‘Everybody chips in’ -- Team-first approach propels CJ to state final four

Chaminade Julienne's AJ Solomon shoots during the Eagles' regional final victory Saturday at Butler High School.  Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
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Chaminade Julienne's AJ Solomon shoots during the Eagles' regional final victory Saturday at Butler High School. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

VANDALIA – The trophy presentation, the net-cutting, the postgame locker room celebration was over. But Chaminade Julienne seniors AJ Solomon and Daniel Nauseef weren’t finished collecting mementos.

They wanted one more piece of evidence to go with their little piece of the net that they earned for defeating Columbus Watterson 66-46 in the Division II regional final. The Eagles are going to the state final four for the seventh time and first time since 2015.

They returned to the court together and Solomon handed his phone to his mother to take their picture. They stood under the basket holding up their piece of net and smiling. You could see the scoreboard in the background with the final score still showing.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to play in the final four,” Solomon said. “We’re going to be ready.”

The Eagles (15-5) will face Columbus St. Francis DeSales at 11 a.m. Friday at UD Arena in the state semifinals, but on Thursday night in the regional semis it didn’t look good for the Eagles. They trailed Tippecanoe by 20 in the second quarter before coming back to win.

“It’s a far cry from the three-minute mark of the second quarter the other day,” CJ coach Charlie Szabo said. “Testament to these kids. They just keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting.”

Szabo said he got two hours of sleep, worrying about the next opponent.

“I was personally drained,” he said. “You wonder how it carries over to the kids. We weren’t super sharp at first. We played their game a little bit.”

Solomon led the Eagles with 16 points, Nauseef had 13, freshman Jonathan Powell 11 and junior Luke Chandler 10. That balance and contributions off the bench from Josiah Bowman, Kylan Tucker and Kenyon Owens are a trademark of the team.

“I don’t know that we have a strength,” Szabo said. “We got two kids that can shoot the hell out of it in Powell and Chandler, we got Danny inside and AJ is a steady presence on the floor, and then the rest of the kids, everybody chips in.”

CJ led 8-6 after the first quarter. Then two Solomon 3-pointers sparked them to a 25-17 halftime lead. The lead grew to 14 late in the third quarter, then continued to grow after Powell hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth.

When Szabo pulled his starters and key reserves, 5-foot-8 senior Lee Langenderfer got his chance. Everyone on the bench wanted him to get a shot. Langenderfer swished a 3-pointer from the left corner, and the bench went crazy.

“Coach always teaches us to play as a team and play for one another,” Solomon said. “And I felt like we played for one another. You see that when Lee Langenderfer hit that three at the end. We’re all happy for another, we all want to win for one another.”