Hutton: Andrean beats back the Plymouth curse
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org March 9, 2013 11:16PM
Andrean's players react with the Regional Champions sign after their 70-60 overtime victory in the IHSAA boys Plymouth regional game Saturday March 9, 2013 in Plymouth, Ind. |Joe Raymond ~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 11, 2013 7:14AM
PLYMOUTH — This is where region teams come to die.
Plymouth, Indiana — that outpost 50 miles east of Westfield Southlake Mall, the middle of basketball purgatory for Northwest Indiana. Not a happening town for Northwest Indiana in the middle of the state tournament.
The Rock — Plymouth’s gym — is a sea of unfriendly red with a history that makes the Pilgrims the perennial favorites every time they lace it up on their floor for the regional championship.
Plymouth won four straight here from 2005 to 2008. They won a state title during that run. They don’t have to leave their floor, the confines of their friendly town for two solid weeks. Not only that, the Pilgrims are always good. They are well-coached and they have players, like Mack Mercer, a 6-9 center, who can change shots and make plays inside and outside on offense. They always have players and coaches and plenty of crazy fans. The people that run the place are accommodating and helpful and professional.
The games are just impossible, which makes it all even more maddening.
Andrean killed the curse Saturday with an exhilarating, impossibly hard 70-60 overtime victory. It was their first regional title since 2000. No team from Northwest Indiana had won at Plymouth since Roosevelt beat Knox in 2003. They have been playing a regional here on and off since 1977. Northwest Indiana teams have basically been a doormat since they started coming here.
“Ridiculous,” DJ Gonzalez said of trying to win in Plymouth’s stable.
Finally, for once, the 59ers fans got to spill onto the gym floor and stomp all over it like a herd of wild buffalos.
Finally, they could defiantly point at the swarm of cocky Plymouth fans, who never stopped believing the game was in their grasp and yell, “This is our house. This our house.”
And it was.
Andrean didn’t completely take ownership of the house until the overtime and until Mercer fouled out after he was called for a moving screen under the 59ers’ basket.
Skyler Moss, who had been smothered all night by Mercer, seized the moment and scored three straight times.
You could feel the bad karma start to turn into jubilation for the Artful Warriors, the moniker that Carson Cunningham has given his team. He wants them to play strong and be graceful.
Until that point, there had been all sorts of mysterious, strange moments. Happens here all the time.
Moss hammered home a lay-up with about a minute left that gave Andrean a 53-46. Whistle blows. Looked like the fifth foul for Mercer. Slight pause from the referee before he makes the call. Puts his hand behind his head. Waves off basket. Calls a charge. Mercer can’t believe his luck. The curse lives on.
The curse is like a vampire. It has to be killed over and over again before it dies.
Again, Moss looks like he’s on the verge of putting it away. He takes a pass over the furious press from Plymouth and goes up for a layup. Two Pilgrims players hammer him. He falls to the ground. The referee signals a clean block.
The curse is still breathing.
The curse catches fire on the last possession of regulation for Plymouth. With 3.6 seconds left, Joe Knapp takes an inbounds pass. He gives Gonzalez a ball fake, gets a clean look and drains the shot.
The curse drained the color out of Gonzalez’s face after that shot. His hands on his hips, he just couldn’t believe what happened.
Cunningham was completely unmoved. He didn’t care. These were his guys. They had played lots of frantic games, been smacked around by plenty of good teams and smacked just as many back.
He was ready for it. He was ready to vanquish the curse.
“I’ll take these guys over any team if I’m going into overtime,” Cunningham said. “If I’m going to overtime, I want these guys.”
He wanted Artful Warriors, like Nick Davidson, who finished with 18 points, 10 of them of during the third quarter.
And guys like Colin Wojcik, who finished with 17 and kept them alive offensively in the first half with three 3-pointers.
The Plymouth fans were gone by the time the 59ers had cut the nets down. The Andrean fans were milling around, soaking up the atmosphere from the littered floor, knowing that the ride home was going to be much easier this time, now that they had broken the curse.