For more sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1
HUNTINGTON – Concordia Lutheran's state-bound boys basketball team pulls equally on coach Josh Eggold's mind and soul.
Eggold has the talent in his players that makes diagramming the X's and O's of game plans so much fun.
And he has the type of players that he'll savor for a lifetime.
“There was a stretch (Saturday) where we were down and I thought, 'I don't know if we'll be able to pull this out,' ” Eggold said. “It began to sit on my heart a little bit that I could be in the last minutes with these guys. I don't know if fear is the right word, but I don't want this to end.”
Concordia came back from a nine-point second half deficit to beat Andrean 68-63 in overtime and win the Class 3A semistate Saturday at Huntington North.
Concordia (23-4) is in the boys state final for the first time in school history and will play Greensburg (25-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.
Eggold will probably deliver a variation of his pregame speech from Saturday, right before the team gathered and shouted what they've been shouting at the ends of practice since conditioning: “State!”
“We don't yell 'Semistate' we yell 'State' ” Eggold reminded the players. “That's what our goal is. We've not accomplished what we've come to do until this thing's over.”
Eggold would love to coach a state champion, especially with this team, one with seven seniors who have more or less been playing together since fifth grade. But that's only part of what drives him to push this team.
This Cadets team provides what he needs to prepare for games and matchups, including a starting five as skilled as any in point guard Ryan Gross (seven points, three assists vs. Andrean), shooting guard D.J. McCall (20 points, eight rebounds), versatile guard/forward Marq Rogers (15 points), forward Thomas Starks (10 points) and center Brian Gremaux (13 points, seven rebounds).
They also display the type of togetherness and camaraderie that's rare at all levels of sports.
“Going into (the semistate), one thing we wanted to focus on was handling adversity,” McCall said. “We knew we would get runs and they would get runs. I was about how we would respond. I think we responded very well.”
It takes more than talent to handle adversity in a basketball game. It takes inner determination and belief in each other. It takes patience, especially when a team has opened a nine-point lead with momentum and a raucous crowd spurring them on.
“We had our heads down a little bit, but we had to stay strong and come together,” Starks said. “We had to stay composed and think, 'This won't be our last time playing together.' ”
Part of the key is trust in teammates. All five Concordia starters, as well as regular players of the bench in Austin Harris and Brandon Webb, are capable of big plays. So when Starks fouled out in the fourth quarter, Harris was ready to step in and Gremaux (seven points, three rebounds in overtime) stepped up.
“If one of us is in foul trouble, somebody else has to step up,” Starks said. “Everybody surrounds each other as one and that's how we did it.”
Eggold said the semistate comeback did not ride on any “magic play” or set, but in grinding it out and getting in position to make plays.
A great example of resilience and a true team attitude: Gremaux missed a layup that would have won the game in regulation. He went to the bench and put his head down. His teammate surrounded him and figuratively lifted his head up. He scored inside with the bucket that gave Concordia the lead for good in overtime.
“My teammates are so supportive,” Gremaux said. “They said, 'You've got it next time, next play.' That's what we are, we're a brotherhood.”
Eggold savors the uniqueness of this team, too.
“They've been part of my life for six or seven years,” Eggold said. “Whether we win (state) or lose, it'll be sad to say goodbye to a great class.”
Eggold knows a special team when he coaches one. The rest of us now see it, too.