The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 16, 2022 1:00 am

NECC Tournament

Central Noble, Garrett take titles

Unbeaten Cougars hand Eastside 1st loss

VICTORIA JACOBSEN | The Journal Gazette

LIGONIER – The Central Noble boys claimed their third straight NECC Tournament title with a 62-44 win over Eastside at West Noble on Saturday night, keeping their undefeated streak alive and handing the Blazers their first loss of the season. 

The Garrett girls also lifted hardware on Saturday night, leading Angola wire-to-wire to win 70-42 and claim their first NECC Tournament title since 2004. The Railroaders (20-1) also ended a seven-year stretch in which Angola or Central Noble claimed each of the girls NECC Tournament titles. 

The Eastside and Class 2A No. 1 Central Noble boys were tied at 25 at halftime after a tip-in by Caeden Moughler. A bucket by Owen Willard gave the Blazers (14-1) a 29-27 lead early in the second half. 

That lead lasted about 12 seconds. On the next Cougars possession, Central Noble senior Connor Essegian hit a 3-pointer to put the Cougars back in front. And that was just the beginning: Essegian scored four more times in the third quarter, three times on 3-pointers, and Central Noble ended the third on a 16-5 run. Essegian scored 14 points in the third quarter alone and finished the game with 39.

“We really wanted to play our own game. They slowed it down a little bit in prior games that we had seen, and we didn't want to play to what they wanted to do,” Essegian said. “So we came out here and played to what we do normally and executed.”

Essegian also had nine rebounds, as did Logan Gard, who was hit in the eye while pulling down one of those rebounds. 

“That's the way to finish it, three years in a row,” said Gard, a 6-7 senior. “You know that you left it just as good as you found it.”

Logan Fry, who hit three 3-pointers in the first half to ignite Eastside's second quarter comeback, led the Blazers with 11 points. Willard finished with nine, and Gabe Trevino and Santino Brewer each had eight. 

Although Eastside rallied from an early deficit to keep Saturday's final exciting, the Garrett girls (20-1) led from wire to wire. 

“Tournaments weren't our friend last year,” Garrett coach Bob Lapadot said, referring to the fact that his team lost to Angola in both the 2021 NECC Tournament and 2021 sectional. “To come back and battle it out today, it's a learning process.”

Bailey Kelham led the Railroaders with 21 points. Morgan Ostrowski scored 16, Nataley Armstrong 15 and Faith Owen 10. Makenna Malcolm, who started and has taken on a larger role since Taylor Gerke was injured, also hit two 3s, and Garrett hit nine as a team. 

“They played like the good basketball players they are. We just tried to take off all limitations,” Lapadot said. “The scouting report was all defense, and just go out and play offense. Just go be free, and you saw, one through five. Malcolm had no fear. Take shots when they were there. Just run and run and play the way they knew how.”

And for players who won 20 games but didn't get to lift a tournament trophy or cut down a net in 2020-21, the win was sweet, and possibly an appetizer for the weeks to come. 

“I honestly don't have the words. It's something we've been working for, them for four years and me for three years,” Kelham said. “So for to able to finally get it and clinch a title, it means the world.” 

See a video

To see a video about the NECC tournament finals, click on this URL --

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