The road to the Warhawk ninth-grade basketball championship was a long one for Southwest Junior High.
The last two seasons the Bulldogs failed to win the title over home-court favorite West.
This year though the scales finally tipped in the Bulldogs favor as Southwest made it through the three-day elimination tournament unscathed and secured the championship Thursday with a 62-42 victory over the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints.
"This game was great," said Bulldogs coach Mike Lewis, whose squad finished the season 17-3. "It was a well-earned victory, I kind of got to sit back and watch some good basketball."
The Bulldogs took a quick 12-7 lead midway through the first quarter on a long three-pointer by Connor Monarez. Then with only three seconds left, Southwest's Dorian Green, whose initial shot attempt was stopped, sunk another trey to give the Bulldogs a 15-9 advantage.
While Green shined in the first, it was Paul Eltschinger who stepped up in the second quarter and flexed his muscles. Eltschinger pounded in a basket and sunk a free throw. Seconds later he swooped in to squelch what could have been a crucial rebound shot for the Saints.
Lance Kilburn breezed in for a layup and rebounded for another basket late in the first half. But it was Matt Frantz who ended the half with a tip-in to put the Bulldogs up 26-15 at the break.
"We hustled a lot and played a great defense," Green said. "Overall it was a team effort."
Bobby Davis began the third quarter with a big run of his own for the Bulldogs.
First he hit a three-pointer, then followed with a steal. A technical foul sent Davis to the free-throw line four times. He swished all four charities and added another three to give Southwest a 20-point lead, from which the Saints could never recover.
"Everyone who stepped on the court really contributed tonight," said Lewis, who last won the tournament title in 2002.
Green, Eltschinger and Kilburn continued to keep the Bulldogs easily in front in the fourth. A series of free throws and layups kept the Saints, who tried desperately to get back into the contest with two three-pointers at the start of the fourth, at bay.
A pass from Monarez to Eltschinger allowed him to drive to the basket for a bucket that broke the 60-point mark. Ryan Giblin sunk a final shot that got the crowd on its feet.
"We came prepared to battle, we knew what it would take," Lewis said. "We held a secure lead throughout the game and made good offensive decisions, had a sound defense, and made smart rotations."
The championship title meant the realization of a long dream.
"We are excited and glad," Green said. "This has been our goal since the beginning of the season."
For Green, Lewis and the rest of the Bulldogs there was only one more task to be completed - the celebratory picture with the Warhawk Tournament championship trophy hoisted high in the air.
"There wasn't a day I wasn't looking forward to going to practice or spending time riding the bus to a game," Lewis said. "It is rare as a coach when you can look at your team and know they are in it for each other."