Sullivan boys top 5-time defending D4 champs

LAPORTE — As Jaiden Lynch’s last-second 3-point attempt bounced off the rim and the Sullivan County students jumped high in into the air, Griffin point guard John Saxe simply slumped his shoulders.

Saxe was delighted, but drained. A long-time nemesis finally was slayed and it took every ounce of desire Sullivan had to make it happen. It was a feeling of relief, a feeling of redemption.

Saxe scored 18 points, Dylan Hottenstein played a super all-around game and Justin Metzger hit a clutch late 3-pointer as Sullivan defeated five-time defending District 4 Class A champion St. John Neumann, 53-50 Wednesday. The Griffins (12-4, 7-2) handed Neumann (11-5, 9-1) its first league loss since 2013 and snapped a 14-game losing streak against it which dated back to the 2012 district championship.

“The last 1.5 seconds were the longest of my life,” Saxe said. “When he missed at the end I didn’t celebrate. I just kind of walked over to the bench because I didn’t know what to think. It was great to finally beat them.”

Saxe, who added six rebounds, four assists and three steals, had been a part of eight straight losses against Neumann, including a 55-51 heartbreaker nine nights earlier when Neumann had erased a four-point deficit in the final minute. That game was similar to many others in this series since 2012. The Griffins often pushed the boulder up the hill during that time, only to feel the pain of Sisyphus and watch it roll over top them.

But not this time. Sullivan took the lead for good in the third quarter then held off a furious Neumann comeback. The Knights nearly erased a 7-point deficit in the last 37 seconds but Sullivan finally cleared that last hurdle and showed how dangerous it can be. The Griffins have now avenged their only two league defeats in the past week, handing Millville and Neumann their only league losses.

“This last week for us has been about redemption. We know that we’re good enough to win those types of games but we have to finish,” Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said. “I’m sure there were a lot of people looking up at the scoreboard thinking, ‘oh my gosh, here we go again.’ I wondered that a little bit, but the kids made the plays down the stretch and we did what we needed to do to get the win.”

“It’s exciting because they’re a good team,” Hottenstein said. “We all stayed calm. We’ve lost close games before and didn’t want to lose again. It’s Redemption Week so this was big for us.”

Saxe scored 16 first-half points as the Griffins took a 27-26 halftime lead. He was the facilitator throughout the second half when players like Hottenstein, Metzger and Jesse Williams showed how far this young team has come while winning eight of its last nine games.

Hottenstein scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds and added five assists. He scored 10 second-half points and his three free throws, including two straight on a last-minute 1-and-1, proved especially crucial. His last foul shot put Sullivan ahead 53-50. Neumann called a timeout with 1.5 seconds remaining and Lynch just missed an NBA-range 3-pointer as time expired.

“We were more focused and we were more ready to play than last week against them,” Hottenstein said. “We have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket and make plays.”

“Coming into the year you know Dylan is going to hustle for you. He’s going to lay it out there because he’s a competitor and has a great attitude and is a great kid,” Vaughan said. “I knew I was getting all that. I didn’t know we were getting a scorer. He’s been knocking down open 3s and tonight they played him at the 3-point line so he used his quickness to go by people. If I had to go into battle, I’d definitely be OK going into battle with Dylan any time.”

This game was a battle from start to finish and Sullivan could not land the knockout punch until time expired. Neumann nearly pulled off a dramatic comeback to force overtime after Sullivan went up 52-45 on Hottenstein’s free throws. Only 35 seconds remained, but Noah Persun (12 points) hit two free throws before Lynch made a steal, drove toward the top of the key and hit a stunning, off-balance 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 52-50.

Lynch was one of several Knights who heated up at different times. Jaiden Cioffi was tough inside, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds while David Hill scored 12 points. Point guard Dalton Gough ran the offense well and dealt seven assists.

Still, Sullivan came alive in the first half as Saxe started hitting 3-pointers like they were layups. When Neumann went all-out to slow Saxe in the second half, the other Griffins did damage. Freshman Jalen Thomas and Jesse Williams both scored four straight points at key times. Metzger was making his first start in place of injured guard Sam Carpenter and shined, scoring 10 points and connecting on all four of his shots.

None was bigger than the 3-pointer Metzger hit with 2 minutes, 16 seconds remaining. He showed no fear in the situation, draining a shot that gave Sullivan a 50-42 lead and that ultimately provided the difference by game’s end.

Sullivan waited so long for a night like this. Finally, redemption was theirs.

“We’ve been the underdog and we’ve responded,” Saxe said. “I like being the underdog because the pressure is off. We just go out and play and it usually turns out well for us.”

St. John Neumann (50)

Jaiden Lynch 4 0-0 9, David Hill 5 0-0 12, Noah Persun 4 4-4 12, Andrew Fish 1 0-0 3, Jaiden Cioffi 5 2-4 12, Anthony Marrazzo 0 0-0 0, Reid Parrish 0 0-0 0, Dalton Gough 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 6-8 50.

Sullivan County (53)

John Saxe 7 2-5 18, Alex Baumunk 2 0-0 5, Dylan Hottenstein 4 4-7 12, Dave Pardoe 0 0-0 0, Jalen Thomas 2 0-0 4, Jesse Williams 0 4-4 4, Justin Metzger 4 0-0 10. Totals 19 5-10 53.

Neumann 15 11 10 14-50

Sullivan 14 13 16 10-53

3-point goals: Neumann 4 (Hill 2, Lynch 1, Fish 1); Sullivan 5 (Saxe 2, Metzger 2, Baumunk 1).

JV score: Neumann, 42-31.

Records: Neumann (11-5, 9-1). Sullivan County (12-4, 7-2).