It was as if North Harrison made its presence felt at the Class 3A Charlestown Regional championship before the ball tipped.
Lined out the door, fans spilling to the parking lot were antsy to get inside Saturday night for the showdown with Vincennes Lincoln. All they needed was a DJ and the Lady Cats on the right side of the scoreboard.
The pre-game aura was electric as Charlestown Arena could easily market itself as a prom venue. Once North Harrison fans ‘ taking up nearly three quarters of the capacity ‘ saw the Lady Cats grooving to the hip hop and rockin’ tunes in the southwest end-zone tunnel, they joined in too.
When North Harrison put the finishing touches on warm-ups, they came out on a mission. Their dance moves on the defensive end led to five first-quarter Vincennes Lincoln turnovers. The Alices soon found themselves trapped in a Dead or Alive hit song, just spinning around.
The Lady Cats held a 20-10 lead after the first quarter and eventually swayed to back-to-back regional titles with a 61-48 victory.
‘We were really hyped up before the game,’ North Harrison junior Jessicka Chiquito said. ‘We always are. Getting out to the lead after the first quarter made it 10 times better.’
‘It’s exciting and an incredible feeling,’ said Lady Cats’ senior Stevi Burns. ‘It’s so fun to play with these girls. Our chemistry is so good because we are such good friends. We always have fun together.’
With her squad ranked No. 1 in 3A, North Harrison coach Missy Voyles took in the atmosphere and told the girls to have fun.
‘I’m watching and I’m thinking I hope this turns out on the positive side because you never know what goofy is going to translate into, whether it’s focus or if goofy is going to translate into something sloppy,’ Voyles said. ‘I would rather see them relaxed like that and having fun than being all tight and worried and scared standing over there in the corner. We talked about that. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and enjoy it. It’s not a job; have fun.’
While defense is the typical staple of the Lady Cats, the offense was in sync in the first quarter. Two 3-pointers fell through for junior Cali Nolot, while classmate Hallie Hinton had another. Sophomore Lilly Hatton went to the rim for six first-quarter points as Burns netted a short jump shot.
The balance led to the early 10-point lead.
‘We pressure the ball, don’t get beat and try contain them,’ Nolot said of the defensive keys. ‘We wanted to stay out of foul trouble, and I was the one with two fouls in the first half. It still worked out for us, and we got the regional.’
Lincoln was caught in a battle during game one, narrowly defeating Evansville Memorial (52-50) to earn a spot in the championship. Seeing that game from a scouting perspective, Voyles knew the objective in the championship.
‘I wanted to run them as hard as I could up and down the floor,’ Voyles said. ‘They had to play really hard this morning, and I felt like my bigs were a little quicker and I wanted to run as hard as I could up and down the floor.’
North Harrison extended its lead to 14 in the second quarter with six points each from forwards Hatton and junior Emma Nokes. Three-point plays by Lincoln ‘ one each from Alison Hein and Kacy Cramer ‘ kept the margin at 10 points, 36-26, at the half.
‘Defense is always our main key,’ Burns said of the first half. ‘We started by looking to get the ball inside and working our way out to get some open outside shots, but it was our defense.’
The third quarter was an offensive struggle for both squads. Only three field goals were made between the teams. Two went to North Harrison in the form of Nolot and Hatton 3-pointers.
Voyles said the third quarter was a reminder of her track days as an athlete. A mile runner, Voyles said her coach mentioned her third lap was the slowest.
‘Everybody has that little lull at some point in a game,’ she said.
Lincoln wasn’t able to capitalize. The Alices managed just seven points, all but two coming at the charity stripe.
Back to form in the final quarter, North Harrison was soon putting the finishing touches on another trip to semi-state. A 13-5 run to start the fourth featured Nolot putting in six points. She also had a steal and assist to junior Taylor Rennirt for a 3-point play.
Soon, it was all about the clock winding down and the celebration to commence.
‘Back-to-back, we’ll take it,’ Voyles said after cutting a portion of the net for a keepsake.
Nolot and Hatton led all scorers with 21 points apiece.
A storyline for Nolot spun positive on Saturday. She was on the sideline cheering on teammates a year ago after an injury took away all but a half of one game of postseason court action. On Saturday, Nolot also had four assists.
‘Last year, I was on the bench injured and, while I was still supporting them, it wasn’t the same as playing with them,’ Nolot said. ‘We have so much chemistry; it’s fun to play with them. This year, winning regional was a blast.’
‘This has been so much fun, as much for (Nolot) as anything,’ Voyles said. ‘I’m happy for all of them, but I really hate it that she missed all this last year. She had worked so hard with us all year to not get to compete in the tournament. So, I was pretty excited for her more than everybody else. And Jess, she didn’t get to play beyond regional morning.’
Chiquito suffered a knee injury in the regional semi-final a year ago but worked her way back as well to play against Lincoln.
‘It was exciting to actually finish the regionals,’ Chiquito said. ‘I was excited last year, but it just feels much better because I was part of the win.’
Hatton has been a trouble match-up for many teams this season. The 6-foot-1 forward made 7 of 12 shots and collected six rebounds. When Lincoln looked to go inside, Hatton swatted seven shots.
‘Lilly does a really good job of staying in position and not fouling, and I think the officials respect that a little bit,’ Voyles said. ‘It’s kind of good you can get out and pressure people and get around them. Then, they’ve got to contend with Lilly on the back side of it.’
From the perimeter, North Harrison was an efficient 5 of 11 beyond the arc. As a point on the offense, Rennirt handed out nine assists. Nokes came off the bench to provide seven rebounds and six points.
Hein had a solid night for Lincoln (21-7). The 6-1 sophomore scored half of her team’s 48 points. She was 10 for 10 at the foul line, while the Alices were 15 of 16 overall.
Coming into the regional as the No. 1 team and defending champs didn’t rattle North Harrison (26-2).
‘Coming out with a target on our back, we know other teams are going to play their hardest so we have to keep our composure and play our hardest,’ Burns said.
Players took notice of the crowd support as well.
‘We have so much support and fans,’ Nolot said. ‘It’s amazing to hear them cheer behind us when we do something good. Even if we do something bad, we still hear them support us.’
The Lady Cats’ supporters now will move their focus to the Jeffersonville Semi-state, seeking a similar repeat path to the 3A state final.
North Harrison will hit the floor Saturday against Danville (18-10) at approximately 6 p.m., the second game of the Jeffersonville Semi-state.
Vincennes Lincoln 10 16 7 15 ‘ 48
North Harrison 20 16 8 17 ‘ 61
Vincennes Lincoln (21-7) ‘ Hein 24, Sparks 6, H. Hipsher 5, Cramer 3, Trueblood 3, L. Hipsher 3, Carmean 2, Haynes 2.
North Harrison (26-2) ‘ Hatton 21, Nolot 21, Hinton 6, Nokes 6, Rennirt 5, Burns 2.
3-point goals ‘ Vincennes Lincoln 5 (Hein 2, H. Hipsher, Cramer, L. Hipsher); North Harrison 5 (Nolot 3, Hatton, Hinton).