Victory at last!

Blackford basketball fans celebrate as the final buzzer sounds Tuesday, Jan. 17 after the Bruins ended the school's 61-game losing streak with a 61-51 victory over Anderson Prep.

 Perhaps the best play of Blackford’s streak-busting 61-51 victory over Anderson Prep Jan. 17 was called not by Coach Scott Clamme but by one of the players as the team huddled one last time before the fourth-quarter buzzer.

                With the Bruins up by 10 and the first victory in nearly three years at last assured, Clamme said it was junior Jake Ross who spoke.

                “The student section was really excited,” Clamme said. “We had called a time out and I told the guys, ‘when we win, let’s make sure we act like we’ve been there before.’ Jake Ross, who is one of the members of the student council, said ‘Coach, is it OK after the game if we over and sing the school song to the student section?”

                So when the final buzzer sounded and a 61-game school losing streak was over, a few tears mingled with lots of cheers as, arm-in-arm, the victorious Bruins stood in front of their cheering faithful and did an acapella version of the school song. It was a moment among many on this night not likely to be forgotten any time soon.

                “It’s just great for the kids,” Blackford Athletic Director Tony Uggen said. “They’ve been through so much adversity. I credit the kids for working so hard because a lot of kids probably would have quit under similar circumstances. They just kept battling and battling. It’s great for the kids, great for the school and great for the community.”

                Junior Ethan Huffman and sophomore Andrew Beckley led a balanced Blackford attack with 15 and 14 points respectively. Seven different Bruins scored in the game and it seemed everyone had a key moment that contributed to the triumph – Blackford’s first since defeating Southern Wells 59-49 on Feb. 21, 2014.

                It was a night of justice in the eyes of Clamme as well as parents and fans of this team.

                “I’m really proud of the players, but I’m always proud of the players,” Coach Clamme said. “I’m a little bit relieved. It’s been unfair to the players when people talk about the streak. This particular group didn’t lose any games last year, didn’t lose any games the year before that. The 2016-17 Bruins were 0-11, but they weren’t 0-61. I’m happy for them that monkey, that unfair monkey, is off their backs.”

                “It was great, it brought me goosebumps,” said Charlotte Sprowl, grandmother of Tyler Cagle. “Tyler’s mom said she was going to cry, but she held it together. They’re a good group of boys, they really are. I think most of them have known each other since first grade.”

                “We’re just proud of all of them for sticking with it,” said Kari Huffman, mother of Ethan Huffman.

                Indeed as the streak mounted and began to approach the all-time national record of 68, it would not have been surprising to see frustration rise along with it and lead to player departures. But there were no quitters on this team.

                “There’s been frustration, but I think they’ve channeled it positively,” Coach Clamme said. “You wouldn’t know coming into practice that this group didn’t have a winning record.”

                One of the most astute observations of the night came shortly after the final buzzer when area broadcaster Ed Thurman, who has called his fair share of Blackford athletic events, pointed to the scoreboard and said “How appropriate to have 61 points in stopping a 61-game losing streak. I am so thrilled for the kids, because the juniors on down had never won a game. They just tasted victory and the smiles on their faces were worth it all.”

                It was the most points for a Blackford boys varsity basketball team in at least two years. Making victory even sweeter was the fact that it came against a quality team which had some impressive players of its own.

                “Anderson Prep really posed a lot of match-up challenges for us because they are so quick and so athletic and they work so hard,” Coach Clamme said.

                But it seemed Bruin faithful could sense victory in the air early in the game with each high-arching three-pointer from the hands of senior Andrew Beckley. He hit back-to-back treys and scored on an inside drive to stake the Bruins to an early 11-6 lead.

                Blackford’s determination really showed mid-way into the second quarter, when the Bruins pounded the offensive backboards and got six shots in one possession, the last of which was an Ethan Huffman put-back that made it 23-13.

                It was just one sequence of all-out hustle displayed by a determined Blackford team.

                “In the first half, we had at least two saves on balls that were going out of bounds underneath our own basket,” Coach Clamme said. “Jake Ross did a great job of keeping the ball in play and went into the stands once to make a save. Austin Elkins and Andrew Beckley each chased down a loose ball. I think Mark White still has a Band-Aid on his elbow from diving on the floor last week. There’s a tremendous amount of heart these guys show, day in, day out.”

                Anderson Prep would show some heart of its own, however, rally and score 17 of the final 23 first-half points to take a 30-29 lead into the locker room.

                “Anderson Prep is streaky team,” Clamme said. “We didn’t get rattled. We kept our composure.”

                In the third quarter, the time-honored “practice makes perfect” mantra was displayed by sharp-shooter Ethan Huffman, whose pair of clutch three-point shots that helped Blackford regain the lead were anything but luck.

                Huffman, who led the Bruins in scoring on this night with 15 points, helped his team build the lead for good with a pair of long bombs.

                “He hit two big threes for us in that third quarter,” Coach Clamme said. “After practice the night before, he stayed around and he didn’t just shoot 350 shots, he stayed until he hit 350 shots.”

                The game was close throughout and Blackford led by just four, 47-43 early in the fourth quarter. But despite relentless full-court pressure, Anderson Prep would get no closer as Clamme’s team showed tremendous poise – both at handling the ball and at shooting free throws.

                For the game, Blackford hit 25-of-35, a 71 percent accuracy rate. No player missed more than two free throws.

                As for a star of the game, you might as well close your eyes and randomly point in your program.

                “Huffman hit those two big threes in the third quarter,” Clamme said. “Mark White had 10 points, seven rebounds and went 8-for-12 from the line. Nate Brown (eight rebounds) and Tyler Cagle (seven rebounds) both rebounded the ball extremely well. Andrew Beckley got us off to a great start with two threes in the first quarter, was 4-of-4 from the line and also had five rebounds. Quinten Howard did a great job coming off the bench and playing defense. Jake Ross came in and gave us valuable minutes toward the end of the game. Austin Elkins came in and gave us a big lift, scored four points and defensively really helped alter some of their shots. Brandon Stroble had a great drive, drew a foul and hit a couple of free throws in the second half.”

                Even the Bruins who didn’t play made important contributions, according to Coach Clamme.

                “Dalton Willman, Brandon Apple, Caleb Messersmith and Kerigan Reynard didn’t really see much action but every time I turned around, those guys were excited, they were focused and into the game. Caleb had the guys locking arms and keeping everybody together over there.”

                Now that the streak is behind them, Coach Clamme contends there are more “very winnable” games on the schedule. But he doesn’t need any more W’s to tell him these kids are winners.

    “This is a great group of kids,” he said. “The grade-point averages for these guys are tremendous. We’ve got three guys who are student council members, other guys who are involved in other leadership roles in the school. They are a tremendous group of young men.

    “After our Winchester game the other night, one of the officials filled out a form and sent it to the IHSAA complimenting both of the teams that night for their behavior on the floor. That’s a really neat thing, for an official to take the time and do that for these young men. It exemplifies the kind of kids that they are.”