Kokomo — Every sectional title is special.
But when your school hasn't won back-to-back sectional titles in 60 years, accomplishing that feat adds a little more. That is what happened for the Zionsville boys basketball team Saturday night in the Sectional 7 championship at Kokomo.
The Eagles easily won the sectional title over McCutcheon 64-41, winning back-to-back sectional titles for the first time since 1958 and 1959.
"This is huge for us," senior Isaiah Thompson said. "Coming in, we knew all about the history and coach (Shaun) Busick would bring it up. It is good to win two sectionals back-to-back, but we know we aren't done yet. We still have the regional coming up, and that will be tough, but if we take things one game at a time, we will put ourselves in a good position."
It was the second-straight year the Eagles had ended a long drought of sorts.
Last year, the Eagles won their first sectional title in 23 years. To follow that up with the first back-to-back streak in 60 years, is really special, Busick said.
"It means these guys have put in a lot of time, and put in a lot of hard work and effort over the years to get to this moment," Busick said. "I am really proud of them, especially the seniors. To go four years, win four HCC titles and now two sectional titles — that's great stuff."
The Eagles clinched the title with a big third quarter.
Leading by six at the intermission, Zionsville scored the first nine points of the second half and used a 19-4 run to take a 21-point lead on an alley-oop from Anthony Scales to Nathan Childress with 2:47 to go in third quarter.
"We were able to speed them up a little bit, got some traps, and that really helped us," Busick said. "We wanted to take advantage of their inexperience at the guard position, and we were able to do that. I am really proud of our effort. Once we started to attacking the inside, and not settling for 3s, things went a lot better."
The Eagles had a little bit of everything in the third quarter run.
They hit free throws, got breakaway lay-ups off steals, 3-pointers, got a wide-open finish from Hogan Orbaugh after a perfect no-look pass from Thompson, and the alley-oop to cap it off.
Thompson said they played the way they are capable of in the third quarter.
"We are at our best when we can get out in transition," Thompson said. "We want to run, and we know with our defense that there will be a lot of long rebounds and we can get out and go. We got a lot of transition points tonight."
Zionsville trailed for just 24 seconds in the game.
The Mavericks came out in a box-and-one defense, trying to deny Thompson the ball whenever possible.
Junior Ben Weidner hit two 3-pointers to kick off the scoring to give Zionsville a 6-3 lead. McCutcheon briefly took an 8-6 lead, but Zionsville closed the quarter on 19-5 run to go up 25-13 on a Thompson 3-pointer.
The Eagles hit seven 3-pointers in the first quarter, four coming from Thompson.
"Ben's 3s really opened things up for us," Busick said. "I was really excited about that. Against a box-and-1, you need that second or third option to step up and Ben did that."
McCutcheon closed things a little bit in the second quarter, out-scoring the Eagles 14-6 to get within 33-27 at the break.
Busick said he felt like the team didn't attack enough in the quarter, and that gave the Mavericks some life heading into the second half before the Eagles' big third quarter put the game away.
"I just don't think we attacked the paint enough," Busick said. "We were settling for too many 3s, and didn't hit."
The Eagles got balanced scoring throughout the game.
Childress led the team with 18 points, 16 coming in the second half. Thompson had 16 points, with Anthony Scales adding 10, Ben Weidner nine and Hogan Orbaugh eight.
Busick said he was happy with the way everyone played in their two sectional games, but said to get where they want to be in a couple weeks, the Eagles will have to find another gear.
"We are going to have to play a heck of a lot better next week to win the regional," Busick said. "We are going to focus on game one, but there is a lot of work to do. "
The Eagles now head to the Logansport Regional, where they will face Huntington North (22-4) in the opening game at noon.
The other semifinal will feature Fort Wayne Northrop (16-8) and Carmel (22-1).
"We know our preparation and what it's got to be," Busick said. "We will study Huntington North really well and this will be the third or fourth regional Craig Teagle and I have coached against each other. I am really excited about the opportunity to play them. I know they will be a great team and great defensively, so we will really have to come out and do some things well."
The Eagles lost in the opening game of the regional a season ago to Fort Wayne North.
Thompson said the team stayed in Logansport after the lost to experience the rest of the regional and know what's at stake next Saturday.
"We watched the regional championship last year, just to get a feel for it and see the atmosphere," Thompson said. "That is just a little thing, but I think it can help us. We are going to take it one game at a time and we will be ready."