Don't tell New Haven and Wayne the postseason hasn't started yet. In the final game of the regular season for both boys basketball teams, the intensity and atmosphere felt like what is to be expected next week when they begin sectional play.
The largest lead of the game was six points, and the outcome came down to critical free throws and the last possession as Class 3A No. 6 New Haven (18-3) won 65-62 at Wayne (12-8).
"It got really intense in the fourth quarter; got like two minutes (left) and felt like a sectional championship game," New Haven senior Jordan Hogue said. "The crowd was getting into it. Everyone else was getting into it. It was wild."
For two teams hoping to win their respective sectionals and more, the game provided great preparation.
New Haven went up against an attacking team that plays at a similar level. This gave Bulldogs head coach Al Gooden a chance to see the final tweaks his team's defense will need when it hosts Sectional 22.
"You know, we always want to work on our defense, sit down in our defense. That's what we wanted to work on, and Wayne is a good offensive team," he said. "They attack well, so we want to sit down in our defense and guard them and rebound the basketball because they
attack the glass hard."
As Wayne was scoring in the fourth quarter, Hogue took over offensively for New Haven. After Wayne took a 53-52 lead with less than five minutes to play, the guard score eight straight points for New Haven to help build a 60-57 lead.
Hogue finished the game with 21 points to go along with Steve McElvene's 18 to lead the Bulldogs. Cam Leshore and Justin Mitchell both had 18 points to lead Wayne.
"You know, I usually don't score much, usually the distributor, but my team needed me to take over a little," Hogue said. "So I accepted that role and did what I had to do."
After Hogue's scoring spurt, it came down to free throws for New Haven to seal the victory.
The Bulldogs missed three of four in the final 30 seconds to give Wayne, down three, a chance to tie the game, but the Generals turned it over on the final possession.
"I thought we competed. We had turnovers down the stretch; that is what got us, I think," Wayne head coach Aaron Rehrer said. "In a game like that, you got to take care of the ball and we had an opportunity, but that's the way it went."
The Generals didn't want to lose, but the game gave them a chance to play against a team that has similar strengths to their possible first-round opponent in Sectional 6. Wayne plays the winner of Homestead-Huntington North and is hoping to do something that hasn't
happened in 20 years.
"If we can win two games, we can win our sectional, and then we'll get the chance at whoever wins the East Noble Sectional," Rehrer said. "Like I said, (a sectional championship) hasn't happened since 1993-94 here, so I know these kids are going to fight, and we'll see what happens."
New Haven is coming into sectionals with a very different mindset. After winning its sectional in Class 4A last season, it is now a favorite in Class 3A. The Bulldogs beat all three potential sectional opponents they played this year and open against the winner of Garrett-Concordia Lutheran.
"Not playing down to our competition (is important for sectionals)," Hogue said. "We want to play our game, our style and not play down to our opponents and let them stay in the game. We know we can push the tempo and play within Steve (McElvene), inside-outside game and that's going to be big for us not playing down to our opponents."
BULLDOGS 65, GENERALS 62
New Haven - 14 18 16 17 -- 65
Wayne - 15 20 14 13 -- 62
NEW HAVEN: Hogue 21, Griggs 9, Wattley 14, McElvene 18, Rudolph 3
WAYNE: Levi Mitchell 13, Leshore 18, Justin Mitchell 18, Robertson 2,
Bufkin-Scott 5, Thomas 4, Smith 2