Sophomore Gavin Betten of Manchester scores during the first quarter of Friday night's game against Blackhawk Christian at the South Adams sectional. Photos by Gary Nieter
Sophomore Gavin Betten of Manchester scores during the first quarter of Friday night's game against Blackhawk Christian at the South Adams sectional. Photos by Gary Nieter
BERNE – The Class 2A fourth-ranked Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian Braves ended the Manchester Squires’ season with a 75-42 victory showcasing a lineup with functional height, impressive interior defense, good ball handling, and speed up and down the court among all five starters.

These skills and the final score might lead someone – based on the score alone - to believe the wind was taken out of Manchester’s sails early in the contest, but the Squires played fearless from start to finish despite some Herculean performances by the Braves’ frontcourt.

Blackhawk Christian’s 6’8” sophomore forward, Kellen Pickett, who will get a lot of NCAA Division I looks in his prep career, blocked five Squire shots and disrupted the lane throughout the night, but the Squires were not daunted by his presence nor his performance.

Manchester’s smaller guards, Tyler McClain and Ethan Hendrix, continued to stick to their style of play driving the lane as if their short-term memories of Pickett’s inside defensive prowess were almost instantly erased.

Squires’ sophomore Gavin Betten, accustomed to being one of the tallest players on the court, battled Pickett and 6’6” senior center Josh Furst to score a team-leading 17 points for the Squires. Betten also handled the ball well, and was unshaken while finding open teammates from his post position.

The game possessed an air of “you had to be there” because it was notably atypical of a 33-point loss because the team on the wrong side of such a score is usually rattled, and their performance is usually fraught with meltdowns in at least one of the game’s fundamental facets.

Not Manchester, though.

Betten’s teammates were also able to launch shots on their possessions although the shots were contested more than they’re accustomed to experiencing. They also ran up and down the court as they usually do, but their elite opponents Friday night were simply in a class all by themselves.

The Braves just executed everything Manchester executed… better, especially the transition game.

The Class 2A Sectional 37 semifinal combatants traded two straight buckets apiece to open the game, and Manchester stayed close in the opening period, 11-9, with McClain’s bucket before 6’4” senior forward Gage Sefton’s 4 points preceded Furst’s  authoritative dunk.

This shift in momentum triggered eight additional points for Blackhawk Christian before Ethan Hendrix hit one of two free throw attempts to end the first frame trailing 23-10.

The scoring pace downshifted in the first four minutes of the second stanza, 8-2 in favor of the victors, when Hendrix scored the Squires’ next nine points, including the final five tallies of the first half on a 3-point bucket and two free throws.

Blackhawk Christian countered Hendrix’s scoring with 8 points of their own and a 31-12 Manchester deficit was kept from widening when the teams headed to their locker rooms with the Braves up 39-21.

Manchester junior Gavin Martin continued his squad’s 7-0 run straddling two halves with a strong inside bucket before Pickett, who was already enough trouble inside, hit his second bucket beyond the arc for the Braves.

The victors raced further ahead with a 12-4 run resulting mostly from baskets in transition including a dunk by Sefton. The third quarter closed with Sefton and his Braves leading Manchester 54-30.

Blackhawk Christian continued its momentum with a 21-12 finish in the last period but only scored two points once three senior players off the bench were joined by the remaining reserves to add two free throws in the final minute resulting in the 75-42 final score.

The Braves finished the sectional semifinal nightcap with four players scoring in double figures.

Blackhawk Christian’s 6’3” senior forward and shortest starter, Jimmy Davidson, entered the contest averaging just over 6 points per contest. However, the opportunistic silent assassin led his squad with 17 points while his higher profile teammates, Furst and Pickett scored 15 points apiece.

Sefton, a Grace College signee, added 14 tallies for the 22-3 sectional finalists, who will face twelfth-ranked Adams Central (20-5) for the Sectional 37 title tonight.

Manchester, with more than a handful of starters and reserves returning for the 2023-2024 campaign, finished its current season 18-6 as Three Rivers Conference runner-up with a 7-2 mark in league play.

The Squires, who racked up at least 90 points for the fifth time in their sectional opener Wednesday night, have the potential to continue turning heads as the Times-Union coverage area’s most electric offensive unit.

Manchester scoring was comprised of Betten’s aforementioned 17 points and Hendrix’s 13 points. Martin (8 points) and McClain (4 points) completed the scoring output.