Words: Giana Han
Photos: Izzie Chausse
Contributions from Mike Moore
On March 12, 2015, the Eagles finished what they had started three years ago when the team won the state semifinal against the C. Milton Wright Mustangs, 75-61.
From the moment the team stepped onto the floor for warm-ups, they were sinking shots, and the crowd was going wild. The game was set at Xfinity Center, creating a very different feel than the one of the comfortable high school gym at Centennial.
“The perception of the shots were different. We’re used to having a wall there,” said senior Isaiah White. “When we came out, we had our school, our community behind us, so that helped relieve the pressure.”
The fans quieted down for a moment when the Mustangs won the tip-off and quickly converted it into points with a basket from CMW’s Corey Bays.
However, a minute and 15 seconds into the game, a basket by junior Tom Brown tied the game, and 30 seconds later, a three from senior Chad Strothers put Centennial in the lead. I. White put another two on the board, and senior Connor Clemens followed that with another three, putting the Eagles up 10-4. The Eagles were off and running, and they never looked back.
Supported by Centennial’s strong defense, Strothers took advantage of the steals and defensive rebounds his teammates passed to him and scored several lay-ups, making tough shots look easy. The Eagles were playing a fast game that was different than their usual methodical offense, yet very effective.
Head Coach Chad Hollwedel said, “It starts for us on the defensive end. We play with the defensive energy and we get stops, it leads to run outs and it gets us started. We have worked very hard at creating tempo in the half court set to get the shots we want.”
The Eagles were up 18-11 when senior Eli Geist and sophomore Elijah White checked into the game. Seconds after stepping onto the floor, Geist put a rebound back up, scoring the final points of the quarter.
Entering the second, CMW’s Christopher Lorenzo cut the Eagles 20-11 lead to seven points with a three point shot. Seniors I. White and Strothers responded immediately. A tipped rebound to I. White led to a fast break where he crossed out a defender for an easy lay-up. Strothers converted a steal into a lay-up and then drove to the basket, laying the ball up nice and easy over two defenders on the next play. Less than four minutes into the second quarter, Strothers was already in double digits for points.
The rest of the team helped to solidify the lead with strong defensive rebounds from Brown and blocks from Geist and I. White. Junior Michael Merkey, Brown, and E. White put points on the board, and the Eagles finished the half up 36-24.
Baskets from I. White, Clemens, and Strothers quickly extended the Centennial lead to 18 points in the second quarter. However, CMW’s Bays was putting up a fight and cut the lead to 15.
Even with Bays’ effort, the Eagles continued to dominate the third. E. White and Geist came in to score points while Brown (10 rebounds) dominated the boards, eliminating second chance shots for the Mustangs. With a 19 point cushion, the Eagles had set themselves up for a promising final quarter.
The opening play of the fourth was a put back from Mustang Kyle Harkins, and the Mustangs quickly set up a press. Bays, Harkins, and Seth Walker sank their shots, and the Eagle’s lead was cut down to 13.
However, the Eagles followed their normal philosophy of when a team goes on a run, they just need to respond with a bigger run.
“Coach talked about making sure we closed out on their shooters because they started to knock down their shots,” said E. White. “Just closing out and forcing their quick shots. Then they started missing a couple.”
“You know they were a good team, knew they would make a run,” said Hollwedel. “We weathered that storm and made a little run, just trying to minimize their runs and maximize ours.”
With lay-ups from Strothers, E. White, and senior Kevin Wilson, and strong rebounds from Brown, the Eagles established that they weren’t ready to go home.
This was confirmed when a fast break led to a spectacular dunk by E. White followed minutes later by one from his brother. With a strong lead created by Strothers (19 points), I. White (19), Clemens (10), E. White (10), Geist (6), and Brown (6), the starters were retired, and the Eagles were able to clear their bench.
With a final free throw from Min An, the game ended 75-61, and the crowd went wild. The program had made it past the obstacle the state semi-final to game had presented to the team of 2011-2012.
“When I was a freshman, I remember watching the varsity team go through the halls and we were all clapping for them, I just thought, man, that would be awesome to have that opportunity someday,” said Strothers. “We worked really hard to get here.”
Some of the team who had made it to the 2012 state semi-finals last were in the crowd cheering on the kids who were once J.V. players looking up to them.
“It kinda was awesome, having them see us because we were out there watching them, and to have them come see us, it’s like [being] in their shadow almost. And now we have the chance to gain the state title, and we want to make them proud,” said Strothers.
The entire team was able to contribute to the win. According to Hollwedel, their amazing teamwork stems from the fact that they are a great group who truly like each other and are willing to put in the work.
“I’m fortunate, with the staff, to be able to try and cultivate that a little bit more. From a basketball perspective, there are things they can work on, but if they weren’t the kids they were, it wouldn’t matter,” said Hollwedel.
“We all play together, so it’s not only one player,” added E. White. “It’s the whole team, and when we’re all working together, it works.”
The next game will be at Xfinity Center on March 14 at 3 p.m.
“Every day we talk with the kids about just finding a way to be 1-0 at the end of the day. We’re going to have a fight in for us with a very good basketball team on Saturday, and we’re going to go home and start preparing for the next game,” said Hollwedel. “It’s been a great group all year, they deserve to play one more time.”
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