GIBSONTON — Literally, they hang from the rafters of Tom Lota Gymnasium. But in a figurative, frustrating sense, those two dozen or so red title banners have hung over the East Bay boys basketball players’ heads.
Softball, wrestling, flag football — nearly every sport except boys hoops is immortalized up there. “The first day of practice we all looked at those banners and said, ‘We don’t see one (for us),’ ” Indians coach Billy Teeden said. “And that was our objective from the beginning.”
Before a jacked-up audience Friday night, the Indians clinched a banner year of their own. Dusting off a zone defense they had barely employed all year that helped limit Tampa Bay Tech’s second shots, East Bay (21-4) captured the Class 7A, District 8 crown with a 56-51 victory.
It’s the Indians’ first district crown since 1970 — 10 years before Teeden was born.
“Oh man, this is pride right here,” senior forward Kieran Pettus said. “This is people putting in the hard work, day in and day out, spring, summer, fall, winter, and it’s finally coming together. That’s what this is.”
In a tightly officiated game featuring more than three dozen fouls, the Indians went on a 12-0 first-half run and led 29-20 at halftime.
Freshman point guard Jonathan Jean had six points during the run, including a 3-pointer and layup back-to-back.
Their lead hit 11 in the third before the Titans (17-9) clawed back, tying things at 44 on Nicholas Felder’s layup in transition with 5:26 to play. Tre’s Stewart’s jumper with 4:10 to go gave TBT a 46-44 lead.
But East Bay scored the next five points, and hit six of eight free throws at one point down the final stretch. Senior Justin Green’s 20 points led three Indians double-digit scorers.
Senior forward Elgrin Wilson’s 15 led TBT, which managed two outside shots in the first half.
“I thought we really got on the boards tonight and I think that pretty much was the difference,” said Teeden, whose team hosts Ridge Community of eastern Polk County in Thursday’s 7A region quarterfinals. “We didn’t give them any second-chance shots.”