8:42 PM – Saturday, March 2 – Carmel
8.2 seconds remained. The Trailblazers were down 38-36 and had the ball at half court. The Blaze Craze waited earnestly during the preceding timeout—in fact, I spent the entire timeout crouched down, convinced that I could neither watch the resulting play nor resist the urge to watch it—for what would come next. After a couple seconds of our guards running around with their heads cut off, Dominic Dixon (who was standing at the free throw line) broke for the sideline. Somehow, both Tindley defenders let him go. Eric Wott inbounded the ball to Dominic. He put up the shot. Nothing but net.
9:22 PM – Saturday, March 9 – Martinsville
It was all over but the crying. The Blazers led Jac-Cen-Del by 20 or so points with a little over a minute to go, and coach Paul Gianakos inserted Jacob Daniels into the game. He gets the ball around 60 feet from the basket and just goes. Like a man on a mission, Jacob wanted to score. He pulled up for a 15-foot jump shot and drained it. He’d score 3 more points before time expired. And when time did expire, he was holding the basketball in one hand with both arms in the air, staring at the Blaze Craze with that kind of swagger only Jacob Daniels can have.
7:13 PM – Friday, March 1 – Carmel
It wasn’t supposed to be close. The Blazers were favored by 15 and after all, Bethesda only had 4 wins on the season. But yet the Patriots led University for most of the game and with 2:00 to play, it started to look like the Trailblazers might fall to their rivals from Hendricks County. The entire game we were just waiting for the Blazers to take the lead and when it finally happened, it defined the game. Anthony Maranto pulled up for a three-pointer that finally gave the Trailblazers the lead. Mikhail Liston followed it up with an “AND ONE!” and the Trailblazers led the rest of the way, pulling out the 54-51 victory.
10:09 AM – Saturday, March 9 – Martinsville
The Chargers led 11-6 midway through the first quarter. Baptist Academy sharpshooter David McKnight had hit 3 early three-pointers and the Trailblazers were in danger of letting the regional semi-final get away. But then the Trailblazers stepped up. University went on a 14-2 run and never trailed the rest of the way on the way to the school’s first regional victory. Anthony Maranto led the team that day going for 21 against the Chargers. When Baptist Academy focused on Dominic Dixon and Eric Wott, Anthony stepped up in a big way.
10:59 PM – Saturday, March 9 – Carmel
I walked into the gym at University to find a couple hundred people waiting. Some were playing basketball, some were sitting there quietly, and some were standing around, talking about the history that had just been made. They were all waiting for the team: the guys that made this whole journey happen. I had the honor of introducing them and leading the best pep session I’ve ever been a part of. For once we weren’t preparing for a game, we were celebrating a victory. I made remarks on how unbelievable it all was, but to be honest, I knew they could do this. It’s just a matter of whether or not they would. And they did.
7:28 PM – Tuesday, February 26 – Carmel
We didn’t really know how it would go. Fall Creek Academy wasn’t the sectional favorite—that honor went to Tindley—but we knew they could make some noise. After all, their record was similar to ours (12-9 vs. 10-11) and they had definitely played Tindley tighter than we had the first time around. FCA did a good job of containing Dominic Dixon. So it was someone else’s time to step up. And that man was Eric Wott. Eric had already hit five three-pointers when the most important one went in—a buzzer beater from 35 feet to cap the first half. A buzzer beater that made us all say “wow.” A buzzer beater that capped a 20 point first half for the senior sharpshooter. A buzzer beater that put University up 29-17 at the half. Anyone who didn’t realize what Eric brought to the team did in that moment.
3:58 PM – Saturday, March 16 – Seymour
It was nearing 4:00. Somehow my dad had drove fast enough to get from Lafayette to Seymour in under 2 hours. But I was nervous—I knew what type of crowd Borden would bring and wasn’t sure if we could match it. As I ran up to the doors of Scott Gymnasium, I wondered what I’d hear when I opened that door. I was expecting to hear a “Let’s Go Braves” cheer or something from the Borden crowd. But I didn’t. I heard the eight greatest words in any fight song being belted out by our crowd loud and clear. “WE ARE UNIVERSITY! BLAZING A TRAIL TO VICTORY!” The Blazer Pep Band was loud. The Blaze Craze was loud. I walked into the gym and looked up. I first saw the Borden crowd, a wall of white encompassing half of Seymour’s Scott Gymnasium. But then I turned to the Blaze Craze. And even I was surprised at the turnout. There was our Pep Band and then the students. We had to go 10 or 12 rows high, at least. Maybe higher. We showed up. We came together as a community. Needless to say, I was proud.
6:09 PM – Friday, March 1 – Carmel
Coach Lafferman had talked to me before about doing a Silent Night. I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea because I wasn’t sure we could pull it off. But when the final buzzer sounded in the win against Fall Creek, we knew Friday against Bethesda was the perfect time to try it. One of our core values talks about trust. And we put a lot of trust in a lot of different places. We had to put trust in the team—they had to come out with energy and get to 10 points early. We had to put trust in the nature of the game—a low-scoring game could have killed the night. But most of all, we had to put trust in the University community. For it to work, we had to show up, pack the gym, and remain committed to the cause. We fake cheered for 5 minutes. And then Eric Wott broke the silence. A three-pointer from the corner caused the loudest sound I’ve ever heard. The crowd—and I mean everyone in it—erupted. It was so loud I couldn’t think. And the best part is that we kept it up for the rest of the game. Why in the world did we wait so long to try a Silent Night?
8:17 PM – Saturday, March 9 – Martinsville
Somehow Jac-Cen-Del was hanging around. It was only a 13-11 Trailblazer lead after the end of the first quarter and there was a slight amount of panic in the crowd. The Eagles were a 5-15 regular season team and I was a little confused as to how this game was so close. But then it happened. We pressured them. We fed Dominic Dixon a steady diet of basketball. And by the time we reached halftime, we had one foot in the Final Four, up 32-17.
2:45 PM – Friday, March 8 – Carmel
There are two spirit days that are requested more than any others—Twin Day and PJ Day. We wanted to involve the University community in the spirit days and commissioned a Twin Day contest. We posted 12 pictures of twins to our Facebook page and challenged the twins to gain as many “likes” on the pictures as they could. The winners would get a prize. That prize was supposed to be a drink at the game. Something small. And then two pairs of twins—Zach Johns & Danny Sanders and Isaac Mervis & Daniel Healey—went crazy. By the pep rally 40 hours later, they had each racked up in excess of 150 likes on their photos. Instead of drinks, we gave away gift cards. The winners—Sanders and Johns by one vote—received $20 Blazer Boutique gift certificates while the runners-up received $10 gift certificates. We spent $55 more than we meant to. But it was worth it.
7:51 PM – Saturday, March 2 – Carmel
Tindley led 18-12 with 4 minutes to play in the half. At any moment we all knew the Tigers had the ability to turn on the switch and make it a double-digit lead. But they didn’t. Because the Blazers gave it their all to close the half. Tindley was held to two points in those last four minutes and two huge Eric Wott three-pointers within a minute kept it from getting away from us. After 3 scoreless minutes, the big man stepped up. Dominic Dixon hit the Blazers’ second first-half buzzer beater of the sectional. It gave us the lead 21-20. But more importantly, it gave us hope. It gave us confidence. Tindley came out strong in the third quarter, but we stayed with it and fought. We played with the belief that our three-point shooting gave us.
7:31 PM – Tuesday, February 26 – Carmel
It was an interesting idea to say the least. Bailey Priest came to me the week before sectionals suggesting we should do the Harlem Shake. “Okay” we said, we’ll do it at the first sectional game. The night of, we were still unsure as to what we were doing. William Feng’s horse head came into play as a possibility for the lone dancer but we still weren’t sure who would do it. And then Dimitri Putney walked into the gym in a full chicken suit. And the obsession was on. But Dima’s most famous dancing wasn’t that night during the Harlem Shake. It was in Martinsville. At the regional. Jac-Cen-Del stepped to the free-throw line. And emerging from the Pep Band section was Dima. Dancing and distracting the Eagles’ free throw shooters. The crowd went crazy. For a brief moment, University had a mascot. And it was a dancing chicken.
5:03 PM – Saturday, March 16 – Seymour
It took us 6 minutes to score, and a minute later, we were down 15-3. Needless to say, I wasn’t thinking happy thoughts. Robbie Johnson had a steal and 30-footer at the buzzer to keep us hanging around—we had cut the lead to 15-8. But it was far from being a comeback. Despite foul trouble, the Blazers only trailed 26-21 at halftime. The Blazers kept chipping away, coming out with an early run. It was a 28-26 Braves lead. Robbie Johnson drove. AND-ONE! The lead was gone. A 12-point lead had disappeared. The Borden crowd was silenced. So what does Robbie do? Flexes his muscles at the white-clad folks from the southern Indiana town. And our crowd went crazy.
8:44 PM – Saturday, March 2 – Carmel
I still couldn’t believe that Dom’s shot had gone in. But it wasn’t over yet. 4.6 seconds still remained and one of the state’s top scorers—Tindley’s TJ Henderson—was on the floor. We all knew it was going to him and to be truthfully honest about it, I thought he was going to hit the shot. Tindley had to bear the favorites tag all year and lived under the burden of no boys basketball sectional titles. They got the ball into him at their own free throw line. 60 feet separated Tindley from victory. He took it up the right side. And dribbled right into traffic. He was forced into a pull-up three from 35 feet. It landed nicely in Dominic Dixon’s hands. I sent out a tweet on the Blaze Craze Twitter feed. It simply read “THE BLAZERS ARE SECTIONAL CHAMPS!!!” 9 retweets and 2 favorites later, the Blazers were Martinsville-bound. The next week’s tweet got 11 retweets and 3 favorites. It said “THE BLAZERS ARE REGIONAL CHAMPS!!!”
In the coming days, weeks, months, and even years, we’ll look back on this amazing tournament run with fondness. We had a chance to experience Hoosier Hysteria—the single greatest high school sporting phenomenon in the entire country. It’s an experience I don’t think any of us are going to soon forget. So many things had to go right for this to come together. When we reminisce, let’s reminisce about how amazing and magical this March was.
After all, would you have rather had the Mean Girls high school experience or the Hoosiers one?
I’ll let you answer that as you will.