PORTER TOWNSHIP -- No matter how many other wins Hebron piled up, the path to respect still went through Morgan Township.
Coach Mike Grennes knew it. The Hawks knew it.
"They're the best team in the conference," said Grennes, a former assistant at Morgan, where his son (and current Hebron assistant) Kyle played. "They won 20 games last year, the whole team's back. We kept saying all year long we knew who we had to beat. I don't think we get as much credit as we deserve sometimes. You don't see a lot of talk about the Hebron Hawks right now and these kids kind of take that personally."
Speaking of which, the matter of Morgan marking a cross through the hawk on the Porter County Conference Keg also didn't sit well with Hebron (14-1), which avenged its only loss of the season and seized the traveling trophy with a 46-37 win in Wednesday's tournament championship at Boone Grove.
"It feels amazing," Landen Hale said. "We needed it. It's kind of revenge, especially with what they put on the Keg. We had a chip on our shoulder. No one believed in us and here we are. I was talking to everyone and they were saying Morgan. We did it though."
Morgan won 45-42 on Dec. 15, a Jaiden Spratley 3 in the last 10 seconds breaking a tie. Hale sat most of the first half that night with two quick fouls, so Grennes liked their chances in the rematch if he could keep his 6-foot-6 senior on the floor.
"We led most of that game, kind of like this," Grennes said. "We knew it was going to be a game. That's a good team. We've faced adversity all year. We kept saying, you've got to overcome it."
The Cherokees (11-4) ran out to a 20-9 second-quarter lead before Hale, Pete Socci and Trever Roy drilled 3s in a 12-0 run to end the half, Roy sending the Hawks flying into the break with his go-ahead trey.
"We get down 11 in the first half in the PCC tournament, it can get a little hairy," Grennes said. "Our guys just don't quit. They came back, battled and put us in a good spot at halftime. We can score in bunches. In that case, we did. We know coming in, if our shooters can shoot well, it will open up the inside for us."
Jack Wheeler's triple put Morgan up coming out of the half, but Hebron responded with the next seven points, Hale scoring inside, Socci betting two free throws and Spencer Wynsma splashing a 3.
"(The 3s) came in clutch for us," Wynsma said. "It was really big. I think everybody here trusts their work. They love the game. No one's shy here. They all want to get a win, whatever it takes. Just toughness. We've had a lot of time together, just growing, playing as a team."
The Cherokees pulled even at 33 in the fourth when another Wynsma 3 ball put Hebron back ahead at 5:49. The sophomore gave Holder, who came out on him to contest the shot, a wide-eyed look as he headed down the court after the make.
"It was an out of body experience," Wynsma said. "I was just in the moment. It just happened."
Hebron went into a a spread, scoring its last basket on a Ben Kenda post up to make it 38-33. The Hawks were a tad sketchy at the line, missing five of 12 in the final two minutes, but Morgan couldn't take advantage, managing just two Holder foul shots in that same span.
"They played 'D'," Grennes said. "We take pride in it. (This) was a good example of that. We knew coming in. Defense wins championships. It was on the board."
Roy drew the assignment of Holder, the Mental Attitude Award winner, and helped check him on just 10 points.
"Him and Wheeler were the two we wanted to prevent," Grennes said. "We helped off a lot more than the first time we played them. Trever's a hell of a defender. He's not the biggest kid, but he's gritty and he's quick. We liked that matchup. The whole idea was to help as often as we could and come over when he started coming to the basket, challenge the shots inside. That's a pretty good night to hold Keagen Holder to 10 points."
Wynsma's 13 points topped Hebron, with Hale notching 12.
"Teams double down on us all the time, sag a lot, a lot of help side, especially early in the game," Grennes said. "We have to work through the game and spread the floor more, then go back inside. We've done that all year. Move the ball and we'll eventually get what we're looking for. We feel like we're a pretty good rebounding team. That is our goal every night out. It's on the board. If we don't rebound the ball well, we don't win. I don't think we were rebounding as well as we should have been in the first half. I thought the second half was a lot better."
Hale also nabbed 10 rebounds with Roy pitching in nine points.
"I think we spread the floor more, we shot a lot better, we were more calm," Hale said.
While Hebron has won the most PCC tournaments all-time (20), this was its first since 2014.
"We struggle with Morgan a lot," Wynsma said. "It felt really good to get this one."
Hebron players celebrate after winning the Porter County Conference tournament Wednesday, defeating Morgan Township 46-37 at Boone Grove.