NEW CASTLE — Late in the fourth quarter of Friday's Class 4A boys basketball sectional semifinal, Kenton Dunham caught a three-quarters court inbounds pass and seemed shocked to be so wide open.
His momentary hesitation allowed a New Castle defender time to recover, but it was only a cursory challenge as the Pendleton Heights sophomore laid the ball in off the glass to extend his team's lead.
The Arabians' 10th straight sectional victory — a 57-43 decision against the Trojans at the New Castle Fieldhouse — only appeared to be so easy.
Pendleton Heights (16-7) trailed for the first time in this postseason and needed a strong fourth-quarter start to put the game away. But the Arabians found a way to get the job done again and will play in their fifth consecutive sectional final Saturday against seventh-ranked Richmond (21-2).
"With this group of kids, they've worked really hard, and not just during the season but in the offseason," Pendleton Heights coach Brian Hahn said, "and when you put that much time and effort in, you're not just gonna let it go easily."
The Arabians appeared to be heading toward a rout early, opening a 15-point first quarter lead and holding the Trojans (9-13) to just two field goals in the first eight minutes.
But New Castle quickly responded, cutting the lead to 26-21 by halftime and moving ahead for the first time on a 3-pointer by junior Abe Haler with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.
Haler led the Trojans with 17 points, but it was Andrew Garrett's only basket that gave New Castle its biggest lead on the ensuing possession. Garrett's 3-pointer from the corner put the Trojans in front 34-30 with 1:53 remaining in the period and brought a loud New Castle cheering section to its feet.
Pendleton Heights called timeout and began whittling away at the deficit. The Arabians had a chance to tie the game on the final possession of the period but turned the ball over and trailed 36-34 entering the fourth quarter.