No place like home
‘We didn’t have to bring it home; we got to keep it home.’
South Central senior Jordan Renn said it best as she took request after request for photos with supporters who didn’t have to travel far to celebrate a Class 1A South Central Sectional championship.
As the only team with more wins than losses entering the sectional, expectations were high for the No. 6 Lady Rebels. In the sectional final Saturday night, backed by a strong following of white-out students, South Central used its experience to put away Rock Creek Academy. The Lady Lions, playing in their first sectional final, were no match for the Lady Rebels, who rolled to a 63-41 victory.
‘I feel like I might cry tonight,’ South Central senior Ally Davis said. ‘It’s a little more emotional, knowing it’s the last time we will play (at home).’
The last sectional championship for South Central on its home court came in 2009. The last chance was when South Central’s core of seniors were freshmen; however, they finished on the wrong end of a lopsided final versus Borden.
‘It’s crazy. It really hits home because, freshman year, we didn’t win it at home so it was nice to get it on our home floor,’ Davis said.
Starts in the previous two sectional games saw South Central have to crawl back on the scoreboard. Not Saturday. South Central set the tone, outscoring Rock Creek 15-5 in the opening quarter. Senior Lexie Knear fed an open Jenna Baelz for the first points. Renn then got loose for eight straight points, putting South Central up 10-2.
‘We really wanted to be the aggressor,’ Knear, the point guard, said. ‘We wanted to get ahead early. The last two games we started really slow, which didn’t really impact the result, but we wanted to get out faster this time.’
South Central’s man defense forced seven Rock Creek turnovers in the first eight minutes. The pressure allowed for transition chances as well. Freshman Brooklyn Lewis slid inside the arc for a jumper, giving South Central its first double-digit lead at 15-4.
‘We do a lot better when we share the ball,’ Knear said. ‘It’s an area we’ve really improved on this season to become a really good basketball team. The more we share the ball, the better we are. Ally and Jordan had great games, and Jenna picked it up. We’ve come together to be a nice team.’
A Knear 3-pointer along with baskets from Baelz and Davis opened up the game to a 22-7 South Central lead.
‘We were hoping to get that quick start,’ South Central coach Randall Schoen said. ‘It made it a lot easier for us to get back to the way we want to play.’
One objective on the defensive end was to prevent Rock Creek senior Katie Thompson from getting hot from the 3-point range.
‘Rock Creek has really improved, and we knew coming in that Thompson, we had to know where she was at all times,’ Schoen said. ‘She can hit 25 footers, so Brooklyn and Marie (Goodwin) did a good job sticking with her. I think it frustrated her and took away from what they like to do.’
South Central went into the locker room at halftime up 10, 26-16.
Goodwin kicked off the second half with a 3-pointer from the wing, setting off a 12-2 run. Goodwin scored all eight of her points in the first few minutes of the second half.
A 3-point play by Davis pressed South Central’s lead to 20, 38-18. The closest Rock Creek would get the rest of the way was 11 points.
Renn made several trips to the foul line, making 13 of 20 tries for a game-high 21 points. She also had six rebounds, four steals and three assists. Renn said the regular-season meeting with Rock Creek, a more narrow 51-48 win, was a difficult road trip.
‘When we got up there, the (pre-game) clock had already started so we had 15 minutes to get dressed and warm up,’ she said, ‘We were rushed, and it wasn’t our game.’
The close game, then watching the Lady Lions upset Lanesville the night before caused South Central to hone in on preparation.
‘We studied their game against Lanesville to find out their weaknesses and try to exploit them,’ Knear said. ‘We really underestimated them in the regular season, and it showed with the final score. This game, we were pumped up because we wanted to win the sectional. We had to execute.’
Knear didn’t have a big scoring game; she was held to three points but dished six assists.
‘We did do a good job at setting screens and moving off the ball,’ Knear said. ‘Jordan and Ally are prime examples of cutting and seeing openings. I’m just looking for those spots to get them the ball.’
Davis had a big tournament overall, scoring 18 points and pulling nine rebounds in the final. She was the most efficient shooter, going 9 of 13 from the field.
‘When you try to advance through a tournament, you can’t rely on a 3-point shot,’ Schoen said. ‘We’ve shown different ways to score, which may be different from the last couple of years. Our seniors are playing like seniors should.’
Baelz closed with six points and 11 rebounds for the winners. Lewis finished with four points.
South Central’s fourth senior, Madison Spalding, entered the game late and scored her second field goal of the season when Knear fed her underneath for a layup.
‘It says a lot about the other girls that, when Madison came on the floor, they were looking to get her to score,’ Schoen said. ‘It means a lot to the senior group for Madison to score that basket. That’s the kind of kids this senior group is.’
The senior group made cutting down the nets more special for Schoen, who won his 10th sectional as a Lady Rebels’ coach.
‘This group of seniors had so much hype on them coming in,’ Schoen said. ‘We lost some players over the years to where we had four left. They stuck with it. They worked really hard and have taken the time to show the younger girls what it takes to continue this in the future. They are a good group of kids and a good group of parents. It makes it fun to coach. They are also pretty damn good.’
South Central has been on a roll, winning 10 games in a row, having not lost since the calendar turned to 2018.
‘I think we’ve had a great season,’ Baelz said. ‘We’ve had a few losses we should have won, but, overall, it’s been great so far … It feels great to win with this group because we are really close.’
Knear said they will celebrate the sectional then focus will turn to No. 2 Vincennes Rivet, their opponent at the West Washington Regional on Saturday at 10 a.m.
‘This one is pretty sweet because we had so much expectations on our shoulders as seniors to win it on our home floor,’ Knear said. ‘I’m really proud of our team. Next weekend we have a big challenge, but we want to get it done.’
South Central 15 11 16 21 ‘ 63
Rock Creek Aca. 5 11 13 12 ‘ 41
South Central (19-5) ‘ Renn 21, Davis 18, Goodwin 8, Baelz 6, Lewis 4, Knear 3, Spalding 2.
Rock Creek Academy (7-16) ‘ Guidry 21, Bailey 10, Sheckles 4, Hart 3, K. Thompson 2, Dozal 1.
3-point goals ‘ South Central 3 (Goodwin 2, Knear); Rock Creek Academy 2 (Bailey, Hart).
Class 1A West Washington Regional information
No. 6 South Central will see a familiar foe at the Class 1A West Washington Regional in No. 2 Vincennes Rivet (23-2).
The past two seasons, Rivet has won the regional semi-final match-up with the Lady Rebels, 55-37 in 2016 and 51-45 in 2017. Rivet also won regional match-ups versus South Central in 2009 and 2010.
‘If we are going to win a regional, we have to beat them,’ South Central coach Randall Schoen said. ‘They have a really good basketball team too. They have a new coach who has won a ton of ballgames. Over the last couple years, you can see we progressed to stay with them. We hope to give it a run.’
South Central and Rivet will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday. The opposite semi-final game pits No. 13 Northeast Dubois (17-7) against No. 9 Trinity Lutheran (21-5) at noon. Winners will return at 9 p.m. for the championship.
South Central has won two regionals (2003, 2006).
Admission will be $7 per session or $10 for a season pass.