The West High School boys basketball team took a team photograph before Saturday’s game against Jackson at the famed Hoosier Gym.
Paul Boggs | Daily Times
KNIGHTSTOWN, Ind. — On the surface, it was indeed every bit of a once-in-a-lifetime experience on Saturday for the West High School boys basketball team.
But boiled down to the bottom line, it was still in the end a business trip —as the Senators did much more than just take in the sights, sounds and significance of the historical Hoosier Gym.
The Senators scored a season-opening win, which was the ultimate cherry-on-top goal, as West wiped out a 34-25 deficit just 55 seconds into the third quarter —and stormed back with 47 second-half points to edge the Jackson Ironmen 72-70 inside Indiana’s incredible landmark gymnasium.
That’s right, the smalltown Senators of West Portsmouth put together a Hickory Husker-esque rally of their own —as the Senators and Ironmen agreed to play Saturday’s bout in the Hoosier State.
But, Indiana high school basketball —on the silver screen —has a backdrop with the all-time classic movie Hoosiers.
It debuted 35 years ago, and is based on the true story of a tiny town and team winning the Indiana state championship in 1954.
The Hoosier Gym in Knightstown was where a majority of the movie scenes were filmed —as the movie itself focuses on the fictional Hickory Huskers, and their 1951-52 season under first-year head coach Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman.
Those Huskers started the season slow, but Hackman’s character survived an early-season release as head coach —thanks to the return of standout shooter and ultimate hero Jimmy Chitwood.
The Senators staged their own rally against adversity on Saturday.
They trailed 34-25 to the Division II but overly young Ironmen, before battling back early in the first half of the third frame for 38-36 and 43-42 leads —as the final 12 minutes and 11 seconds were truly a see-saw affair.
West was down 70-69 with 45 seconds remaining, but Senator sophomore Will Kegley capped a personal coming-of-age party —scoring on a nifty spin move 20 seconds later, and giving the Senators a 71-70 edge.
West sophomore Will Kegley (4) goes up for a basket during the Senators’ season-opening boys basketball game against Jackson on Saturday at The Hoosier Gym.
Courtesy of Erica Fike
Jackson’s Stephen Jenkins, who led the Ironmen with 16 points and scored the rebound putback to give the Red and White its 70-69 lead, tried to give Jackson the lead one last time —but he missed, and West junior Mason Parker pulled down the rebound.
With 10.3 seconds showing, Parker made the first of two bonus-situation free throws, but the Ironmen grabbed the rebound off the missed second.
Jackson looked for a three-point corner-pocket shot, but it missed at the buzzer —and the Senators’ script for a storybook, or rather move-like, comeback was complete.
For fourth-year West head coach Caleb McClanahan, he discussed two-fold for the how this game came about —and how his Senators charged back for the win.
“We’ve seen teams come here to the Hoosier Gym in the past and get an opportunity to play. I’m a lover of the movie, seen Hoosiers growing up. Talked to other coaches in the area, including Oak Hill’s Heath McKinniss (Oak Hill played Vinton County last season at Hoosier Gym), and they thought it would be a great opportunity for our kids to see something like this and be a part of something like this. Last basketball season, we started making connections, got a hold of Coach (Max) Morrow at Jackson, and he definitely jumped on board. I am so appreciative of Coach Morrow, for he has been tremendous through this whole thing. So we got this game with Jackson booked for here, and made it a package deal to bring the girls (Lady Senators and Ironladies) and boys both here to play. None of the kids had actually seen the movie, so we watched the movie on Thursday night. To see the kids come out on the floor and see the smiles on their faces, you could tell they were enjoying this experience. But we want to still win every game we can, and we told our kids this is just as much a business trip. We wanted to come here and compete and see what happens,” said McClanahan.
Perhaps adjusting to the much-smaller court, and even crackerbox yet 1950s throwback gymnasium setting, the Senators trailed for the final five-and-a-half minutes of the first quarter —and all of the second before facing a 34-25 deficit a mere minute into the third.
“The floor being smaller, the spacing goes away real quick for you. The ball is coming at you quicker it seems like, and the crowd is right on top of you. I don’t know how many total turnovers we had, but I thought we cleaned it up more as the game went on,” said McClanahan. “We calmed down, settled in, and our entire philosophy this season is that we’re going attack teams, not teams attack us.”
West was guilty of 11 first-half turnovers, but Jackson shot just 9-of-19 first-half free throws.
And yes, the foul line was famously still 15-feet from the basket — the exact same dimensions as the gymnasiums back in Jackson and West Portsmouth.
The Ironmen indeed left the door ajar for the Senators —which heated up in the second half, with Kegley and seniors Jeffery Bishop and Cole Tipton.
Bishop, who poured in a game-high 27 points on 10 total field goals and 4-of-7 free throws, jumpstarted the rally —with a three-pointer that made it 34-29 at the six-and-a-half minute mark of the third, and another almost a minute-and-a-half later that gave West its 39-38 lead.
West senior Jeffery Bishop (11) goes up for a shot over Jackson’s Stephen Jenkins (2) during Saturday’s boys basketball game at The Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Indiana.
Courtesy of Erica Fike
Tipton drove and scored for the 40-40 tie, Bishop’s old-fashioned three-point play made it 43-42 in favor of the Senators, and another Bishop basket made it 45-45 —before Tipton’s triple gave West the lead again at 54-52.
Kegley canned nine field goals and 4-of-4 free throws for 22 points, as Bishop and Tipton tied in trifectas with three apiece —for Tipton netted 19.
West senior Cole Tipton (13) takes a shot attempt over a Jackson Ironmen defender during Saturday’s boys basketball game at The Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Indiana.
Courtesy of Erica Fike
In the first half, Bishop with nine and Tipton and Kegley with eight points apiece made up all of West’s scoring.
In all, the trio combined for all but four of the Senators’ counters.
“All three had just tremendous games. And they looked really confident with what we were doing,” said McClanahan. “We’ve worked all summer building this confidence. Instead of being shaky with the ball and letting teams pressure us, we want to attack people. I thought we were shaky early on, but as the game went on, we started to attack much more.”
Especially Kegley, commented McClanahan.
“Will made some plays down the stretch. He was on the varsity as a freshman last year, but he got very little playing time and basically just practiced with us. So he was an unknown. But practicing with us for a year, it’s caused him to mature a little quicker,” said the coach. “Now as a sophomore starting today, you saw what he is capable of.”
Parker split those fourth-quarter foul shots, Cristian Quirasco added another at the stripe, and Corbin Miller made a basket for the final of four (56-52, 58-54, 60-56 and 62-58) four-point West leads.
There were actually five ties, including at 64-64 and 66-66, and nine total lead changes —the last of which made it 71-70 thanks to Kegley’s bucket.
Kegley, Quirasco, Miller, Parker and Wyatt McNeil were playing in arguably their first full and meaningful varsity games —as senior Trevor Fike fouled out.
“Trevor Fike was in foul trouble the whole game and he is one of our leaders. Then we had kids playing for the first time on varsity, and playing in this atmosphere on top of that, which is totally different than anything they’ve played in before. I was real proud of our kids for how hard they fought back and battled,” said McClanahan. “We just told the kids to stay in it, and late in the game, we’ll find a way to win it.”
Besides Jenkins’ 16, Jackson’s sole senior Boston Campbell chalked up 15 — as Jax Carroll drained four three-pointers towards 14 points.
West held a 28-23 advantage in total field goals, as the Senators shot 10-of-20 at the free-throw line —compared to the Ironmen’s 17-of-29.
McClanahan mentioned his Senators overcoming adverse situations much better this season —started indeed on Saturday.
For sometimes, a business trip — mixed with pleasure across the state line — can be quite beneficial for one program.
“We’ve talked a lot about adversity already this season, and the past couple of years, I don’t think we’ve handled it real well. A lot of these guys that played early in their careers, we talk about handling it better,” he said. “When you’re down 34-25, or you’re down a bucket and it’s going back-and-forth in the fourth quarter, how do you respond and how do you answer? It’s easy to be up 20 and feeling good about yourself. Give me the guys that are going to battle when things get hard.”
* * *
Jackson 16 14 20 20 —70
West 12 13 23 24 — 72
JACKSON 70 (0-1)
Eli Ray 0 0-0 0, Stephen Jenkins 6 3-4 16, Charlie Woodward 3 1-1 7, Ryan Seimetz 1 2-5 5, Bodhi Wolford 3 3-9 9, Jax Carroll 4 2-2 14, Boston Campbell 4 6-10 15, C.J. Crabtree 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 23 17-29 70; Three-point goals: 7 (Jax Carroll 4, Stephen Jenkins, Ryan Seimetz and Boston Campbell 1 apiece)
WEST 72 (1-0)
Mason Parker 0 1-4 1, Will Kegley 9 4-4 22, Jeffery Bishop 10 4-7 27, Cole Tipton 8 0-1 19, Cristian Quirasco 0 1-4 1, Corbin Miller 1 0-0 2, Trevor Fike 0 0-0 0, Wyatt McNeil 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 28 10-20 72; Three-point goals: 6 (Jeffery Bishop and Cole Tipton 3 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on X @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved