By Mark Ambrogi
For Beech Grove coach Mike Renfro, it’s been quite the journey.
“What a ride. It started back in November, and I knew we had a pretty good team if I could get these guys to pull together and get them to jell together,” Renfro said. “We had some losses against a few teams we shouldn’t have lost to, but I think you learn the most from losses. I think we did. We pulled it together late and started jelling together. We just got a bunch of selfless kids that play together. That’s what it’s all about and got us where we are.”
Where the Hornets were was celebrating the high school’s first boys basketball state championship March 26 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
Anthony Ball scored 17 points and grabbed 20 rebounds to lead Beech Grove to a 53-43 victory over Mishawaka Marian in the IHSAA Class 3A state title game. Ball, a 6-foot-6 junior, had fouled out in the fourth quarter in the Hornets’ 62-58 overtime triumph over Sullivan in the semi-state at Washington.
“I just came in with the mindset to do whatever I can to help the team win,” Ball said. “So that’s what I came to do.”
Ball said he knew he had to perform well after fouling out in the semi-state.
The Hornets (22-6) won their final 11 games. In the state final, they trailed just 22-20 at halftime despite being hitting just 7 of 28 shots in the first half.
“I told them in the locker room, now we’re facing a little adversity,” Renfro said. “I told them, ‘either you have to play hard defensively in the second half or it’s not going to be a good game for you.’ They played as hard defensively as they could in the second half.”
Junior reserve Cam Brown gave the Hornets a lift by hitting three 3-pointers in the third quarter to give Beech Grove a 34-28 lead.
“I went into halftime and told my teammates to trust me that I was going to knock them down,” said Brown, who finished with 13 points. “They trusted me. After I hit the first one, I was going to keep shooting. I feel when I come off the bench I can bring a lot of firepower and energy. I can help us have great ball movement and be a leader on the floor.”
Tied at 36-all in the fourth quarter, Beech Grove took control by hitting six consecutive shots.
Junior Jeremiah Tate added 12 points and a record nine steals for the Hornets (22-6). The nine steals are a tournament championship game record for all classes since the IHSAA began keeping that stat in 1977. The 43 points allowed by Beech Grove tied a record for the fewest allowed in Class 3A state final. New Castle previously allowed 43 in a victory over Jay County in 2006.
Tate said he credited the nine steals to watching a lot of film on Marian’s guards.
“I got a grasp of all their moves,” Tate said.
Renfro praised Tate’s basketball IQ and the job Ball did defensively, too. Ball blocked three shots.
“Anthony changed a lot of shots, too,” Renfro said. “Cam came in and hit shots. He also gave us some good work on the glass. Offensively, we hit our last six shots, so maybe that fourth quarter was our best.”
Prior to the fourth quarter, Renfro challenged his team by saying it hadn’t played its best basketball yet.
“I feel like we wore them down,” Brown said. “We can go 10-deep because everybody trusts everybody. We know we have no drop-off one through 10.”
The Hornets shot 36 percent while holding the Knights to 37.8 percent. Beech Grove had 37-23 rebounding edge.
Marian, ranked No. 2 in Class 3A, finished with 24-4 mark. Richard Brooks led Marian with 13 points.
“It’s been a fun ride, and it’s been absolutely awesome for the city of Beech Grove, the school and the community,” said Renfro, a 1995 Beech Grove graduate. “They needed something to be positive about, and I think these kids provided it for them. When you play hard and have fun, people come to watch you and see how much fun you’re having and how good a team and how good a teammate you are, they want to keep coming back. When you start winning, that’s definitely going to tell people to come back. As we kept going and kept winning, more people kept showing up.”
Mike Renfro was an assistant to the late Matt English at Beech Grove for three years. Renfro took over for English as interim head coach in 2018-19 when English had to step down because of brain cancer. English died in December 2018.
“The toughest day of my life was telling those kids that Coach English had passed away,” Renfro said. “Right there, I knew they were looking at me to try to lead them to where we are now. The vision was the same for Coach (English) and I. We’re two kind of the same men. We’re tough, hard-nosed guys. We’re blue-collar guys. That’s what I try to instill in my kids as well. The kids fight and they work together. Fighting and being a blue-collar team just won them a state championship. They’re a great bunch of kids.”
This was the fourth consecutive sectional title for the Hornets under Renfro, who was named the full-time coach after his first season.
The Hornets graduate two seniors: starter Damon Thompkins and reserve Damonte Henderson. The rest of the regulars are juniors.
“We’ll be back next year, I know that for a fact,” Brown said. “We’re going to work hard in the offseason and summer to be ready to be on this stage again.”
Renfro said one thing is certain, “We’ll going to get everybody’s best shot, that’s for sure.”