ANDOVER — Long before Bishop Carroll's 51-43 victory over Kapaun Mount Carmel on Friday night in a Class 5A boys sub-state final, people — specifically Oklahoma football fans — wondered aloud why Blake Bell was playing basketball.
"I think a lot of people were going, 'Oh man, they ain't got a chance of being very good this year, why is Blake even playing?' " Carroll coach Lonnie Lollar said.
Weighing the options between protecting a scholarship to play for the Sooners next fall and playing for a team returning three lettermen wasn't a question for many.
But Bell remained committed throughout a losing season, which was redeemed by the victory over a rival that clinched a trip to the state tournament. Bell's 17 points — 13 in the second half — and eight rebounds guided the way.
"This is all the 62 practices paying off," Bell said. "This is what we wanted to do. It's a good feeling."
From the start, the Eagles set the pace of the game. Lots of passes, few shots and man-to-man defense produced a 17-16 Kapaun halftime lead.
Neither team led by more than four points, until Carroll opened a 36-29 lead with 5:37 left in the fourth quarter. With points at such a premium, the Crusaders drew no closer than five the rest of the game.
"Even though our record doesn't really show it and we're not the prettiest to watch sometimes, this is a very, very special group," Lollar said.
While protecting its lead, Carroll had contributions from several. Brian Rohleder and Ben Dreiling scored at the free-throw line and Tanner Gilmore added a lay-up.
"Coach Lollar told us before the year that the strength of the team this year is our team," Dreiling said. "We all just try to play our roles. We step up when it's called upon us. Today, we just all fit our roles."
In the matchup's rubber game this season, Dyllon Knox was able to get to the rim for Kapaun the second half, but couldn't convert his free throws. He led Kapaun with 17 points, but was 3 of 7 from the stripe.
Bell's decision isn't looking too bad now.
"Blake is a freak out there on the court," Rohleder said. "He's a great person to play with because he always keeps you up and he's always going to be battling with you 'til the end."
Kapaun Mt. Carmel (13-9) 7 9 10 17 — 43 Bishop Carroll (11-11) 6 9 15 21 — 51
KAPAUN: Knox 7 3-7 17, Small 3 3-8 9, Reynolds 1 0-0 2, Laveist 2 1-2 6, Floyd 1 1-1 3, Boswell 2 0-0 6. Totals 16 (3) 8-18 43.
CARROLL: Darland 0 1-2 1, Sueper 1 1-2 4, Rohleder 2 5-8 9, Slagle 3 1-2 7, Bell 6 4-6 17, Dreiling 1 6-6 8, Gilmore 1 0-0 2, Bieberle 0 3-4 3. Totals 14 (2) 21-30 51.