BY GENE F. CONARD KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — ROSSVILLE — The opportunity was never better, but the most important ingredients when everything is one the line — heart and the desire to win — were sadly missing. As a consequence, Tri-Central’s girls basketball team went down to an aggressive, purpose-bent Frontier squad, 43-36, in Class A Sectional 54 championship game Saturday night.
Simply put, the Falcons, winners of just seven of 21 previous outings, played simple, basic basketball to the fullest, took advantage of a TC squad’s inability to face 2-3 zone pressure and chose instead to hoist up 19 3-pointers in 43 overall shots, and dominated practically every step of the way.
The Falcons, getting strong leadership from seniors Catie Neary and Brynleigh Jensen, trailed at the first stop, but went in front at halfime, 16-12; extended the spread to 31-20 after three periods and then spread the floor and controlled the tempo in the final eight minutes to preserve the win.
The Trojans, ending their season at 11-10 and losing the grand chance for TC’s fifth sectional title and the home-court advantage for next Saturday’s regional, never did display the extent of their ability.
They seemed ready to take over early in the first quarter when Shelby Ramsey drained a 3-pointer, Cecelia Rayl and Kelli Kingseed scored baskets and Kinsey Leininger nailed a trey in the closing moments for a 10-6 Trojan lead. Frontier hit just 2 of 10 shots and appeared out of sync.
But it all changed in the second quarter when Neary, coming in with a 20-point average, scored five points to help the Falcons to that 16-12 halftime lead. TC had six turnovers to go with three in the first quarter, hit just 1 of 10 shots and didn’t have that first answer to Frontier’s very aggressive 2-3 zone that forced it outside and completely out of rhythm.
Following the disappointment and a lengthy post-game lockerroom meeting, TC coach Kyle Stage emerged to say: “I don’t know what to say other than they wanted it more than we did and took us completely out of our game. We were a step slow all night. They gave us fits with a great defensive game and we stood around a lot.”
Frontier coach Cory Runkle stood back and watched his champions cut down the nets, then remarked: “Our plan was to get out and put pressure on their guards and attack them and go to the basket offensively. Their size inside, 5-[foot]-11 Ramsey, 5-10 Hadley DeWeese and 5-8 [Cecelia] Rayl, worried me because they were also four-year starters.
“I was also concerned when Nearly drew her third and fourth fouls, but nobody challenged her. We counted on our two most experienced players, Neary and Jensen, and they played very well. But everybody contributed,” he finished.
Frontier extended its 16-12 halftime lead to 26-18 late in the third period, and it was an one-point spread after three segments, 31-20, thanks to Neary’s seven points and six by Sierra Glander. The Trojans got it down to 41-34 on three freebies by Rayl with :40.8 to play, but it was a matter of too much against too little.
The Trojans won the final period, 16-12, but they missed 10 of 16 shots and added their 14th and 15th turnovers, and Frontier merely spread the floor and let the clock do its thing.
Neary led everybody with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Rayl led TC with 12 points and the next best was the eight points each of Ramsey and Kelli Kingseed.