CONNERSVILLE –If there were any questions whether a young Franklin County squad would be intimidated by the Spartan Bowl mystique, those may have been answered Friday night (Feb. 21).

Down by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, the scrappy Wildcats battled back to take the lead early in the second half. After a 9-0 Connersville response and timeout by coach Eric Ebrens, FC rose up again to capture the lead for good with over five minutes remaining. The Spartans scrambled for the equalizer in the closing minutes but could never draw even in falling 46-44.

“Obviously, any time you can get a win at the Spartan Bowl against Connersville, you have to feel fortunate,” said the Wildcat mentor.

A 3-point field goal by sophomore Chad Cox with 4:19 to go made it a 43-39 game. It would be the last basket by the visitors, whose 3-of-6 free throw shooting kept the hosts at bay.

“On the road with a four-point lead, and twice we shoot short ones in the lane we didn’t need to shoot, or a pull-up off a dribble,”Ebrens reflected. “But that’s from being a young team and really not being in that position very often. We’ll learn from it.” 

Another story was developing midway through the fourth; with four minutes left, the foul differential read Connersville 0, Franklin County 7. In a somewhat physical game, the Spartans were whistled for their first foul at the 3:48 mark.

“Part of it was us shooting a lot of jump shots, but things like that happen at the Bowl,”said Ebrens. “That’s not the first time a team’s been on the bad end of a foul situation late in a half at Connersville. That’s why it’s a tough place to play.”

Connersville got a transition basket from Clay Garrison and a three in the corner by Garrett Wickes, though the Spartans helped FC’s cause by missing four foul shots in the final two minutes. With 7.5 seconds on the clock and the Wildcats up one, Garrison had a double-bonus opportunity.
Missing both, he and 6-foot-7 center Jacob Brown came up empty on putback attempts and Cox secured the rebound. Cox hit one from the stripe before he deflected the inbound baseball pass, setting off a raucous celebration by the FC cheer block.

“We didn’t score down the stretch, but they really didn’t either,”said Ebrens. “Honestly, we just wanted layups and free throws at that point. It’s difficult to score when a team’s playing aggressive, looking to spread you out and foul.”

The game of momentum swings first went the home team’s way. Two lay-ins by freshman Brant Ertel gave FC a brief 4-2 lead ahead of a 9-0 spree by CHS. Brown scored twice and Riley Moore hit a 3-pointer. With time running out in the frame, Cox found Drew Dixon for the first of his four 3-balls; to go with his 12 points, the senior battled on the boards all night despite giving up several inches.

“That’s what we love to see out of a senior going down to the end of his career,”said his coach. “I’d take (a whole team) of Drews. He can play a variety of positions on defense and offense and can be a matchup problem. I can’t speak enough as to how well he’s done.”

Dixon (from Ertel) hit another three early in period two, but it was in the midst of a 13-5 Spartan swing. Tobey Billups (two 3s), Jonah Graham (one 3) and Brown (2 FGs) had the hosts up 24-12.

Ertel caught fire from long range, sinking three triples and finishing assists from Cox and Bridger Bolos. Cox fed Bolos for a basket at 1:08. Connersville led 26-23 at halftime, a suitable pace for the Wildcats.

“(FCHS coach) Kerry Brown likes a little slower pace and you have to adapt to that,” Ebrens commented. “A high possession game, right now, isn’ necessarily the best way for us to win. If we keep it in the 50-point range, that’s a good pace.”

Buckets by Cox and Ertel gave the ‘Cats a short-lived 27-26 lead. The Spartans then got a Wickes three, two Brown FGs and a 15-footer by Cole Martin. To close out the third, Ertel and Dixon hit from distance and JD Stokes made it 37-35.

Dixon’s three pushed FC into the lead early in the fourth. After a Brown make, Bolos connected with Ertel for a 40-39 Wildcat advantage.

Ertel led all scorers with 20 points and Cox added 10. Brown paced the Spartans with 14 and Martin chipped in 8.

Franklin County (8-11, 1-6 Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference) will end the regular season Thursday, hosting Richmond.

The Red Devils have three players with double figure scoring averages and are on a 10-game winning streak. Scoring 63.5 points a game, the Devils will look to push the tempo, according to Ebrens. More important, though, is getting a game in before the postseason.

“I’d rather not have a long layoff going into the sectional,”he said. “No matter who we play, it’s good to get up to game speed.”

Connersville decimated the Wildcats in the junior varsity game, posting a 53-10 win.