The Weddig Tournament always showcases fantastic teams every holiday season. 2019 was no different. For the Richmond Red Devils, they knew they had a guaranteed three games. Who those opponents may be would be the question, and how to prepare for them? But, as Coach Baz, and I reiterated on air, this would be a perfect training session for the IHSAA tournament come spring.
The first matchup, announced before the season began, was Seton Catholic. Both teams hadn’t played each other in a couple seasons, but with both schools in Richmond, they were very familiar with each other. The familiarity didn’t work out for the Cardinals, as the Red Devils were just too much of a match for them. Coach Baz pulled the starters out in the 4th quarter, with Richmond up 86-40. But that wasn’t enough for the Red Devils. Sophomore Trenton James was hungry to break the century mark and scored Richmond’s 100th point in the game. A feat which hadn’t been done since February 4th, 2005, when the Red Devils defeated Plainfield 103-63 under coach Chad Bolser. The Red Devils would win round one of the Weddig Tournament 103-61
The 2nd game for the Red Devils would see them face one of the best teams in the state in Zionsville at 1:30 in the afternoon. Zionsville had defeated a tough Cathedral team the night before and was ready to knock the Red Devils aside. Richmond struck first after the tip, and lead most of the first quarter, with the Eagles scoring a 3 to end the first quarter 11-10. Richmond scored immediately after the 2nd quarter started, keeping the lead into the half. 25-22. The 3rd quarter would see Zionsville explode scoring 12 points to Richmond’s 1, as both teams used physical defense to prevent fast scoring attacks. The 3rd quarter ended 34-26 Zionsville in a comfortable lead. In the 4th, Richmond fought back tying the game at 38 with 3 seconds left on the clock. The ball would be smacked out of bounds and awarded to Zionsville. The Eagles would inbound it, shoot, miss, and rebound layup with just 3 tenths of a second on the clock. The final score was 40-38. Zionsville would play in the Championship, and Richmond would play for 3rd or 4th place.
The final game for the Red Devils would be played an hour and half after they played Zionsville, at 4:30pm. They matched up against the Greensburg Pirates, who played just before Richmond Saturday at Noon. Both teams would be battling fatigue as they faced off, yet from a spectator’s standpoint, you could not tell. Both teams gave it their absolute all. 9 ties, 13 lead changes, and 3 overtimes. That’s what it took to decide a champion. Richmond lead the 2nd and 3rd quarter, but started to slip during the 4th, which allowed the Pirates to tie up. The 3 overtimes were a hard-fought affair by both teams, but unfortunately one team had to lose, and it was the Red Devils who came up 2 points short 78-76.
Weddig 2019 had all the storylines and saw Bloomington South crowned Champion. The Red Devils are still “gelling” together, and once the team plays a full 32 minutes of Richmond basketball, they could make quite a bit of noise not only in the NCC, but also in the post season. Richmond is a true sleeper team this year, waiting for an unsuspecting coach to rev their engine at a stop light.
Rivalry. Arguably the biggest rivalry game for both schools. The perfect 6-0 Spartans hosted the 2-3 Red Devils at the Spartan bowl, which for all intents and purposes looked to be a low scoring affair, ending in Connersville’s favor. And, it was.
BUT. It didn’t have to end in a Connersville victory. Yes, if we had a time machine, we could change the outcome of many things. But, in this case, if Drew Kroft made his free throws, Richmond forces overtime. If Cleevas Craig makes all his free throws, Richmond wins the game. If Richmond wasn’t shut out the first quarter, it could have been a VERY different game.
Folks, you read that right, Connersville scored 14 unanswered points in the first quarter. 38% of their points they would score all night, came in the first quarter. In fact, they would score 18 until Richmond finally put points on the board, about midway through the 2nd. The first half would end 23-8 in favor of the Spartans.
And the 3rd looked even worse, with Connersville leading 27-10 midway through the 3rd. BUT, Richmond started to come back. The Red Devils reduced that 17-point deficit to just 8 at the end of the 3rd. The 4th quarter was a back and forth. Richmond using a full court press, and pressuring the Spartans into making bad passes, and lousy shots. Could the Red Devils force OT? Could they win on a last second shot? Not tonight, even with the heroics of the starting five, Richmond would come up short.
And yet, there is something prideful to take away from Saturday’s loss. And that is, if the Red Devils play a full 32 minutes like they did in the 2nd half against Connersville, they really could do something special come tournament time. In the 2nd half, they out scored one of the stingiest defenses 24-11.
The Arsenal Tech Titans visited the Tiernan center on Friday for another North Central Conference showdown. Both the Red Devils and Titans were at 2-2 on the season, and this was a game that favored Richmond on paper.
But, there is a difference between paper, and the court.
Richmond started aggressively, scoring 4 unanswered points before Tech was able to get on board. Tech’s first points came from the charity stripe, which would end up being something that would hurt the Red Devils later in the game. Tech trailed until the very end of the 1st quarter, when they would take the lead, 15-14. They would never let it go.
Richmond’s biggest issue was the fact that Tytan Newton, Andrew Kroft, and Jordan Stole all ended up in foul trouble early in the game. In fact, both teams raked up 50 fouls between the two of them. Tytan Newton, and Jordan Stole fouled out during the game, and Drew Kroft ended the game with 4 fouls. Tech also had several players in foul trouble as well, but no one wearing a black jersey fouled out Friday Night.
I can’t finish this blog without giving credit to Koream Jett and Cleevas Craig. Both fought hard against Tech, taking leadership of the team, especially after Newton and Stole fouled out. Jett, you almost expect that he will 110% on the court every night, and he did exactly that. Craig really focused on using his size to overwhelm the Tech chances on the glass. Unfortunately, it was just wasn’t enough. Richmond fell to Arsenal Tech, 62-57.
One final note, Friday night was Silent Night at the Tiernan Center. The entire crowd is expected to stay quiet until one team scores 10 points. Friday was the 3rd year that Richmond had a Silent Night game, and for the 3rd year in a row, Koreem Jett was the man responsible for sending Tiernan into hysterics by scoring that 10th point. Not bad for the 3rd year varsity player.
The East Central Trojans came to town on Saturday night, determined to keep their 3-game win streak against the Red Devils alive. Both teams had similar set ups leading into the game. They were both on the road for the season opener, both losing by 3 points. Richmond to Jay County, East Central to Jennings County. Both teams had commanding victories over their Friday opponents. Richmond, 30 points over Hagerstown, East Central, 21 points over Milan. Both teams were looking to come out victorious.
Richmond struck first with a Cleevas Craig slam dunk. Logan Rohrbacher answered with a 3 for the Trojans. Early in the 1st quarter, Tytan Newton set Drew Kroft up for the alley oop, which his older brother Lucas Kroft had used many times last season. East Central capitalized on a few Red Devil miscues that ended the 1st quarter with the Red Devils up, 11-10. That lead would not last.
The 2nd quarter was not kind to the Red Devils. They scored 5 points in the entire 2nd quarter. East Central on the other hand scored 19 points in the same time span. Most of those points coming off play from their big center, Luke Collinsworth, whose physically style of play would put him in trouble later. It seemed no matter what Richmond did, the rim was just not their friend in the 2nd quarter. Shots that would rattle in normally, bounced out. East Central’s zone coverage prevented Richmond from driving the paint. After Collinsworth scored East Central’s 29th point with 26 seconds left in the 1st half, Richmond drove down to their end of the court to set up play, and with one second left on the clock Levon Jordan launched a 3 that would be the catalyst for arguably one of the best comebacks we’ve seen in the Tiernan Center in a while. The Red Devils trailed at the half by 13, 29-16.
Coach Shabaz Khaliq must have given one of the best motivational speeches in the locker room during halftime, because the Red Devils came out fired up and ready to play. Cleevas Craig started the 3rd quarter comeback with a quick layup to start the period. The Red Devils started to play more aggressively, driving the lane, and stealing the ball, and East Central had trouble adjusting, their lead slowly eroding away. Richmond capitalized on their newfound momentum and ended the quarter tied at 39-39.
The 4th quarter would start with 4 guys in foul trouble; AJ Messmore, John Hotel, and Luke Collinsworth for East Central. Cleevas Craig for Richmond. With 6:08 in the game, Tytan Newton shot a 3 that would put Richmond back in the lead for the rest of the game. East Central would resort to the foul game to attempt to slow Richmond down, but in doing so John Hotel would foul out with 5:00 left in the game. The next causality of the foul game came on Richmond’s side as Cleevas Craig fouled out…but he received a standing ovation from the Richmond student section, and Jordan Stole congratulated him on a game well played. Aj Messmore and Luke Collinsworth both had 4 fouls at this time. The final foul out of the night was East Central’s big Center Luke Collinsworth. His foul-out all but sealed the deal for a Richmond victory. With 6.9 seconds left in the game, East Central would inbound the ball, attempt the 3, it would rattle out into the hands of Tytan Newton, who proceeded directly to the center circle and waited for the buzzer to sound, finalizing their impressive comeback and team effort. Down 13 at the half, they rallied and won by 14.
This had been a matchup that fans hadn’t seen in a decade. The last time Hagerstown played Richmond in basketball was December 19th, 2009, just 13 days shy of being 10 years to the day exactly. The 2A Tigers just weren’t a match for the 4A Red Devils who were out to prove the loss to Jay County a week ago was a fluke.
Drew Kroft started early putting up points for the Red Devils with a 3, 8 seconds into the game. In fact, Drew Kroft scored a 3 off the tip, Tytan Newton stole the ball and picked up a layup, and stole the ball again, passed over to Kroft who nabbed another 3. All within 40 seconds. That set the tempo for the entire night. The closest Hagerstown ever came to leading this game, was at the tip when the score was 0-0.
To Hagerstown’s credit, they did slow down the tempo in the 2nd quarter. Collin Romack, Branton Payne, and Silas Parsons did nab a few buckets here and there, but it was too little to late. Richmond defeated Hagerstown by 30 points and set their sights on East Central, who would be visiting The Tiernan Center the very next night.