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Top-ranked NorthWood goes OT to win First State Championship

Rich Torres, Special to
Posted: March 25, 2023
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Photo Credit: Double Edge Media @demllc

Defense has been the staple behind the top-ranked Class 3A NorthWood Panthers historic season, and fittingly, they turned to it in the final seconds to seize their first basketball state championship.

Up by as many as 14 points in the first half against Guerin Catholic Saturday night inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse, NorthWood’s top-ranked defense kept its poise and forced a turnover, up by two points, with two seconds remaining in overtime to win 66-63.

“It was a shame someone had to lose this basketball game. It was an Indiana high school basketball game, give Guerin Catholic tremendous credit. I thought they made play after play, and we were just fortunate to make one more play at the end of the game, then they did,” NorthWood head coach Aaron Wolfe said.

“It was an incredible game to be a part of, and it just felt like heavyweight fighters were throwing punches at each other. It was one shot after one shot.”

The final two shot attempts went to senior Cade Brenner, who converted the first of two free throws before missing the second, which Guerin Catholic heaved for a desperation, three-quarter court 3-pointer that missed.

Brenner finished with a game-high 28 points – with 23 coming in the first half on 8 of 11 shooting from the field and 5 of 7 from 3-point distance – but even a double-digit lead wasn’t enough to tame the Golden Eagles (20-9), who rallied back in the second half.

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NorthWood's Cade Brenner (Photo courtesy Double Edge Media @demllc)

Kamea Chandler, a senior, turned potential misfortune into a near comeback for the ages, as he and his teammates chipped way to cut their deficit to five points twice before tying it up.

Chandler buried a clutch and-1 opportunity with 1 minute, 39 seconds in regulation to tie the game at 52-52 behind 10 of his team-high 22 points, which dropped through in the second half.

A steal by Chandler with 5:24 remaining in the fourth quarter that he initially dished to Ty Sanders eventually found Jack Cherry, who buried the second of back-to-back 3-pointers which narrowed NorthWood’s lead 48-43.

Another Sanders basket followed by a steal and another bucket pulled the Golden Eagles within one possession, 50-47, with 3:31 left.

Cherry had 15 points overall with six in the second half, while Sanders added seven points total. Robert Sorensen had eight points for Guerin Catholic, which was aiming for a third 3A state title all time (2012, 2015).

“The effort that they provided and showed in the second half is what this team has been about all season. It’s what put us in this position in the first place,” Guerin Catholic head coach Bobby Allen said. “The fight that our guys showed gave us an opportunity to win in the end, and they made one more play than us.”

That one play required one final push by both teams.

Guerin Catholic grabbed its first lead of the game with 3:44 remaining in overtime on a free throw by Dylan Murans, but NorthWood responded with a 7-0 run to establish a cushion that they defended to the end.

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Guerin Catholic's Kamea Chandler (Photo courtesy Double Edge Media @demllc)

“When you look at the players that we have, and we were talking with them, it just seemed like they were very confident,” Wolfe said. “Obviously, when you have players that are confident, it makes you more confident. Even in talk between them, it was keep our poise and execute what we do.”

Brenner executed in overtime after a scoreless second half of regulation. His 25th point put NorthWood up 59-53 and two free throws with 50.8 left made it 65-58.

Ian Raasch provided 13 points for the Panthers (28-2), and Tyler Raasch had 14 points with 13 rebounds. Ethan Wolfe finished with nine points with a trio of 3-pointers in the game, as NorthWood converted 8 of 18 from long range. Wolfe’s last three was crucial during NorthWood’s overtime run.

“I was just trying to stay poised in the moment. I had my teammates keep telling me to keep shooting and if I see daylight to just let it fly, so I just tried to shoot it with confidence and let it go and not think about that one,” Ethan Wolfe said.

A Chandler steal with 23.2 seconds left in overtime gave Guerin Catholic a chance to tie the game again or take the lead, down 65-63, but the Panthers’ defense held on after a timeout by the Golden Eagles.

“That was the one thing in the huddle that we had relied on our defense the entire year, and if we were going to pick a side of the ball with this basketball team to finish, maybe the state championship game, I probably would have picked our defense,” Aaron Wolfe said. “There were some guys that made some tremendous decisions. I thought, there was enough ball pressure. Also, that’s a really difficult time out of bounds, under with low seconds to try to execute. I thought they did a very good job of attacking the basket.”

Guerin Catholic’s possession ended in a turnover out of bounds on a misplayed pass on the baseline, and Brenner finalized the game from 15 feet by sinking 1 of 2 free throws and the Golden Eagles out of timeouts.

“It’s really difficult to win the last game. I think everyone makes it their goal that you want to win your last game, but I think when you look at the journey that we’ve been on, and it didn’t just start this year,” Aaron Wolfe said. “We’ve had some tough losses at the end of seasons. We’ve had to say goodbye to seniors, and this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to celebrate with our guys at the end of the season. I just think it’s going to be a moment that bonds us forever.”

Final Box Score

Class 3A State Championship Records

Highest Combined Free Throw Percentage: .853 by NorthWood and Guerin Catholic

Ian Raasch of NorthWood named Trester Mental Attitude Award Winner
Following the game, members of the IHSAA Executive Committee named Ian Raasch of NorthWood High School as the winner of the Arthur L. Trester Mental Attitude Award in Class 3A Boys Basketball.

The award is presented annually to a senior participant in each classification who was nominated by his principal and coach and has demonstrated excellence in mental attitude, scholarship, leadership and athletic ability.

Ian is an active volunteer, serving in multiple mission trips to destinations like Cuba, Hawaii and Romania. Ian is a part of the Student Athlete Leadership Team and a three-time Principals Honor Roll Award recipient. He is ranked ninth in his class of 186 students with a 3.99 GPA. Ian also participated in cross country for two years and and a four year varsity basketball player.

He is the son of Michael and Pauline Raasch of Nappanee, Indiana and plans to attend Grace College on a full scholarship to study business and finance in pursuit of an MBA.

The Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever, the presenting sponsors of the IHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament, presented a $1,000 scholarship to the general scholarship fund at NorthWood High School in the name of Ian Raasch.

The award is named in honor of the late Arthur L. Trester, who served as the first IHSAA commissioner from 1929 to 1944 as a guiding force after the Great Depression.  

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