Pacers close season with heavy hearts with loss to Heritage Christian in Regional

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The Switzerland County Sectional Champion boys basketball team headed out of town last Friday afternoon with an escort of sirens all the way to the county line.

The team was headed to Alexandria, Indiana to play in the IHSAA Regional on Saturday morning.

They left town with their family members and fans not knowing exactly where the team would be staying, as Pacer coach David Todd tried to keep his team focused on the game ahead rather than on friends, girlfriends or family.

After going to the Alexandria Gym and practicing Friday afternoon the team ended up in Anderson — where most of the fans and family were staying — to have dinner and enjoy a movie.

Technology though, is one thing that can’t be stopped, and word spread with cell phones of the passing of a classmate and friend senior Aaron Burnell, who had been killed in an automobile accident.

Fans, friends, classmates, and parents were gathering in the lobby and in the hallways as phone calls were being made to the boys — who were finishing up watching a movie.

Coach David Todd called the team together to discuss their options once word spread of the tragedy.

He told his players that the regional was only a game and that life was much more important. After giving his team the option to turning around and heading back to Vevay, they insisted on playing.

“This is just a game,” Coach Todd said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Burnell family.”

With a stripe of black tape adorning each player’s jersey as a remembrance of their friend and classmate; the Pacers decided to play on — as they thought their friend would have wanted — knowing how much he enjoyed the game of basketball. The Pacer cheerleaders and many fans also wore black ribbons in remembrance of Aaron Burnell.

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As Saturday morning came and game time drew near, fans from Switzerland County poured into the gym in support of their team. It was getting very crowded, and it looked like there was no more room to sit in the assigned area for the Pacer fans.

Then the fans cheered as two bus loads of Switzerland County students entered the gymnasium coming to support their team. The fans were taking up all their cheering section and more as the crowd was growing and out numbering all of the teams there. The fan support from Switzerland County, who traveled over 150 miles, was amazing.

The game began with the Heritage Christian Eagles scoring first, and the Eagles showed some aggressive defense right away.

The Pacers made several attempts at baskets but were not successful until the 5:37 mark in the first quarter when senior B.J. Shelton connected on a basket to tie up the score 2-2.

Heritage Christian then went on a scoring run, scoring 10 straight points before Pacer senior Ben Hickman connected on a shot right after the three minute mark. The Eagles scored another bucket before the first quarter ended with the Pacers trailing 14-4.

The second quarter wasn’t much better for the Pacers, who were still trying to force shots and not being able to rebound missed opportunities.

Senior Chancey May was able to connect on a basket and Ben Hickman added one at the line. In the final seconds of the first half, B.J. Shelton added another bucket — but the deficit was deep for the Pacers as they headed to the locker room down by a score of 30-9.

As the third quarter began, you couldn’t tell from the fans or the players that the Pacers were behind. The fans cheered as if the game was within a few points and the players never gave up playing hard and still tried to gain the victory.

“Our kids never gave up the entire game,” Coach Todd said. “The team had a lot of energy in the second half. I am so proud of the way our kids never gave up.”

Senior Mat Deaton was first to score in the third quarter for the Pacers, and senior Josh Snow added a bucket and was sent to the line a little later to chip in a point at the foul line.

B.J. Shelton, with 3:19 left in the third quarter, succeeded with a bucket and a minute later Ben Hickman was sent to the line, adding two more points. Switzerland County had shown a little offensive spark, but still trailed by a score of 37-18.

B.J. Shelton then attempted a shot and was fouled going to the line to chip in another point. Josh Snow, in the last seconds of the quarter, stole the ball from the Eagles and went down to score and was fouled being sent to the line and finished the third quarter also chipping in another point. That was a big lift for Switzerland County, but with just one period to play, the Pacers still found themselves on the short end of a 40-20 score.

The fourth quarter began with junior T.J. Sefton stealing the ball from the Eagles and going down the court getting fouled on an attempt to score. He was sent to the line and was successful on his two attempts. A minute later T.J. Sefton did the same thing — again adding another two points at the foul line to make the score 40-24.

The Eagles also added to their total at the line as the Pacers tried to get possession of the ball. B.J. Shelton was then sent to the stripe and added a point to the Pacers’ side.

The Eagles then attempted to run time off of the clock by passing the ball around the perimeter of the Switzerland County defense; but junior Travis Webster intervened and attempted to make the steal, but instead was whistled with his third foul; resulting in the Eagles being sent to the line.

It gave the Pacers the ball and T.J. Sefton went down for an inside shot and was fouled being sent to the line one last time — connecting on both of his attempts.

Senior Michael Otter was sent in to play some of the final minutes in his last year in the regional game and gained an assist.

In spite of the score, the Switzerland County fans were still cheering and supporting their team as if the game had just began.

Ben Hickman, with 2:11 left in the game, connected on a basket to make the score 51-31, but it was clear that Heritage Christian was moving on into the championship game.

In the closing minute, T.J. Sefton connected on the only three-pointer of the game for Switzerland County. After seeing some outstanding shooting through the last half of the season, the Pacers struggled from the field and at the freethrow line throughout the entire game. Normally reliable outside shooting turned into basketballs rimming out at critical times, and Switzerland County never quite found any sort of offensive rhythm.

Heritage Christian also must have had scouts at the Sectional games, as Travis Webster was a constant source of Eagle defensive pressure; as Heritage Christian chased the Pacer guard all over the court in order to disrupt his offensive patterns.

The Eagles finished their scoring at the freethrow line, as the Pacers still tried to gain possession of the ball in the closing seconds, and the game — and Pacer season — ended with Heritage Christian winning by a score of 57-34.

“We played a good team and they beat us,” Coach Todd said. “It’s a positive to be here, the boys will look back and reflect and know they can never take away the Sectional title from us, I am pleased and proud.”

“The boys have paved the way for next year; it will be easier and more familiar.”

The top scorer for the Pacers was T.J. Sefton with nine points and four steals in the fourth quarter. B.J. Shelton had eight points and finished with five rebounds; while Ben Hickman finished with seven points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.

Josh Snow had four points, five rebounds and four steals; and Mat Deaton, Chancey May and Zach Getz each finished with two points. Zach Getz also added two assists, and Michael Otter finished with one assist.