The White House Heritage boys basketball team took home their second District 9-AA title in three years after defeating the Sycamore War Eagles 51-40 on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Led by Daniel Bale and Damonate Teasley, the Patriots separated themselves late after a comeback effort by Sycamore nearly spoiled their title dreams.
Coming into the contest, Heritage had a near-perfect district record. An 11-1 mark, tarnished only by a Feb. 4 meeting with Sycamore, granted them a bye in the tournament’s first round. The War Eagles played both Monday and Tuesday to get to the championship game.
After eight minutes, SHS held a 13-12 advantage over Heritage, but a back-and-forth second period left all in attendance on the edge of their seats.
After the first quarter presented just a single lead change, the second proved to be nearly the opposite. Featuring five lead changes, it was anybody’s game at the half.
Garnering a five-point lead to begin the second half, a Teasley basket gave the Patriots their largest lead of the game thus far. The senior guard stretched the lead to nine at the quarter’s conclusion with a buzzer-beating three.
After the Patriots took an 11-point lead on the fourth quarter’s first possession, the War Eagles went on a 7-0 run over the next 2 1/2 minutes to cut the deficit to 42-38.
From that point on, Heritage began to milk the clock and play stifling defense, limiting SHS to just two points through the final 5:10 of the game to come away with the 51-40 victory.
In one of the most unprecedented seasons in sports’ history, Heritage head coach Carl Miller said this title means a lot, especially after not knowing if there would even be a season to begin with.
“It is different,” Miller said. “We just talked about how blessed we are that we even got to play 24 basketball games. We played one game in December, and so far we’ve played 24. It is just incredible. We are very grateful for that and blessed that we are able to do this. When the kids got together at the end and sang and chanted, I told our assistant principal, ‘Who ever would have thought we would be doing this right here?”
Junior Daniel Bale received MVP chants from the crowd following the conclusion of the game after he was named both the District 9-AA Player of the Year and the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“It’s what I have been working for, not just this season but last season [too],” Bale said. “Pretty much my whole basketball career has been to get to this point. Being the best is great and just working hard every day. It is just a blessing to play with this team, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
According to Miller, Bale has a natural ability when it comes to the game of basketball. The lengthy two-way player has been impressive since Miller arrived at Heritage in August 2019, but he is just starting to reach his potential.
“He is a very quiet young man,” Miller said of his young star. “When I first got here, which was last year, and I didn’t know any of the guys, I was just watching them play in an open gym, and I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ Another coach had called me asking how I was liking my team, and I said, ‘I am liking it so far. I am getting to know everybody, and let me tell you, my best player is a sophomore.’”
Bale has come a long way in his coach’s eyes. He never dressed his freshman year, and he started his first game last season in an upset over White House.
“He just had to gain confidence, too. He’s got it now; he’s got the confidence. He is going to play college basketball somewhere. We are working on that. He has still got another year of high school to develop and get better. We have specific plays to get him the basketball for a reason.”
The Patriots are set to host their first-round Region 5-AA matchup on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. If they can win that game, they would host the regional semifinal on Tuesday, Mar. 6.
Sycamore head coach Steve Dodd congratulated coach Miller following his team’s loss, saying that the Patriots were the better team on the night, but he is still proud of the progression of his squad throughout the season.
“We started off 1-5,” Dodd said. “We won eight of our last nine games. I am proud of the progress we made. The kids played hard [tonight]. White House Heritage was just the better team.”
The War Eagles will host their first game of the upcoming regional tournament. Like the Patriots, the Sycamore tipoff will be at. 7 p.m. on Feb. 27.
White House Heritage (51): Daniel Bale 14, Damonate Teasley 13, Caleb Guisewite 7, Blake McDonald 6, Ben Branlund 6, Moritz Deistler 3, Timmy Freel 2
Sycamore (40): John Hale 8, Charlie Thompson 8, Gavin Mitchell 7, Grady McPherson 7, Trey McCain 6, Seth Smith 4