The Cole Camp Bluebirds have been the Sacred Heart boys’ basketball team’s Kryptonite this season.
Cole Camp last beat the Gremlins 74-57 Jan. 15 at Cole Camp. The loss snapped the Gremlins’ 32-game conference regular-season win streak.
The top-seeded Bluebirds’ 59-45 victory on Saturday night snapped Sacred Heart’s four-year stranglehold on the Kaysinger Conference tournament trophy.
The last team to win the tournament besides Sacred Heart — the 2007-08 Cole Camp Bluebirds.
“I’m excited,” said Cole Camp senior guard Timothy Ward, who scored 14 in the title game. “Conference champs, regular-season and tournament. Going into the district tournament, the 1 seed.”
The Bluebirds won the game much the same way they beat No. 2 Sacred Heart in January with rebounding and interior defense.
Cole Camp (21-3) outrebounded the Gremlins 44-26, including 9-6 on the offensive end. Four of Sacred Heart’s six offensive rebounds came in the fourth quarter.
The Bluebirds outscored Sacred Heart 36-16 on points in the paint and 12-2 on second-chance opportunities.
Defensively, Cole Camp held the Gremlins to 29 percent shooting from inside the arc and 31 percent from 3-point range.
“I was very proud of my kids’ man-to-man defense tonight,” Cole Camp coach Tom Ward said. “They’re probably too athletic for us to play in a full-court game where we’re pressing and all that. Defensively, we wanted to make it a half-court game.”
The center of the Bluebirds’ inside attack was junior center Tanner Oelrichs, who scored a team-high 17 points.
However, he was no factor on offense for the game’s first 12 minutes. Oelrichs scored his first basket on a putback halfway through the second quarter.
“They made it real difficult on us tonight,” the Cole Camp coach said. “I knew something different would be coming. You just don’t know with (Sacred Heart) coach (Steve) Goodwin because he’s got so many different defenses.”
Cole Camp came out energized in the first quarter behind a boisterous crowd and took a 9-2 lead.
However, the Gremlins (18-4) came back to slice their deficit to 10-9 on a putback by Malik Hackett, who scored a game-high 20 points.
The Bluebirds carried a 12-9 lead into the second quarter, but they couldn’t add to their lead. Riley Simmons’ floater in the lane cut his team’s deficit to 16-13.
Cole Camp stretched its lead to as many as seven points (20-13 and 22-15), but Hackett and Chase Lyles made late 3-pointers to keep the Gremlins within three, 26-23 at halftime.
Sacred Heart stormed back in the third quarter and took its only lead of the game on two free throws by Hackett. Hackett was at the line because Cole Camp’s Brendan Rusk was called for a technical foul.
Hackett had scored the previous five points on a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup that cut Cole Camp’s lead to 32-31. A steal by Garrett Strange, who scored 12 points, set up Hackett’s layup.
After a Cole Camp timeout, Oelrichs’ putback, Michael Brockman’s base-line drive and Ward’s basket inside gave the Bluebirds a 38-33 lead after three quarters.
The Bluebirds used a 7-0 run in the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 10 (48-38) with 3:50 left in the game.
Sacred Heart had one more run left in its arsenal. The Gremlins used a 5-0 run to cut Cole Camp’s lead to six (51-45) near the 90-second mark, but the Bluebirds went 8 for 10 from the free-throw line afterward to close out the win.
After the game, Goodwin had kind words for Cole Camp.
“They’ve got a really good team. Tom does a great job. They just played really good tonight,” Goodwin said. “Hopefully, we’ll learn from that opportunity we had in the second half. Maybe we can get better from this.”