KENDALLVILLE – East Noble’s Big Blue Pit was bulging at the seams, with seemingly about 3,900 of the 4,000 people on hand screaming for the hometown Knights.
For visiting Carroll, it was just another night on the road.
With a Class 4A sectional final berth at stake, the Chargers held off an endless series of East Noble comebacks and held on for a 60-59 win Friday night, setting up a championship game matchup at 7:30 tonight against North Side.
The defending sectional champion Legends advanced with a 61-30 win over DeKalb in Friday’s first semifinal.
Carroll (20-3) will enter tonight’s game already with a win over the Legends, 64-61 on Nathan Fish’s 3-pointer at the buzzer on Feb. 6.
The Chargers also will enter what will have to be a much more serene East Noble gym – now that the Knights have ended their best season in years at 21-3.
“We knew this was going to be an incredible environment,” Carroll coach Marty Beasley said. “No one was going to be rooting for us but us. We had to find a way to stay together and fight through it and we did it.”
The Chargers, the regular-season SAC champions, play one of the toughest schedules in the area. Just their schedule in the last month makes it so, with trips to North Side, Carmel, Homestead and North Central on their mileage log.
The 20-mile trip to East Noble was just another bus ride.
“Our schedule’s built around games like this so we can be prepared come tournament time,” senior Riley Perlich said. “We’ve played in hostile environments like this this year, so this is nothing new to us.”
Still, Carroll had to draw on every ounce of experience to survive against the Knights, the Northeast Eight champions and one of the area’s best success stories.
Perlich, who led Carroll with 18 points and five rebounds, gave Carroll the lead for good with 4:07 to play. But the game was hardly over.
Carroll led 49-42 with 1:54 to go, but the Knights rallied three different times to get within one. The last time it was inches from being tied. Trailing 57-54, East Noble junior Ali Ali hit a long jumper, with his right foot touching the 3-point line. The two-pointer made it 57-56, and Daniel McKeeman’s free throw with 12 seconds left made it 58-56.
Ali then drove for a potential game-tying shot, but passed it when the Chargers’ collapsed on him. Swoverland intercepted the pass, smothered it and was fouled. He hit two free throws to put the Chargers up 60-56.
Hayden Jones, who had a game-high 25 points with six 3-pointers, hit a 3 at the buzzer.
“I thought we played our tails off,” East Noble coach Ryan Eakins said. “What a great basketball game. We’re down two with the ball with 12 seconds left. What else can you ask for in a game with two great teams, then have a chance to tie or win it on the last possession?
“We could talk about a million things that happened – missed assignments or turnovers here and there. But that’s basketball. Two great teams battling out, and they made one more play than we did.”
North Side’s win in the opener was far less dramatic, made notable by Indiana coach Archie Miller’s presence behind one goal, there to watch North Side junior Keion Brooks.
Brooks led the Legends with 20 points. Nate Carbaugh and Austin Boucher added 13 and 12, respectively.
North Side, playing its first game in two weeks, shook off the rust with a 12-0 run to open the second half and extend a 12-point halftime lead into a blowout.
“We stopped settling for the 3-ball,” Brooks said. “They were giving it to us early. Once we started attacking the basket, drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line we were able to extend the lead some.”
The 30 points the Legends allowed were easily the fewest they’ve given up in a game all season.
“We made (defense) the focus throughout the two weeks we’ve been off,” Brooks said. “We know we can score with people, but we’ve got to be able to defend.”