The regional championship game in Macon on Friday, Feb. 28, wasn’t just the end of the season for the Nokomis boys basketball team, it was the end of an era.
After more than 1,100 games as head coach of the Nokomis Redskins, 838 of which ended with the Redskins out in front, Friday was the final game of the storied coaching career of Coach Steve Kimbro. In a perfect world, that final game would have come two weeks later, at the IHSA State Tournament, but the Redskins’ opponent, the highly regarded Raiders of Central A&M, have aspirations for a state title and refused to let sentiment, or the Redskins, stand in the way of a 58-43 win for their third straight regional championship.
To paraphrase former Arizona Cardinals Coach Dennis Green, the Raiders were what Nokomis thought they were, a talented team that had knocked them out in the sectional finals each of the last two years. Featuring a line-up of seniors Jacob Paradee, Griffin Andricks, Connor Heaton, Brycen Burgener and Connor Huchins, Central A&M started out strong, hitting five threes in the opening quarter to take a 17-8 first quarter lead.
The two teams traded baskets over the first few minutes, with Nokomis getting baskets from Jake Johnson and Alex Tosetti and Central A&M countering with threes by Burgener and Andricks to take a 6-4 lead at the midway point of the quarter.
The Redskins would run into some foul trouble with Jake Johnson picking up his second foul of the game in the opening five minutes, but Seth Johnson intercepted the ensuing inbounds pass and tied the game at 6-6 with 3:33 to play. Again the Raiders would counter with a three-pointer, this time from Paradee, to retake the lead at 9-6.
Central A&M would continue their momentum in the final two minutes of the quarter as they outscored the Redskins 8-0 before Seth Johnson cut the lead to nine before the quarter ended.
Andricks would continue his hot start with five quick points for the Raiders, but an Evan Herpstreith three and a free throw by Carter Sabol would keep Nokomis close with the score at 22-12 with 5:25 to play. It would remain a ten-point game after the two teams traded baskets, but back-to-back steals by Connor Heaton led to four more Raider points as they doubled up the Redskins 28-14 going into the final two minutes.
Nokomis would limit any further damage, holding A&M to 28 points, while getting an old fashion three-point play from Sabol to cut the halftime deficit to 28-17.
The Raiders would continue to build on their lead in the second half, going up by as many as 17 before a three by Evan Herpstreith and two free throws by Alex Tosetti made it 41-27 going into the fourth.
Nokomis would get as close as ten in the last four minutes of the final frame, but Central A&M would go 9-of-15 from the free-throw line, enough to keep them ahead of the Redskins and deny Coach Kimbro an extension of his storied career.
With time winding down on Nokomis’ season, Coach Kimbro pulled seniors Carter Sabol and Alex Tosetti off the floor one last time with 22 seconds left to the appreciation of the Nokomis faithful.
Throughout the season and their careers, Sabol and Tosetti have been key cogs in the machine that has produced 97 wins over the last four years. This season alone, Sabol (who scored eight against the Raiders) and Tosetti (who finished with ten) scored 1,036 points, 60 percent of their team’s points.
While the loss of the two seniors, plus injured classmate Nick Mascher, will sting, the Redskins will return several key members of this year’s squad, including Seth Johnson (11 points against Central A&M), Evan Herpstreith (nine points), Kendall Knodle (three points) and Jake Johnson (two points).
Who they’ll be reporting to is still a mystery, but the legacy of Kimbro, and exiting veteran JV Coach Brian Pesko, will loom for a long time. Kimbro’s accolades have been expounded on numerous times over the last few weeks, 39 seasons, 838 wins, 36 seasons at .500 or better, 15 regional titles, five sectional titles and four state appearances, but the real impact of the veteran coach can’t be measured in numbers.
Kimbro has created an aura around the program that exudes confidence, a feeling that no matter the odds, one should count out the Redskins at their own risk. Like most “old school” coaches, Kimbro has had his fair share of detractors, but the crowd of former players on the floor for his final game in Nokomis and the way his players talk about him shows there are two sides to that coin.
As the years go by, fans may not remember the numbers that show the success of his career, but the impact of Kimbro’s tenure at Nokomis will never be forgotten.
February 28 at Macon
Class 1A Meridian Regional Championship
Nokomis 8 9 10 16 43
Central A&M 17 11 13 17 58
Nokomis (43) - Seth Johnson 11, Alex Tosetti 10, Evan Herpstreith 9, Carter Sabol 8, Kendall Knodle 3, Jake Johnson 2. Totals: 16 5-7 43.
Central A&M (43) - Griffin Andricks 22, Jacob Paradee 19, Connor Heaton 8, Brycen Burgener 7, Connor Hutchins 2. Totals: 19 13-24 58.
Three-point field goals: Nokomis 6 (Herpstreith 3, S. Johnson 1, Tosetti 1, Knodle 1); Central A&M 7 (Andricks 4, Paradee 2, Burgener 1).
Records: Nokomis (22-11); Central A&M (28-3).