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.