Lady Panthers out-muscle Jeff for 2nd straight Battle title
By Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]
As night fell and the cold air grew ever more frigid, fans huddled into Corydon Central High School on Saturday night for a heated confrontation.
To cap off the 2022 edition of the annual Cluckers Battle at the First Capital, the venue served as the site of the championship match. On one side was Corydon Central, ranked eighth in Class 3A and the defending tournament champs, blowing away area rivals Crawford County and 1A No. 1 Lanesville to reach their second straight tournament final.
On the other side was Jeffersonville, an unranked squad that began the tournament by barely surviving a 50-49 battle with Southridge in Friday’s opening round. The Lady Red Devils began Saturday’s action by upsetting potential Miss Basketball candidate Josie Trabel and Class 4A No. 9 East Central in the semifinals, 66-55, to break into the title game.
With both surviving squads hosting fast-paced offenses and physical, gritty defense, fans were treated to a rough and tumble spectacle that at times looked more akin to a wrestling match than a basketball game. When the final bell rang, it was the host Lady Panthers who remained standing, once again hoisting the First Capital trophy by overcoming the Lady Red Devils, 70-60.
“I told the girls before the game that we’re gonna need 10 bags of ice because (Jeff’s) gonna be all over you; it really comes down to how the game’s going to be called. When a team plays that style, the officials aren’t going to call them all,” Lady Panthers’ skipper Josh Conrad said. “Sometimes you’re gonna get knocked all the way down; you’ll get knocked sideways. You just gotta get low and balanced to try and go through it.”
Coming off a 27-point performance against Lanesville, sophomore guard Josie Vaughn got off to another hot start with 10 points, including a pair of three-point goals. Sophomore center Alyssa Groover added five points, while senior wing Ava Weber chipped in four. The Lady Red Devils’ opening offense was more evenly distributed, led by three points each by Sophia Reese and Lakyra Johnson along with a bucket apiece from Myah Johnson, Brooklyn Carter and Averielle Baker, making for an early 19-12 Lady Panthers’ lead.
That lead didn’t last in the second quarter as the Lady Red Devils took advantage of sloppy passing to explode ahead on a 14-3 run. For the period, the Lady Red Devils scored 22 points, led by six from Lakyra Johnson, followed by five apiece from Carter and Reese, four from Myah Johnson and a bucket from Baker.
The Lady Panthers’ counterattack in the frame came primarily from the charity stripe, led by Weber going a perfect 6 for 6. Groover and senior guard Bailey Orme added a freebie, while the former and junior forward Morgan Adams added buckets.
Orme finished off the first half with a three-pointer right before the half-time horn to send both teams to the locker room tied at 34.
“We had seven possessions where I believe we turned the ball over five times and (Jeff) scored 13 points, and it was us, not so much them. We just needed to take care of the basketball,” Conrad said.
The intermission was just what the Lady Panthers needed, coming into the second half refreshed as they pulled ahead on a 14-7 run. Their 23-point third quarter was spearheaded by nine points from Weber, followed by five apiece from Orme and Vaughn and buckets from Adams and Groover.
The Lady Red Devils had a hard time matching the offensive output, managing only three points from Myah Johnson and field goal apiece from Lakyra Johnson, Reese, Maranda Mason and Laqaya Gold, resulting in a 57-45 Lady Panthers’ edge heading into the final period.
While the Lady Red Devils’ defense succeeded in preventing any more Lady Panthers’ field goals, their aggressive style of defending proved costly at the foul line.
Vaughn knocked down all eight of her free-throw attempts in the quarter, followed by a pair apiece from Weber and Adams and one from Orme.
Despite nine points from Lakyra Johnson, four from Reese and a bucket from Myah Johnson, the Lady Panthers held on to capture the Battle at First Capital, 70-60.
Of the five Lady Panthers to score, four reached double figures, led by Vaughn’s 23 and Weber’s 21, followed by 10 apiece from Orme and Groover. The Johnsons led the effort for the Lady Red Devils with 20 from Lakyra and 11 from Myah. Foul trouble plagued the Lady Red Devils, ultimately resulting in four players fouling out.
“You gotta give our kids a whole lot of credit, to play four games this week and play a team that’s gonna guard you the entire length of the court and are very physical; you gotta be proud of the way our guards handled it,” Conrad said. “That’s what it’s gonna take to win in the postseason, and this was a good test for that.”
With the victory, the Lady Panthers raised the wooden trophy for the fifth time in the tournament’s eight-year history, the third in the current eight-team format, which was established in 2017.
“One thing we’ve talked about was making it more difficult than it was. We had East Central come down and Jeff came in because we knew that they would be good quality additions,” Conrad said. “It’s always good to have those teams come in that can test you and hopefully it makes you stronger as you go along through the season.”
“It feels good, especially winning on your own court,” Weber said. “We came out and overcame what we needed to overcome as a team.”
Off to a 6-0 start for the second-straight year, the Lady Panthers began the current week with a trip to Paoli yesterday (Tuesday). They’ll be back on the road Saturday night when they travel north to confront the Lady Olympians of Columbus East. Tipoff is set for 6:45 p.m.