(Clockwise, starting top left) Kohen Myers, Kyle Clouse, Luke Brinkman, Ethan Lambert and Brock Kuhn and their families are recognized before last night’s final regular season game. photos by KRISTIAAN RAWLINGS

With last night’s loss to Batesville, Shelbyville Golden Bears seniors are especially anxious for the sectional opener against Whiteland next week.

“We’ve got a chip on our shoulder,” Luke Brinkman said.

After winning the sectional opener last year, they lost to Whiteland by three points. The rematch of sorts gives the five seniors a chance to extend their final season.

“This group of seniors have been the foundation to the improvements in our program,” Coach John Hartnett said last night.

Brinkman, Ethan Lambert and Kohen Myers have been with the program since their freshmen year. Kyle Clouse played as a freshman and took two years off before returning, joined by fellow senior Brock Kuhn.

“I missed the team,” Clouse confessed. “I realized that basketball is my sport.”

Their freshmen year, the Bears were senior-heavy, leading to the then-underclassmen to grow up quickly.

“I went from no varsity experience to starting every game my sophomore year,” Brinkman said. “It was eye-opening, from both the physical and mental sides of it.”

“Eye-opening” also meant challenging.

“It was a rough year,” Myers admitted. “But we came back much better as juniors and were just a couple of seconds away from a sectional championship.”

The tough loss to Whiteland only intensified their summer workouts and team bonding, which includes Saturday breakfasts at local restaurants.

“Everyone enjoys being around each other,” Myers said. 

Kuhn agreed. “The energy is great. We do a lot together as a team.”

The Bears finished at .500, with one more win than last year, and several memorable moments. A December game was suspended in the fourth quarter after a New Castle player suffered a traumatic injury. The teams finished the final four minutes the following week in a quiet Garrett Gymnasium, with only a few parents in the stands.

“It was surreal. We went through warm-ups just like we had a full game,” Lambert said.

Shelbyville won and New Castle bought pizza for a post-game meal.

“We (the two teams) just sat in the cafeteria and talked to each other,” Lambert said.

Lambert was the inadvertent focus of another game, at Connersville, during which the opposing school’s fans chanted his and a family member’s names throughout the contest.

“That was the craziest game. They were posting on social media and had made specific cheers,” Lambert said. 

He finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds and the Bears took home the win. “That was such an important game to me.”

The Bears started off strong this season and played well against conference foes.

“Our schedule is very tough, and we have handled it well. We have also had a few that we probably should have won, but let slip away,” Hartnett said, adding, “I love this group and how hard they work each and every day.”

Now it’s time to take care of year-old business at Tuesday’s sectional match.

“We have to leave it all out there on the court,” Lambert said.