MC Bears paw logo.png

It was one of the most riveting Randolph County championship games in many years Saturday evening in the Bears Den as host Monroe Central was forced to stave off an inspired Union City team that had its sights on pulling off what would have been a colossal upset. 

Monroe Central was a heavy favorite – 47 points better according to the wildly inaccurate computer ratings. At 9-0 and fresh off a 30-point win over Randolph Southern in Thursday’s semifinals, no one who wasn’t sitting on the Union City bench believed the Golden Bears would have any difficulty rolling past the young Indians. 

“Believing is a powerful thing,” Union City coach Tom Byrum would quip after his heavily underestimated squad battled the Bears to the wire before ultimately coming up short, 38-30, in a gripping affair that was nip-and-tuck until Jackson Ullom, Monroe Central’s seasoned senior, took matters into his own hands in the final three minutes. 

Ullom’s rebound basket with 3:02 left in the game was a big one, giving Bears a small, but significant 33-30 edge. 

For most of the second half, the Indians, patiently utilizing an effective weave out on the perimeter, had answered each Monroe Central score. And after Ullom’s putback, it appeared they would respond yet again. But Conner Walser’s attempt to tie the game with a three-pointer went halfway down into the net before spiraling upward and out. 

The Bears held that lead through a couple of empty possessions by both teams before Ullom threw in a three-point dagger that would prove to be the most influential basket of the game. 

With just 1:20 left in regulation, Ullom launched a gutsy long bomb from the right corner, right in front of his coach, who also happens to be his father. It put the Bears in front 36-30, a cushion that made matters a bit desperate for the Indians as they were forced to stray away from their patient weave and take quick, more contested shots. 

Gavin Smithson-Burciaga would put the final nails in the coffin by hitting a pair of free throws, which provided for the final margin. 

Closing in on 1,400 points in his career, Jackson Ullom’s late game heroics seemed unlikely after he banged his head against the floor at the end of the first quarter and had to stay on the bench until he was able to shake out the cobwebs in the second half. 

“It’s a shot I will take 10 out of 10 times,” the senior explained of the three-pointer. 

Early on, it appeared the undefeated Bears would coast to the title. Junior Josiah Ullom, Jackson’s younger brother, hit a pair of threes midway through the first quarter and another one toward the end to give the Bears an 11-4 lead going into the second. 

When Luke Jones buried a long three at the 5:12 mark of the second, Monroe Central owned a commanding 19-6 lead and one might have surmised that Coach Byrum would have abandoned the weave. But he stuck to the plan and it began to pay dividends. 

Rylan Mote got the Indians started with a bucket, Union City’s defense clamped down to keep the Bears off the board, and when Antoni Velasquez rifled in a three it pulled Union City to within 19-16 as the bewilderment began. 

Mote’s two free throws with just three ticks left before intermission had the Bears clinging to a 22-20 lead. 

Walser’s bucket started the second half to knot the score, and Velasquez hit another shot from beyond the arc to ignite the Indians crowd as their team had come all the way back to take a 26-25 lead. 

From there, it was tit for tat until the Bears’ Brayden Matheny hit a big three, followed by Ullom’s late game heroics. 

“Tom had a great game plan and it’s obvious he had his team very prepared.” Justin Ullom said. “There’s no doubt he had his team believing.” 

Jackson Ullom praised the inspired play by the Indians. “We can’t overlook anyone, Union City really played hard and made us work for everything,” he said. 

“Monroe Central is a great basketball team. They are very disciplined on defense and make it so hard to score against them,”praised Coach Byrum. “I really do feel that this was one of those games where we didn’t win, but we came out winners. This is absolutely a loss that will help us.” 

“We worked on the weave in practice and I told the guys that in order to have any chance to win they had to believe in the game plan, and more importantly they had to believe in themselves. I could tell when practice was over on Friday night that they believed. My hat’s off to my players. They did everything they were asked to do and more.” 

Following the game, Jackson Ullom was awarded the coveted Kellie Stephen Sportsmanship Award in honor of the long-time Randolph County educator and athletic director.

The Indians (2-8) had advanced to the finals after defeating Union, 69-28, in Thursday’s semifinals. The Bears (10-0) rolled past Randolph Southern, 63-33, in the semifinals. These two teams return to the regular season and will meet in a rematch on Friday in Union City.

GAME SUMMARY

Union City 5 20 25 30

Monroe Central 11 22 26 38

Indians – Mote 3 0 3-3 9; Velasquez 2 2 0-0 10; Walser 3 0 1-2 7; Erick 0 0 0-0 0; Lafuse 0 0 4-6 4; Nieto. 0 0 0-0 0; Collins 0 0 0-0 0; O’Connor 0 0 0-0 0; Shinaver 0 0 0-0 0; Totals 8 2 8-11 30.

BEARS –Jo Ullum 1 3 0-2 11; Jones 0 2 0-0 6; Ja Ullom 2 1 0-0 7; Patterson 0 0 2-2 2; Matheny 0 1 1-2 4; Taylor 0 0 0-0 0; Bogue 0 0 0-0 0; Foster 0 0 0-0 0; Smithson-Burciaga 0 0 4-5 4; Cleveland 0 0 0-0 0; Munchel 2 0 0-0 4; Totals 5 7 7-11 38.

Trending Food Videos