ELKHART — Somehow, the Goshen coaching staff knew it was going to happen eventually.
"We kind of had a premonition on our staff that DJ Ambrose was going to win a game for us at some point," coach Brian Bechtel said.
The coaches batted the idea around, unable to fully envision the possibility. After all, Ambrose is known more for his lockdown defense than his jumper. He was never going to be the guy who took the last-second shot.
Until he was.
Trailing Warsaw 45-44, teammate Deric Haynes launched the go-ahead 3-pointer as time expired. The shot clanged away, and for a split-second, so did Goshen's tournament hopes. But then there was Ambrose, grabbing the ball off the rim and touching it back in as the buzzer sounded.
The crowd erupted as Goshen dispatched Warsaw 46-45 in the opening round of the Class 4A Elkhart Sectional on Tuesday, March 4.
The bucket was Ambrose's first and only points of the night, a fitting punctuation proving how little the senior is expected to shoot the ball.
"Better late than never," Ambrose quipped with a grin.
But Bechtel wouldn't attribute it to luck or happenstance or even good timing.
"DJ is one of our hardest workers," he said. "He's just a workhorse. It's not really being in the right place at the right time. It's that he works for those positionings."
While Haynes, Jack Gingrich and Brady Bechtel spun a combined eight 3-pointers, Ambrose was tasked with locking down Warsaw standout Jordan Stookey. Ambrose held the Tiger senior to just three first-half points.
With Stookey quieted, Goshen built a 10-point lead heading into the final 2:40 of the game. But Warsaw's smothering 1-3-1 defense befuddled the Redskins and Stookey broke out of his cage. After a 12-1 run, Warsaw led 45-44 with 42 seconds left.
When Haynes launched the desperation 3, the only thing that went through Ambrose's head was to make sure he was in the right spot for a rebound.
"That's always a factor you have to have in your mind," he said. "You have to line up and be opposite of the shot."
Gingrich led the team with 16 points, 12 of which came from behind the arc. With Warsaw cracking down on Austin Woolett and keeping Haynes in the single digits, Gingrich stepped up and made the big shots. He finished 5-of-9 from the field and 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
"We knew we were going to have to hit some outside shots and make them come up and guard us," Brian Bechtel said. "I think Jack stepped up really well and was just going to take those shots."
Entering the sectional semifinal, Goshen is finally looking like the team it wanted to be all year. A smattering of injuries shifted the starting lineup throughout the season, but now everyone is healthy and whole and playing where they're supposed to be playing.
"The chemistry is going through the roof," Ambrose said of the team. "This is the tightest-knit group of guys I've ever played with."
Brian Bechtel agrees, saying they've "finally settled on a team that we thought we'd have all year long."
Goshen now sets its sights on its next grudge match, a semifinal meeting with an Elkhart Central team that beat the Redskins 52-47 in December.
"My initial thought is we've got revenge on our minds," Brian Bechtel said of Central. "We played a lot of these teams this season and lost to most of them except Memorial. The first thought is revenge."
GOSHEN 46, WARSAW 45
Goshen — Brady Bechtel 3-7 4-6 12, Jack Gingerich 5-9 2-4 16, Deric Haynes 3-8 1-3 9, DJ Ambrose 1-1 0-0 2, Austin Woolett 1-3 1-2 3, Alex Haney 0-0 0-0 0, Cameron Kline 0-0 0-0 0, Alex Hartsough 2-3 0-0 4, Colton Potter 0-0 0-0 0, Oliver Nafziger 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-31 (.484) 8-15 (.533) 46.
Warsaw — Paul Marandet 2-3 3-3 7, Nate Pearl 1-4 0-0 3, Jake Mangas 5-8 5-5 15, Moses Marandet 0-1 0-0 0, Jordan Stookey 5-12 4-6 14, Riley Rhoades 2-2 0-0 4, Peyton Long 0-1 0-0 0, Tim Swanson 1-1 0-0 2, Kyle Mangas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 16-33 (.485) 12-14 (.857) 45.
Scoring By Quarters
Goshen— 13 11 11 11 — 46
Warsaw— 8 8 13 16 — 45
3-point goals: Goshen (8-17) — Gingerich 4, Bechtel 2, Haynes 2; Warsaw (1-11) — Pearl.
Rebounds: Goshen (19) — Woolett 5; Warsaw (18) — Stookey 4, P. Marandet 4.
Assists: Goshen (7) — Bechtel 5; Warsaw (10) — P. Marandet 4.
Steals: Goshen (3); Warsaw (4) — P. Marandet 2.
Turnovers: Goshen 5, Warsaw 5.
Total fouls: Goshen 12, Warsaw 15.
Officials: Kirk Robinson, Gene Teel, Bob Filipek.
Records: Goshen 12-9; Warsaw 11-10.
Next: Goshen vs. Elkhart Central in Elkhart 4A sectional semifinal Friday, March 7.