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Cash it in: NH to the ‘Bank

Cash it in: NH to the ‘Bank
Cash it in: NH to the ‘Bank
Seniors for North Harrison – Jourdan McAfee, left, and Carlie Burson –– accept the plaque and game ball for winning the Class 3A Jeffersonville Semi-state Saturday night. Photos by Brian Smith

Rally Cats.
Tough Cats.
Winning Cats.
The North Harrison Lady Cats.
A week prior at the Charlestown Regional, the North Harrison girls’ basketball team needed a pair of come-from-behind gritty efforts to make it to the next level of the Indiana High School Athletic Association state tournament.
Saturday night, in front of a pro-blue crowd 45 minutes from home, the Lady Cats had to be resilient and strong.
In one of the most physical games of the 30 North Harrison has played, the Lady Cats proved they could slug it out versus a physical Lebanon squad in the Class 3A Jeffersonville Semi-state. Take a blow to the chest, catch a breath and regroup. Not only recoup, but fight and scrap back.
Once again, North Harrison proved it could win whichever way needed. To defeat Lebanon 59-42, the Lady Cats banged from line to line and kept a watchful eye on star Kristen Spolyar. After all the celebrating and the brooms began to sweep the Johnson Arena floor, the Lady Cats started to emerge from the locker area, several bundled in ice.
Victory wounds.
Winning is what this group knows.
The reward is making the program’s first trip to the state finals Saturday to play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse versus second-ranked Heritage Christian.
North Harrison coach Missy Voyles was taken back Saturday night when meeting with the media.
‘It’s much more than what I expected this year,’ she said. ‘I had some goals for us, but state wasn’t on my radar.’
Maybe it was Miss Basketball candidate Jackie Young’s top-ranked and previously undefeated Princeton basketball team looming in 3A. When it was bounced in its sectional semi-final, the door swung open for the eight remaining teams in the southern half of the state.
Winning is what these girls do.
I figured a celebration like Saturday night was on the radar due to comments coming forth about four years prior. Each time basketball season rolled around, I would field a handful of phone calls and emails about this crop of Lady Cats on the rise. As a school team, the current sophomores on the North Harrison squad lost one game during its run through elementary and middle school in dominating performances.
Reaching the high school level, they haven’t lost many since transitioning to the varsity level.
While the sophomore group is as advertised, the entire cast of Lady Cats is solid. Two seniors ‘ Carlie Burson and Jourdan Mc-Afee ‘ have been leaders and key contributors to a balanced lineup. Junior Stevi Burns doesn’t shy away from shifting her feet from one end of the floor to another to disrupt an opposing guard.
To make the tournament run even more unexpected were the late-season injuries. And by late, two came during the post-season tournament. One was forward Cali Nolot, suffering a hand injury against Scottsburg, the same team she dropped 37 points on in the regular season. The other was guard Jessicka Chiquito, who blossomed offensively as a freshman, to power the Lady Cats to a sectional final in 2015. She suffered a knee injury in the regional semi-final.
Picking up the slack from a then eight-girl rotation to six were sophomores Taylor Rennirt and Hallie Hinton. Lilly Hatton, a 6-foot-1 skillful freshman has been a key in the post. She’s a shot alterer and an offensive presence opponents take note of.
To earn the trip to state, however, more youngsters had to step up. Voyles lauded the talent of the junior varsity players, who, as a team, lost only one game this season.
Those talents showed against Lebanon with sophomore Emma Nokes stepping in to aid her team with three field goals and freshman Savana Rhodes not shying away from the bruising Lady Tigers.
In the end, it was the will to win.
Prior to the start of the basketball season, North Harrison’s memorable football season came to a close in Huntingburg. Postgame, I walked to my car alongside Lady Cats’ assistant coach Joe Hinton (talking basketball, of course), but one thing stuck with me from the conversation.
It was nothing the Hall of Famer said (no offense, Joe!).
Over his shoulder was his daughter, Hallie, and teammate Nolot looking back at the football players boarding the bus for the final time. Nolot said, ‘I’m not losing another sectional.’
That’s the mindset these girls have. It told me a lot about the determination of this group.
Sure, Heritage Christian will be favored in the state final come Saturday. Does that matter to the Lady Cats? I doubt it.
Count on North Harrison, along with its throng of followers, to trek to Indy to provide a sense of home-court advantage. The sixth man has contributed every step of the tournament run thus far. Why not again?