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Class 1A State Championship Preview

Rich Torres, Special to
Posted: March 27, 2024
Bethesda Christian vs Fort Wayne Canterbury graphic

INDIANAPOLIS – By Saturday afternoon a new Class 1A boys basketball state champion will be crowned inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Regardless of the victor, it will be a historic first.

Set to tip-off at 10:30 a.m., the eighth-ranked Bethesda Christian Patriots (23-7) and the unranked Fort Wayne Canterbury Cavaliers (18-9) will clash for the title during the 114th Annual Indiana High School Athletic Association Boys Basketball State Finals in downtown Indianapolis, marking each program’s first appearance.

For the Patriots, their first-ever regional breakthrough has sparked a dominant postseason march, which has included six straight state tournament margins of victory of at least 11 points.

For the Cavaliers, their program-first semi-state title – and more notably first sectional championship since winning at 2A in 2018 – provided the necessary boost to potentially realize what head coach Deric Adams and his players have believed since 2023.

“We honestly started to talk about this last year. We really felt last year we had an opportunity to get here as well. We played Southwood in the sectional final last year, and not to take anything away from Southwood, I think they’re a fantastic team, but I think we picked a bad night to have a bad night,” Adams said.

The Cavaliers stumbled in the sectional finals, 70-57, a year ago against Southwood, but in defeat, they refined their offseason focus while bolstering their lineup with four additional seniors this past January.

John Parent (10.3 points per game), Colin Burda (3.6 ppg), Tucker Day (11.3 ppg, 5.7 rebounds) and Jackson Davis (4.5 ppg) each enrolled at Fort Wayne Canterbury in February of 2023 and officially joined the basketball program six games into the 2023-24 campaign after gaining eligibility.

With eight seniors on the roster overall, including Devon Lewis (15.3 ppg), Ashton Dressler (5.5 ppg) and Deacon and Dillion Wardlow, the Cavaliers are built to win despite carrying nine regular-season losses.


The Class 1A State Championship featuring Bethesda Christian (23-7) and Fort Wayne Canterbury (18-9) will stream via PPV on this Saturday at 10:30 am ET / 9:30 CT! 


“The first thing we told the guys in June when we started is look at the ceiling. We’ve got five girls’ (basketball) banners in the ceiling, and we said, ‘Those are lonely. They need some guys’ banners up there, and I said, that is our motto for the year. It’s we’re going to hang banners,’” Adams said. “From Day 1, that’s been their focus.”

Their initial postseason hurdle was Southwood, a 2023 1A state runner-up, during this year’s Southern Wells Sectional semifinal.

“Like any team, you’re going to run into obstacles, and our obstacle was Southwood,” Adams said. “How do you overcome that, right? That just told me that a lot of it is God’s timing and what we can do for these kids to get them mentally prepared for beyond that point, and that’s what I think we saw this year. That Southwood loss propelled us, more so from a mental standpoint than a physical standpoint.”

A 67-53 win over Southwood led to the program’s seventh sectional championship all time and later a third regional overall – the team’s first since claiming the 2A title in 2016.

“It’s something I kind of held close to me in my back pocket. It was like, ‘Look, now we have purpose behind this. We felt like we should have been here last year. Let’s make that run this year,’” Adams said.

A winning season has been a byproduct of surviving a grueling schedule, which netted the Cavaliers’ most recent plus-.500 record dating back to when former coach Scott Kreiger guided the program to a 16-11 finish in 2015-16.

In the last three years, Fort Wayne Canterbury had amassed five, eight and nine wins, respectively, with the past two seasons during Adams’ tenure.

The Cavaliers enter the State Finals in position to become the first 1A state champion since Lafayette Central Catholic (18-9 in 2003) with nine losses. A total of four schools have replicated the feat in boys state tournament history: Anderson, 1935; Jasper, 1949 and Bowman, 2013.

“We wanted to hang banners. We wanted to present a winning program. We’ve had so much success with soccer. We had so much success with girls’ basketball. It’s always been the idea of, you know what, if they can do it, then we can do it,” Adams said. 

Fort Wayne Canterbury has 14 state titles in school history with seven in boys soccer, two in girls soccer and five in girls basketball.

To add a boys basketball banner, the Cavaliers will need to halt a black-, white- and red-hot program aiming for their school’s first-ever state championship in any sport.

Similar to Fort Wayne Canterbury, which opened 2-7 before turning its season around by going 16-2, the Bethesda Christian Patriots started 5-7 but are riding an impressive 18-game winning streak.

A four-time sectional championship program (2009, 2021, 2023, 2024), the Patriots fell short in each regional trip until this month, but even then, it was a test of their fortitude.

“When we got to that Clay City (regional) game down at halftime, we told our guys to breathe and focus. One of my assistants, Chad Smith, has this saying: ‘You can’t eat an elephant all at once. You have to take little bites.’ So, we did that,” Patriots head coach Jon Grubaums said. “Since then, breaking through the regional has given them so much confidence. It’s what really fueled us these last two games.”

The Patriots beat fifth-ranked Clay City by 18 points after matching a season-best 42-point victory against Traders Point Christian in the first round of their own sectional tournament. In between, Bethesda Christian defeated Purdue Polytechnic - Broad Ripple by 36 points, Indianapolis Metropolitan by 11 and Greenwood Christian by 18 in the Washington Semi-State semifinals.

Bethesda Christian punched its ticket to state with a convincing 25-point win over No. 1 Barr-Reeve for its first semi-state championship. In six postseason games, the Patriots have outscored their opponents by a 61.5-36.3 ppg margin.

“The way we clicked these last two games against GCA and Barr-Reeve, I didn’t expect us to be blowing these teams out,” Grubaums said. “Barr-Reeve is a historic 1A program, just a powerhouse, and I couldn’t believe how focused we were. Just locked in. I did not expect that game to go the way that it did.”

The key has been health and upperclassmen leadership and development.

Both seniors Isaac Mlagan (5.7 ppg) and Luke Douglas (14.2 ppg) were limited due to injuries earlier in the season, while newcomers Steven Tierney (6.3 ppg), a junior, and Cooper Jackson (8.0 ppg), a senior, both assimilated in-season.

Senior Sam Mlagan leads the Patriots in scoring (15.3 ppg), and senior BJ Johnson is providing 5.0 ppg.

“The biggest thing for us was there was something on our minds and our hearts, which was regional. My first year (in 2021), we won sectional. We were blessed to win that sectional and had the lead in that regional and blew the lead. To be back there last year, with a team that we thought had the same chance to make a run like this year, but then being disappointed in the regional when we blew another lead,” Grubaums said.

“We kind of had to get the regional monkey off our back. Our school is a school where there’s only been one regional win, which was in baseball.”

Now, the Patriots can become trailblazers, much like Grubaums was at 1A University (2009-13) as a member of the boys basketball program’s first and only regional championship team in 2013.

“I had the privilege as an athlete to play in a semi-state, and to bring a team here now as a leader of a program and to help guys create the same memories, even better ones is more moving and more meaningful than anything I could have achieved as a player,” Grubaums said. “Just to see these guys build these memories with one another is incredible.”