VANDALIA — The smiles and loud locker room said all you needed to know about how National Trail felt after upsetting No. 3 seed Madison, 52-38, on Saturday, March 2, and advancing to the district final for just the second time in the 51-year program history.
The Blazers, the No. 6 seed, were mentally and physically the tougher team over the final eight minutes as they outlasted the Mohawks for win No. 19 on the season at Vandalia-Butler High School in a district semifinal game.
Trail coach Mike Harrison was all smiles as he was greeted by former players, administrators and well wishers moments after the Blazers outscored Madison 16-2 in the fourth quarter and avenged a 75-72 triple-overtime loss just two weeks ago.
Sophomore guard Cameron Harrison scored 20 points, including eight in the final quarter.
Senior guards Travis Hunt and Adam Eyler added 11 and 10 respectively.
“Adam Eyler is an unsung hero,” Mike Harrison said. “All he does is come out and bust his tail all the time, defend like crazy and make plays for us. He’s not a guy who scores a lot. He just does whatever we need without a whole lot of fan fare. No team is going to reach its maximum potential without guys like that. We’ve got quite a few like that, but Adam was sensational tonight.”
The Blazers last and only trip to the district final was in 1995, a year before Harrison became head coach at his alma mater.
“I was just very pleased with our toughness,” Mike Harrison said. “That’s what we said at halftime and that’s what we said at the end of the third quarter is the tougher team has the advantage.”
Harrison said he believes his team’s conditioning played key role in the final eight minutes.
“I thought fatigue hit in the fourth quarter and I thought our guys handled it very well,” he said.
It seemed everything went right for Trail, who fell behind 38-36 just over a minute into the final frame, during the last six minutes.
“We hit some big shot and made some big plays and defensively we didn’t give them anything easy,” he said.
A free throw by Evynn Short cut the Madison lead to 38-37 with 5:56 to play. A Cameron Harrison layup after a steal put Trail ahead to stay at 39-38 with 4:57 left.
A pair of Zach Woodall free throws at 2:04 made it 43-38.
Then two key plays sealed the game.
Cameron Harrison scored and was fouled with 1:40 to play that put Trail up 46-38. Moments later, Madison came out of a timeout with six players on the floor and was hit with a technical foul. Cameron Harrison made both free throws for a 48-38 lead with 1:21 left and four more free throws wrapped up the scoring.
The Trail coach said it was his team’s defense that decided the game.
“Defense is the thing that you have to put your hat on. You’ve got to be able to score points,” Mike Harrison said. “I thought we did a great job of making their shots tough. They’re good enough shot-makers that they’re going to make theirs, but I didn’t think they got much easy tonight.”
Madison was 1-of-7 shooting in the fourth quarter and turned the ball over five times. The Mohawks were just 4-of-17 from the field in the second half after going 11-of-19 in the first 16 minutes.
Trail was 8-of-30 in the first half and 7-of-15 in the second half. The Blazers were 16-of-21 from the foul line, including 10-of-13 in the final quarter.
The coach called the win a “team effort.”
“I could talk about everybody. Even the kids on the bench are totally 1,000 percent engaged,” he said.
In the sectional final, Trail avenged another loss. The Blazers took down Arcanum 56-38 as four players scored in double figures. Hunter Michael led the way with 13, while Cameron Harrison and Hunt each had 12. Woodall added 10 and Short contributed seven. The game was played on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
Trail (19-5) will meet Purcell Marian on Sunday, March 10, at 7 p.m. at U.D. Arena.
“They’re very good,” Mike Harrison said of the Cavaliers.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH