Tony Harper photo/Harper Studios
As Zach Keyes' second free throw dropped through the basket with just three seconds left in the Knights 45-40 Plainfield Sectional championship, his reaction summed up how the partisan Northview crowd certainly felt.
Backpedaling from the line, arms outstretched over his head, the smiling Keyes was enveloped by joyous teammates and fans who had ridden the emotional rollercoaster with the team through four years.
Back-to-back 21-win seasons the past two years had ended in heartbreak with a loss to Martinsville in the sectional. Then this year, amid talk from a lot of people outside the area that the team couldn't win the 'big' game, the Knights knocked off the pesky Artesians in the semifinal game of the Plainfield Sectional to setup a title game with Terre Haute South.
The matchup provided a chance at redemption of sorts since the Braves had previously beaten the Knights and much of the talk coming out of Vigo County centered on Northview's inability to capture a sectional crown.
Saturday night provided answers to both, as the Knights defeated the Braves and took home the IHSAA Sectional trophy.
"This feels awesome," said senior Tyler Akers, who provided stellar defense in back-to-back sectional games for the Knights. "I can't really explain it. (The sectional championship) has been our goal since we started here. Our defense definitely won the game for us tonight."
Indeed, a team that has been known for their offense the past few years, won the title with a defense that put the clamps on South's leading scorer Armon Bassett, holding him to half his scoring average.
"If you watch (South) long enough, you realize that their dribble penetration is what kills you," said coach Mitch Lancaster. "Our goal was to stop them from getting to the basket."
Northview limited Bassett to 10 points and held guards Terrence Littlefield and Travis Smith to just five and three points respectively.
Meanwhile the Knights seemed to answer every second half shot that the Braves hit and hit a wealth of pressure-filled shots in the last 16 minutes.
Terre Haute South hit back-to-back baskets just twice in the second half and Northview shot 53 percent (eight-of-15) from the field in the last two quarters compared to 36 percent (nine-of-25) for the Braves who also missed seven of 11 free throws.
Perhaps most importantly for the Knights was the fact that they proved in back-to-back nights that they can win even when their offense doesn't put up huge numbers.
Before sectional play, the Knights had failed to score 70 points in just six contests this season, three of them losses. But in Friday's game they defeated Martinsville 56-49 and followed that up with their lowest scoring game of the season against the Braves, but still got a win.
That victory provided the Knights with their first sectional title since 1988 and sends Northview to the Seymour Regional versus New Albany on Saturday at noon.