thought our defense was pretty good to hold them to 48 points. Glick’s shots for them were huge.”
Warsaw, which trailed 42-37 with 5:02 to play after a key baseline jumper by Glick, used an 8-2 run to take a 45-44 lead on a Bloom bucket with 1:47 left. Bloom scored four points in the key surge, Stookey hit a pair of clutch free throws and Cone converted a layup.
Beard, who was just 2-of-8 from the field before his game winner, gave the Eagles the lead back at 46-45 with 1:39 to play as he hit a driving shot. He missed the ensuing free throw to keep it a one-point contest.
Warsaw, after taking a timeout with 1:35 to play, had a Bloom shot blocked by Terry Davis with 1:22 remaining. Cone then missed from in close, but was fouled after grabbing his own offensive rebound. The senior, with 1:16 left, had his first free throw go in and out before making his second to tie the game at 46-46.
The Eagles then opted to hold the ball. Beard stood with it at the top of the circle, until making his move with about 12 seconds to play. He then rose up from the right of the key and swished his game winner.
Beard, who poured in 25 points in the sectional finale for Adams, has overcome an awful lot to be in his hero’s position on Saturday. The senior missed all of his freshman season after being promoted to the varsity as he was academically ineligible. Beard, then in September, was diagnosed with a heart murmur. After undergoing a battery of tests prior to his senior season, the quarterback of the Eagles was cleared to play.
Warsaw, playing Adams for the first time since 1999, blitzed to an 11-3 lead to open the game. Jackson scored six in the opening frame, which was tied at 15-15. Glick drained a pair of huge triples to get Adams on track after a terrible start.
The 48 points by the Eagles, who average 70 per game, was their second lowest output of the season. Adams, which shot just 18-of-47 from the field, including 9-of-26 in the first half, had 45 points in beating host Mishawaka 45-42 in the sectional opener.
Adams top scorer Terry Davis was a no-show Saturday. The high-flying 6-2 senior, who averages 15 points-per-game, scored one point in 23 minutes of action. Davis had 25 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocked shots in the Eagles’ 93-71 pounding of Penn in the sectional title game.
The Tigers out rebounded the small, but high-jumping Eagles 35-25. Stookey led the way with eight caroms, while Cone and Jackson each snared seven boards. Stookey also dished out a team-high five assists as the junior guard played a strong, all-around game.
Warsaw, which shot 18-of-41 from the field (2-of-7 on threes) and 8-of-10 from the line Saturday, loses five seniors in Bloom, Swanson, Cone, Jason Ferguson and exchange student Quim Romans. Bloom, Ferguson and Cone all started Saturday.
Ogle had high praise for Bloom, who made his 47th start on Saturday. Warsaw’s top scorer was clutch all season long as the talented guard hit shots or free throws that proved to be game winners in four contests for the Tigers, including in a double-overtime win over Elkhart Central in the sectional opener.
“He had a strong finish to his career,” said Ogle of his consistent, underrated 6-0 backcourt star. “I keep going back to the fact that he averaged nine points last year and then averaged 18 for us this season. Jared is a guy we’re very proud of because of how he just kept working and improving.”
Bloom, who finishes his prep career with 706 points, has not decided yet on where he will play in college.