By Pedro Velazco
TIPTON — With eight seconds left, Wapahani junior guard Tanner Davis hit the biggest shot of the game, canning a 3-pointer from the left side to knot Saturday’s Class 2A Tipton Boys Basketball Regional at 58-all in a tense stretch run.
That left just enough time for something incredible to happen.
Tipton raced upcourt and found their money man, senior wing Mike Crawford. He drove down the left side of the floor, put up a contested shot and found himself blocked, but the ball came right back to him and in one motion he snagged the rebound and put it on goal again from point-blank range.
It dropped in as the buzzer sounded.
In an instant, he was engulfed by teammates and the Tipton student section as the Blue Devils celebrated a 60-58 victory, marking Tipton’s regional 3-peat.
“It’s amazing,” Crawford said from the floor shortly after the game ended, with the ball in his hands and a smile spread wide across his face. “I’ve won three of these [regionals] and I guarantee this was the best.”
Everyone in the building will have a different take. Tipton coach Brad Dickey summed it up this way:
“Heroic,” Dickey said. “That was exciting. Wapahani was a fabulous team. We couldn’t communicate any better out there at the end. We just took what we could get [on the final possession] and Mike did it again. He was heroic.”
Tipton forward Austin Hooker watched the action unfold while glued to Wapahani guard Grant Evans, as he had been all second half.
“It was crazy,” Hooker said. “I didn’t picture it ending like that. Once I saw him miss the shot, I thought it was going to overtime. Then he lobbed it up there.”
Tipton improved to 25-2 on the season, reaching the 25-win plateau for the first time in program history. The Blue Devils will face Bowman Academy in the Class 2A North Semistate Saturday in a rematch of last season’s semistate. The IHSAA will announce the site of the game today.
On the other side, Wapahani was crushed. The Raiders spent about 35 minutes in their locker room after the game ended and coach Matt Luce’s voice was still hoarse with emotion as he and his squad made their way out to the bus.
“It was two great teams coming down to the wire, and we won two like this last weekend at the Lapel Sectional, so our kids have been on the other side of it and it just tears your heart out,” Luce said.
“It was an awesome shot by our junior point guard Tanner Davis, but the Crawford kid does what he’s good at. He got it and he took it to the rim. I believe our junior center Jacob Foster made a nice block and Crawford just stayed with it and laid it in at the buzzer. Again, it was a great play.”
It was the kind of game that deserves a rich moment like that to finish it. Wapahani and Tipton staged an epic game. The intense on-ball defense made running offense extremely tough for both sides, but both rose to the occasion.
The game was tied at 15-all at the end of the first quarter on a jumper by Wapahani’s Foster near the buzzer. Wapahani led 30-25 at halftime and took a nine-point lead at 35-26 early in the third quarter, but Tipton hung around, then turned the tables with a 9-0 run to close the frame for a 43-42 lead. Mason Degenkolb’s rebound bucket at the buzzer gave the Devils the slim one-point lead going into the final frame.
Wapahani (22-4) landed a few haymakers in the fourth quarter only to see Tipton respond and take a 55-53 lead on a 3-pointer from Degenkolb. The Devils protected their lead until Davis’ 3-ball with less than 10 seconds left knotted the game at 58-all. That set the stage for the winner.
“It was very intense and again you credit Wapahani,” Dickey said. “We try to play like that [tight defensively] all the time and it leads to some ugly basketball but it sure is competitive and it values toughness, and Wapahani had a lot of toughness.”
But so did the Blue Devils. Hooker shackled Evans in the second half. Evans had 14 at halftime, and just two points in the final two quarters. On the offensive side, Crawford scored 17 of his game-high 26 points after halftime. In addition, Nate Friend added 11, Degenkolb scored 11, and Blake Hoover and Luke Shively five each.
“It’s really not tough with the guys i have on my team,” Hooker said of enduring for the victory. “Never did we doubt that we could win. Obviously it was hard to keep composure with the huge crowd.”
Luce praised the environment of a packed Inferno gym with one side full to the rafters in blue and the other side full to the rafters in red.
Davis led Wapahani with 19 points and was clutch in the fourth quarter, hitting three treys and a deuce without a miss. Evans scored 16 and Foster 14.
“They’re a great team and they have a lot of energy,” Crawford said of Wapahani. “We had a lot of energy. It’s a regional championship — win or go home. You had to put everything out there.
“Everybody just stepped up. Everybody just played their hearts out.”
For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Kokomo Tribune eEdition, or our print edition.