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Surge not enough for Lady Cats

Surge not enough for Lady Cats
Surge not enough for Lady Cats
The North Harrison Lady Cats pose for cameras after accepting the Class 3A girls' basketball runner-up trophy. It was the first state final appearance in basketball for the school. Photos by Brian Smith

The bright lights and setting in an 18,000-seat NBA arena prompted the biggest stage for the North Harrison Lady Cats.
Trekking to Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse wasn’t about vacationing or sitting back in awe of girls’ basketball powerhouse Heritage Christian. North Harrison was intent on coming out on top.
Falling behind by 11 points at halftime, and temporarily down another player (Stevi Burns rolled an ankle in the second quarter before returning) while starting guard Taylor Rennirt picked up four fouls, the odds seemed against the Mid-Southern Conference champs.
As the Lady Cats proved through their postseason journey, they don’t back down. With the roar of thousands of Lady Cats’ supporters behind them, No. 7 North Harrison made a run at the second-ranked Lady Tigers in the Class 3A title game Saturday.
At the five-minute mark of the third quarter, Rennirt assisted a Lilly Hatton jumper to even the score at 33. The shrills from North Harrison fans reached another level after Hatton blocked a shot on the defensive end and a turnover was forced by a gritty Burns.
Burns later drew a foul, making a pair of free throws for a 35-33 lead.
Heritage Christian evened the game heading into the final quarter with a Darby Foresman free-throw line jumper.
The initial few minutes of the fourth stayed within one possession, although in Heritage Christian’s favor. With 3:11 to go, Foresman hit another field goal, prompting a 43-39 lead.
From there, the Lady Eagles went on to secure a 51-45 victory in the Class 3A title game for the program’s seventh state title, the most in Indiana girls’ basketball.
‘I thought, overall, we played a very good game of basketball,’ North Harrison coach Missy Voyles said. ‘We had a few moments in the second quarter where we struggled offensively then regrouped at halftime. I couldn’t be more proud of these girls. I thought they rebounded extremely well. I thought they defended well. We pulled it together the third quarter and fought back like I’ve seen them do all year.’
The visit to the state final was the first for North Harrison basketball, boys or girls. Newness of the experience was something the Lady Cats took in stride while their opponent had been a regular since 2006.
‘I went home and told the kids after I came back from media day (on Feb. 22) that I kind of feel like (the media) feel this is David and Goliath,’ Voyles said. ‘I personally said, ‘I think you’re a little better than that. I think this is a game you can win.’ I never go into a game thinking I’m going to lose.’
Putting the thoughts of being a supposed 20-point underdog behind them, the Lady Cats battled from the opening tip in front of 7,223 in attendance.
Tyasha Harris, Heritage Christian’s star player, made her entrance grand, sinking a 3-pointer on her team’s first possession. She finished the game with 27 points and seven steals.
Scrappy North Harrison kept pace by hitting the glass hard and defending. Carlie Burson and Jourdan McAfee, North Harrison’s lone seniors, scored on second chances. Burns had a transition 3-point play after swiping a steal, prompting a quick celebration among the five on the hardwood.
The made freebie gave North Harrison an 11-7 lead.
Defensively, Heritage Christian turned up the pressure in the second quarter, coming up with eight steals.
Down 16-12, Burns picked off a cross-court pass then injured her ankle while going for a layup. A foul was called, but Rennirt entered to hit one of two free throws. A few seconds later, Rennirt was whistled for her fourth foul. North Harrison freshman Savana Rhodes was pressed into duty until Burns returned.
‘I was leery about running out of people before I ever walked in the gym because I’m down two (Cali Nolot and Jessicka Chiquito, who did not play due to injuries) walking in,’ Voyles said.
Hallie Hinton picked up the ball-handling duties for the Lady Cats.
‘I knew I needed to step up and handle the ball because we didn’t have anyone else,’ Hinton said of the circumstances. ‘It’s hard putting our freshman, Savana Rhodes, out there, putting that pressure on her. I did what I needed to do. I had to because we would have let the game go away if I didn’t.’
A steal-and-score from Harris with 20 seconds before half gave the Lady Eagles a 29-18 lead at break. She had 15 points in the first 16 minutes. Offensively, North Harrison shot just 26 percent up to the mid-point. DaShawna Harper had six of her seven steals at the top of Heritage Christian’s defense at the half.
North Harrison started rolling in the second half. Hatton, a 6-foot-1 force inside, was opposed by 6-3 Indiana University commit Foresman. Blocks by the freshman Hatton in the third quarter aided the Lady Cats’ surge. Hatton stepped out to hit a 3-pointer as well during a 17-4 North Harrison scoring run.
‘It was about focusing and knowing what I needed to do to be there for my team,’ Hatton said.
Burson hit three field goals, while Rennirt added a jumper during the stretch that brought North Harrison to a 35-33 lead.
‘We talked about quit trying to take the entry pass where (Harper) was playing defense,’ Voyles said of adjustments. ‘She was doing a really good job of covering that up. We looked for some mismatches.’
‘I thought we broke down a little bit defensively,’ Heritage Christian coach Rick Risinger said. ‘The match-up zone that’s kind of our staple didn’t work as well. It should have been a tighter zone. We opened up some windows there, and they took advantage.’
Headed to the final quarter tied at 35-all, Harris converted a steal into a layup for the lead. North Harrison evened the score twice more ‘ on Hatton free throws and a Burns bucket ‘ but couldn’t move back ahead.
Harris put her team up 41-39 with a field goal, that was followed by a Foresman make. Heritage Christian added on with free throws to secure their first title in 3A. The previous championships came at 2A.
‘I give a lot of credit to North Harrison,’ Risinger said. ‘I thought they played exceptionally well. There were times they were pretty physical, and I’m not sure how well we reacted to that, but we stepped up and did what we needed to do at the right times.’
Harris, the second Miss Basketball candidate North Harrison faced in the last two weeks, lived up to her billing. She was 9 of 15 from the floor, including 8 of 9 at the foul line.
‘She’s everything I was told she was,’ Voyles said. ‘She does a great job getting to the rim when they need her to and she distributes the ball when she needed other people involved. When it came down to crunch time, she wanted the ball in her hands and finished.’
It was a balanced effort for North Harrison.
Hatton tied a 3A championship game record with eight blocked shots. The young player flirted with a triple-double, adding 11 points and seven rebounds.
Burson, who was later named the Patricia L. Roy Mental Attitude Award winner, closed her career with 10 points and five rebounds.
Other scorers for the Lady Cats were Burns (nine points), McAfee (six), Hinton (five) and Rennirt (four). Burns had six rebounds and four steals despite the first-half injury.
‘This is a great experience for the girls,’ Voyles said. ‘They really haven’t followed the tournament beyond the regional. I took the freshmen last year to the regional, and that’s as far as I took them to watch it. This a new experience for them period, step by step from sectional to regional to semi-state to here.’
Harper finished with 10 points and seven steals for the Lady Eagles. Katlyn Gilbert had a busy night with eight points, 11 rebounds, four steals and three blocks.
Voyles said her team will learn from the experience.
‘They’ve had a fantastic time doing this,’ she said. ‘Of course, it’s going to get them ready to get back.’
With two players ‘ Burson and McAfee ‘ set to graduate, there is room to build for another potential run next season.
‘We’re going to go back to the gym Monday and have open gyms,’ Voyles said. ‘Everybody is going to work on their ball handling and shooting just like they did last year when the season ended. These girls did not stop working. I could stop in the gym anytime after school last year and somebody was in there shooting a basketball.’
Hinton said the season has been ‘amazing.’
‘Last year as freshman, we got beat in the championship for sectional, and we promised ourselves we wouldn’t do that again,’ Hinton said. ‘We worked very hard all summer and offseason. Our biggest thing is we never give up. My team has a lot of heart, and I’ll never forget these girls.’
Leading up to the game, North Harrison was paraded with a grand send-off at local schools. Kids from Morgan and North Harrison Elementary school, as well as students at North Harrison Middle School, treated the Lady Cats as Hollywood and professional athletes during the tour.
‘It was intense, but we stayed focused on our goal,’ Hatton said of championship week. ‘We knew we were doing this for our community and ourselves. The high-fives at school and walking down the hall and someone would say, ‘Hey, you’re going to state. What’s that like?’ You felt the entire community behind you. It was awesome to have that support.’
Hinton said her English class watched ‘Hoosiers’ last week and the team had a shoot around Saturday morning at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University.
‘We took a lot of selfies and did some shooting,’ Voyles said of the Indiana Basketball Cathedral.
Voyles also acknowledged the program’s appreciation for the thousands of supporters who traveled to Indianapolis.
‘This has really been great for our community,’ Voyles said. ‘Everybody is so excited about it. Just the trek through the buildings the day we left (Friday) and all the little kids and screaming and wanting to give everybody a high-five. Our youth league kids, who are now looking at these kids like they’re celebrities; it has been fantastic for our community.’
In a society surrounded by negatives, Voyles said she wants kids to be proud of where they’re from.
‘This spirit it has created, I hope that continues; I hope it sustains,’ she said. ‘I hope we come back in November, not just in girls’ basketball, but overall, that this community starts pulling together and really supporting our athletes and our students.’
North Harrison finished the year with the most wins in program history, going 28-3.
North Harrison Lady Cats 45 (28-3)
Min FG 3PT FT Reb Ast Blk Stl Points
Taylor Rennirt 25 1-10 0-1 2-4 4 2 0 0 4
Carlie Burson 27 5-13 0-0 0-0 5 1 0 0 10
Lilly Hatton 32 3-6 1-1 2-2 7 0 8 2 11
Hallie Hinton 31 1-2 1-2 2-2 5 1 0 1 5
Stevi Burns 28 3-5 0-1 3-3 6 2 0 4 9
Savana Rhodes 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 0 0
Jourdan McAfee 14 2-6 0-1 2-2 2 0 1 1 6
Totals 160 15-42 2-6 13-15 36 6 9 8 45

Heritage christian lady eagles 51 (26-4)
Min FG 3PT FT Reb Ast Blk Stl Points
Katlyn Gilbert 31 3-11 0-2 2-2 11 1 3 4 8
Joely Pinkston 13 0-2 0-0 0-0 3 0 0 1 0
DaShawna Harper 32 4-14 2-7 0-0 2 0 1 7 10
Darby Foresman 29 3-6 0-0 0-0 5 2 3 0 6
Tyasha Harris 30 9-15 1-2 8-9 4 2 0 7 27
Hannah Williams 22 0-6 0-0 0-0 1 1 0 0 0
Sydney Buis 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 0 0
Totals 160 19-54 3-11 10-11 29 6 7 19 51
Percentages: North Harrison FG 35.7%, 3PT 33.3%, FT 86.7%; Heritage Christian FG 35.2%, 3PT 27.3%, FT 90.9%; Turnovers: North Harrison 23, Heritage Christian 12; Fouls: North Harrison 13, Heritage Christian 12.

North Harrison 11 7 17 10 ‘ 45
Heritage Christian 10 19 6 16 ‘ 51