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New Haven wins 1st sectional since 1996

– A few seconds remained on the red, overhanging scoreboard inside the Huntington North gym when Michael Gasaway, the host school’s athletic director, leaned into the New Haven rooters and said something to the students in the first few rows.

By then, the outcome had all but been decided; New Haven was about to win the Class 4A sectional championship. The final result would be 80-71 over NHC rival Homestead.

Gasaway requested that the students, already revved and ready, wait for the trophy presentation before storming and swarming the court. And as asked, the group complied.

After all, what’s one more minute when there was a 17-year wait between sectional titles?

It was the fifth sectional title for New Haven (17-5), and the first since 1996, when most of the Bulldogs were babies. But my, have they grown.

Six-foot-8 senior forward V.J. Beachem led Saturday night’s assault with 22 points. Senior Jabar Ray had 20. And 6-11 Steve McElvene, whose quiet “yessir” to every question smacks of his Talladega, Ala., upbringing, had 18 points and 16 rebounds, many of the latter repeatedly deflating the Spartans (18-7).

From the beginning, the Spartans spread out into their 3-2 zone defense. And from the beginning, Beachem and Ray made them pay by hitting five successive three-pointers to send New Haven into a 19-8 lead.

“Our zone has been good to us the first two (sectional) games against Huntington North and Jay County,” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said. “It did what it’s supposed to do, and that’s make teams shoot from out. Tonight, (New Haven) came out hot.”

Eventually, Homestead warmed up as well. Behind 10 of Trevor Osborn’s 24 points, the Spartans got within two points on three occasions late in the third quarter. But at the buzzer to end the period, McElvene put back a Monte Stevenson miss. Then to start the fourth, Stevenson dropped a three of his own to send New Haven in front 61-54.

“My coach told me in practice to go hard, and I had to go hard,” McElvene said.

Six of McElvene’s rebounds were at the offensive end, and most of those resulted in a bucket.

“I’m so proud of him, I can’t put it into words,” Beachem said of his teammate. “He’s put so much work in. I’m so glad that he was able to come out and help us win the sectional title.”

Like Gasaway with his request, New Haven coach Al Gooden had an early-season wish, as well.

“It’s a big deal,” McElvene said. “My coach told me about this. When I first came, he told me he wanted to win sectionals, so I had to help him out.”