Braves overcome early season struggles to win 14th sectional title



When the Brownstown Central boys basketball team dropped its season opener to Mid-Southern Conference rival Salem, coach Dave Benter hoped the loss was just a part of some growing pains.

That loss quickly compounded into a 1-7 start, the worst such beginning to a season since Benter’s first year at the helm, but the Braves did do a lot of growing during that time.

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Now, those lost games are behind them as the Braves captured the program’s 14th sectional title with a 46-45 win over the host Edgewood Mustangs on Saturday night.

Senior Isaiah Wineinger said winning the sectional is one of the greatest feelings he has ever had, but it has made it even better considering the adversity they had to overcome.

“We had a lot of ups and downs this year, but to battle like we did says a lot about this team,” he said. “We started 1-7, and we never stopped.”

Since the calendar flipped over to February, the Braves are 6-5 and are on a four-game winning streak.

While being just one game over .500 isn’t extraordinary, it shows the Braves are making the improvements Benter had hoped to see from his players at this point in the season.

For a coach that has led a lot of successful teams during his tenure at Brownstown Central, witnessing this group win a sectional title might be one of the more satisfying moments.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Benter said. “I’ve coached teams that have won 26 games, I’ve coached teams that have won 25 games, but sometimes, it’s most rewarding when you see guys just get better and learn how to compete.”

The Braves came out to compete in the first half, catching the Mustangs off guard with their box-and-one zone defense.

Brownstown raced out to a 13-4 first-quarter lead thanks to a couple of easy buckets from Clay Chastain and Aidan Schroer as well as a corner 3-pointer from Derek Thompson.

Thompson hit another 3-pointer in the corner to help the Braves build their biggest lead of the ballgame, 22-11, with just a minute to go in the second quarter. Edgewood closed out the half with four points to get the deficit under 10, foreshadowing a resurgent second half.

Holding Brownstown scoreless for the first three and a half minutes, Edgewood started the second half on a 7-0 run and took its first lead at 23-22, prompting a BC timeout.

Finally, the Braves responded behind a Wineinger 3-pointer — his first basket of the game — at the 4:30 mark in the third. He hit another with less than a minute to go in the quarter and snagged a buzzer-beating layup to cap the Braves’ 10-0 run to end the period and re-establish their lead.

“We talked about that they were going to make runs, and they did, but our guys responded after every run they made,” Benter said.

The Mustangs made another late push in the fourth, getting the game to within one twice, but could never get back over the hump.

That was due to the Braves stepping up to the free throw line and knocking down their freebies late after struggling to get any to fall early on.

After starting the game 0-for-5 from the free-throw line, BC hit five of its next six to keep the Mustangs at arm’s length.

“Derek broke the ice. We started 0-for-5, and then he steps up and makes two huge ones,” Benter said. “Once our guys saw it go in, they felt more comfortable.”

Those made free throws proved crucial as the Mustangs hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, which could have sent the game to overtime had Chastain not made 1 of 2 from the line in the final seconds.

Schroer led the Braves with 14 points and had three big blocks to erase some would-be Mustang buckets. Wineinger added 12, all of them coming in the second half, and Thompson rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10.

Chastain chipped in seven and Carter Waskom netted three to round out the Braves’ scoring.

BC now turns its attention to the Greencastle Regional, where the girls basketball team claimed two victories a few weeks ago. They’ll take on 12th-ranked Brebeuf Jesuit in the second game at noon.

Having already won a sectional title during a season full of mistakes and struggles, the Braves are playing with nothing to lose.

That’s a dangerous sort of team to play in the postseason.

“By the end of the year, we want to be playing our best ball,” Wineinger said. “We feel like we’re doing that right now, and we’ve got all the confidence in the world.”

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