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Lady Eagles capture 5th straight sectional vs. rival Lady Braves

Lady Eagles capture 5th straight sectional vs. rival Lady Braves
Lady Eagles capture 5th straight sectional vs. rival Lady Braves
The Lanesville girls’ basketball team poses with cheerleaders and the Lanesville student section after defeating Borden 58-27 to win their fifth consecutive sectional title on Saturday night. Photo by Brandon Miniard
By Brandon Miniard, Sports Writer, [email protected]

A packed gymnasium. Two top 10 teams. A rivalry game. A sectional championship.

Those four ingredients made for one of the top matchups in Class 1A, on Saturday night, as top-ranked Lanesville traveled to Borden to confront the host and No. 9 Lady Braves. Both sides felt the pressure as the arena was flooded with purple and white to one side, and red and black on the other.

For the young Lady Braves, they had to contend with one of the top teams in the state during the past half decade, though a win had historic ramifications if achieved. For the experienced Lady Eagles, a fifth-straight sectional title was on the line, the first step in a possibly deep post-season run.

Playing in just their third game since Jan. 17 led to their offense needing to first shake off the rust. The defending champs did just that, their trademark defense holding the Lady Braves to single-digit scoring in the latter three quarters. Add in five steals from sophomore guard Hadley Crosier, an 18-point, 17-rebound double-double by senior wing Linzie Wernert, and 10 three-pointers helped the Lady Eagles get one for the thumb with a 58-27 victory.

“I think the girls had their emotions in check for this game (because) we always emphasize doing what we do best, being the best at our role for each game and just grinding it out, no matter what,” Lady Eagles’ skipper Angie Hinton said. “I think there were more nerves on Friday night (against Rock Creek Community Academy), just knowing that they had to get through that game first. Playing at Borden certainly added to the challenge, but we also knew that we would have a loud, supportive crowd.”

It took over a minute and a half for either side to get onto the scoreboard as the Lady Eagles’ Ava Kerr opened things with a three-pointer. After the Lady Braves tied the contest with a free throw from Emma Hart and jumper from A.J. Mallad, Crosier followed with a triple along with a pair of Kerr freebies, before the Lady Braves’ Ava Wheeler knocked down a long ball of her own.

Following an exchange of buckets between Crosier and Mallad, senior Morgan Sonner expanded the Lady Eagles’ advantage with a putback layup, only for the Lady Braves’ Riley Rarick to drain a triple in the final minute to cut the opening margin to 12-11 in favor of Lanesville.

The Lady Eagles made Borden pay for playing a 2-3 zone defense to start the second quarter, as Crosier knocked down a pair of triples followed by a long ball from Wernert before a Rarick freebie and bucket got the hosts on the board. Another Wernert trey and free throws from Crosier kept the Lady Eagles’ lead in double digits before Rarick drilled another three with less than a minute remaining. The nets were torched one more time in the first half when Kerr notched a triple from the wing at the buzzer, sending the Lady Eagles screaming into the locker room with a 29-17 advantage.

“Offensively, we sometimes just have to grind it out and focus on our defense. The game is a lot smoother when we can get some early baskets, but we just keep working until we find something that works. We had to figure out (Borden’s) defensive scheme and then we made some adjustments,” Hinton said. “(Kerr’s) three at the half definitely gave us momentum.”

A free throw by Wheeler opened the second half, but Kerr picked up where she left off by draining another triple. A pair of Wernert buckets sandwiched between two freebies from Rarick preceded an exchange of baskets from Crosier and Hart. One last free throw from Rarick completed scoring for the third quarter, despite another last second long range attempt by Kerr, but the contest proceeded into the finale with a 42-23 Lady Eagles’ edge.

“I think it all came down to momentum; it was a fairly close game in the first half, then (assistant coach) Joe (Hinton) told us that the third quarter was the most important because (Borden) could either come back or we could put them down for good,” Wernert said.

Wernert led the Lady Eagles’ assault in the fourth quarter with a pair of deuces followed by Kerr’s team-high, fourth three-pointer and a mid-range jumper from Sonner. After Wernert scored once again, sophomore guard Hylton Brumley joined the late scoring with a layup before the Lady Braves’ Paige Robinson made one of two free throws.

Lady Eagles’ sophomore Ellie Schneider and Lady Braves’ senior Emily Cissell finished the scoring for both sides by exchanging three-pointers before the scoreboard rang with a 58-27 final. It wasn’t long after that the floor was washed in a sea of purple and white, complete with cheers, smiling faces and open hands to represent the Lady Eagles’ school-record fifth consecutive sectional title.

“Heck no, it never gets old,” Hinton said. “As a coach, the biggest thrill is watching kids have success and having fun together. For some kids, this is their first time so you are excited for them to have this experience.”

“There was definitely a lot of pressure, even when everyone tells you there’s no pressure. We won every other year, and when you’re No. 1 and expected to win, you can’t help but think about how you don’t want to let everyone down,” Wernert said. “Thankfully, we came to play and took care of business.”

Crosier followed Wernert’s 18 points with 17 points, while Kerr chipped in 14, 12 of which came from downtown. Rarick paced the Lady Braves with 12 points, while Mallad and Wheeler each managed four.

With another fire truck parade through Main Street in Lanesville out of the way, the Lady Eagles prepare for what has been their biggest obstacle in the Hinton era, the Indiana High School Athletic Association Regional 16 at West Washington. Along with significant experience in the second round of the postseason, the Lady Eagles only have to worry about one game to hopefully claim the program’s first-ever regional crown.

That one game will come against an unexpected challenger in Wood Memorial (14-10), which survived one-possession battles against 1A No. 5 Northeast Dubois (37-35) and defending 1A state champion Tecumseh (44-42) to punch their ticket to regional. Regardless of who is considered the favorite and the underdog in this matchup, the Lady Eagles believe themselves ready to face anyone in the postseason.

“As coaches, we have our work cut out for us getting prepared for a new team, watching video and game prep, but that is par for the course,” Hinton said. “The girls have regional experience, and they are very locked into preparing and playing, no matter who the opponent is.”

Borden 11 6 6 4 – 27
Lanesville 12 17 13 16 – 58
Borden (17-7) – Rarick 12, Mallad 4, Wheeler 4, Hart 3, Cissell 3, Robinson 1.
Lanesville (24-2) – Wernert 18, Crosier 17, Kerr 14, Sonner 4, Schneider 3, Brumley 2.
3-point goals – Borden 4 (Rarick 2, Cissell 1, Wheeler 1); Lanesville 10 (Kerr 4, Crosier 3, Wernert 2, Schneider 1).