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Putnam County junior Evan Kreiser (center) raises the regional plaque as teammates and fans celebrate around him. The Panthers beat Marquette 50-39 to win the Class 1A Henry Regional championship. NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
Putnam County senior Xavier Warren heads down the ladder after cutting down the net Friday following the Panthers’ 50-39 victory over Marquette in the Class 1A Henry Regional title game. NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
HENRY — The Putnam County boys basketball team is headed back home to R.M. Germano Gymnasium.
The second-seeded Panthers used a late fourth-quarter push to turn a one-point game with two minutes left into a double-digit victory as they topped No. 4 seed Marquette 50-39 Friday in the championship game of the Class 1A Henry Regional.
With the victory, Putnam County advances to its own Class 1A PC Sectional in Granville where it will face Ridgeview at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Ridgeview won 53-42 over Lexington at its own Ridgeview Regional.
The Panthers (24-7) — who have won 14 straight contests — are a perfect 10-0 this season on their home court, including their championship run at the Tri-County Conference Tournament.
“It’s crazy, I love it. There’s no better feeling in the world and there’s more to come for sure,” said PC senior guard Xavier Warren of winning the regional title. “We have a great coach and we’re taught right. We get it done when it matters most.
“We’re undefeated at home and I’d like to keep it that way. We’ve got two more games left. To close out my senior year winning two games at a home sectional would be crazy. It’s the first sectional hosted by Putnam County and to be able to play in it is great. It’s amazing.”
For the second straight postseason contest, the Panthers were able to dig deep when it mattered most and compile a late run down the stretch as they outscored the Crusaders 10-0 over the final two minutes fueled by tough defensive pressure.
Curtiss Johnson pulled the Cru within one at 40-39 at the two-minute mark with a jumper, but those were the last two tallies for Marquette.
Putnam County junior Harold Fay kept the Panthers out in front down the stretch with six straight free throws — including a pair set up by a Sam Garland steal.
Warren connected on a coast-to-coast layup after snagging a rebound and Fay added the icing with another late layup for the final 50-39 margin of victory.
“I tried not to think about it, but it’s kind of different with the game on your shoulders. But you’ve just got to knock them down,” said Fay of stepping up to the foul line three times in the final two minutes. “I feel like we pick it up in the fourth quarter. We don’t feel like we’re down or we’re out. We just keep picking it up and playing harder and harder until we get the win.”
Fay led all scorers with 22 points — 12 of which came in the fourth quarter — and tied Garland for the team lead with five rebounds. Warren added 10 points and Evan Kreiser chipped in with eight for the Panthers, who forced 26 turnovers on defense while giving up only six.
“We’ve won 14 in a row now, and throughout that a lot of the time the game’s been close. We’ve wore teams out with our defense and found ways to make plays at the end of the game,” PC coach Josh Nauman said. “We made some huge plays down the stretch … a lot of guys stepped up.”
Johnson and Michael Sypniewski tied for the Marquette scoring lead with 11 points apiece, while Johnson added seven rebounds. Elliott Kowalski contributed 10 points to go along with a game-high 12 rebounds for the Crusaders (14-16).
“Right down the stretch there, it was a one-point game with a couple minutes to go. They turned up the heat, got a couple a runouts on us and the next thing you know they’re up 6-7 points and the momentum really shifted,” said Marquette coach Mike McDonald, whose squad led 12-10 after the first quarter and 23-22 at half. “I’m real proud of the kids. We came down here and kept our composure all the way down to the last couple minutes. Let’s put it this way — Putnam County knew they were going to have to come to play tonight. We were up to their challenges. We just came up a little short.”
Note: Putnam County’s Cody Veronda hit 11-of-15 3-pointers to lead the way and advance in the 3-point shootout. Also advancing were Henry’s Josh McCall (9) and Nathan Helle (8) as well as Fay (8).
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.
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