With a legendary team from year’s past on hand to be honored for a state championship, Damien Mackesy and the Miami East Vikings made a special night complete with some more history on its way to a big win over Cross County Conference rival, Bethel.
Casstown—It would have been a special night without any extra hoopla.
The 11-2 Bethel Bees squared off against the 10-1 Miami East Vikings in the first Cross County Conference showdown of the season.
But there was more. So much more.
Many members of the 1996 Miami East State Championship team, which knocked off top ranked and unbeaten Archbold in the final at St John Arena, were on hand to celebrate the twenty-year anniversary of that title. They were honored with a long standing ovation from fans on both sides of the floor between the junior varsity and varsity games.
Then, just for good measure, Miami East senior Damien Mackesy scored 11 points in the first half to become just the 6th Viking to score 1,000 points in his career. He was honored at halftime.
Oh yeah, the game. After a back and forth first half that featured five ties and 8 lead changes, Miami East held the Bees scoreless for nearly 6 minutes of the third quarter and pulled away to a 63-47 win.
“A really memorable night,” said Vikings head coach Allen Mack, who was in his 7th season when the Vikings made their improbable run to the state title after a so-so 13-7 regular season. “To have the players, coaches and cheerleaders back was really special. Then we had our biggest crowd in this building, against a great opponent like Bethel, and to get a win, I couldn’t be more pleased.”
The Bees, led by their brilliant sophomore Caleb South, led by as many as five in the first half, but trailed 29-28 at the break. South, who would finish with 29, was outstanding in the first half, knocking down three three-pointers, going 5 for 5 at the line, and scoring 18 of his teams’ 28 points.
The Vikings entered the game allowing just 35 points a contest, and their famed zone defense took over in the third quarter. After shooting 9 for 16 in the first half, the Bees couldn’t have hit a puddle in the parking lot after intermission. A 1 for 9 shooting performance, with no points for 5 minutes and 38 seconds and four turnovers turned that one point deficit into a 42-31 Viking advantage after 3.
“They are a good basketball team,” said first year Bees head coach Brett Kopp. “They get you into situations you don’t want to be in. Turnovers, bad shots, they rebound well, and when the ball quit going in, we forced some things. When Mackesy gets in transition, he is scary good. That’s a great team, and it’s tough when you don’t hit shots.”
“We matched our defense with their offense much better in the second half,” Mack explained. “Our kids really defended well in the third quarter and gave us a little cushion. Bethel really played well in the first half, especially South, who was hard for us to match up with. Our kids really picked it up on defense in the second half and that was the difference.”
Mackesy scored the first 6 points of the half for the Vikings, then banged home an uncharacteristic three from the high left at the third quarter buzzer. He finished the night with 24 points, one more than his average.
While South had his 29, no other Bee had more than 7. Mackesy, on the other hand, had plenty of help. Logan West scored 12 before fouling out, Kley Karadak had 9 off the bench, and Brandon Mach finished with 7. West, Mackesy and Ryan Haney all fouled out for the Vikings, who improved to 11-1 on the season and stayed tied with Tri-Village for the top spot in the conference. They meet at East on January 26th.
Mackesy, a 6-5 senior, was a humble star after the game.
“To be in that kind of company, in that category, is just unbelievable,” he said when asked about his 1000th career point. “Dan Hickman, who is on that list, comes in to practice every day and helps me with my game. He has taught me a lot, and I just owe this to my teammates. I obviously can’t do this alone. It’s because of them, and it feels great to get it against a team like Bethel in the biggest game of the season so far.”
“I don’t shoot many threes,” he continued. “It wasn’t in my game last year. I saw Braxton (Donaldson) come up and set a screen so it was on my mind to take it. It seemed like it was a momentum turner.”
“Damien does what Damien does,” praised his coach. “He is so athletic and he helps us in so many ways on both ends of the floor. Certainly another highlight tonight with his 1000th point, which is a great accomplishment. And the three at the end of the third quarter gave our kids a great boost and was a real turning point in the game.”
“A lot of things went our way in the first half,” said Kopp. “We are really good in transition, and they took that away in the second half. We are athletic and can get into a transition game, and they stopped it in the second half. And if you don’t make shots against that zone, you are going to struggle.
“We need to get better at shooting the basketball, top to bottom. We have nine kids back next year, and that is going to be our focus this summer, just shooting the ball. So when we have an open shot, regardless of who it is, they have the confidence to take it.”
Miami East was 22 of 48 from the floor for 46% while the Bees struggled to a 13 of 34 finish for 38%. Bethel was 3 of 11 behind the arc to the Vikings 5 of 17, and made 18 of 26 free throws for 69%. The Vikings were 14 of 16 from the stripe, including 8 of 8 in the fourth quarter to dash the Bees hopes of a comeback. East won the rebounding battle 23-22 and had 10 turnovers to the Bees 16, including 10 in the second half.
Having the ’96 state champs in the house meant a lot to the Vikings.
“Coach Mack talks about that team all the time,” Mackesy said with a laugh. “It was good to come out and play in front of our biggest crowd of the season, our biggest student section, and to win in front of those guys that know the game so well.”
The Vikings coach said the reunion brought back a flood of memories.
“No, it doesn’t seem like it’s been twenty years,” he said with a smile. “Just to have shared that with them, and remembering everything that happened that weekend was special. To play 32 minutes in that situation and then to see them celebrate with their friends on the floor after the game, it was a really special time, and memories that we will always have together.”
It was indeed, a special night in Casstown!