By BRYAN GASKINS
Western’s girls basketball team is rolling once again.
Last season, the Panthers posted a 19-7 record and won the Howard County Tournament and also Class 3A sectional and regional titles.
This season, the Panthers are HCT champions again following a 44-26 victory over Northwestern in the title game Saturday on the Purple Tigers’ floor.
“We’re starting to get into tournament time again and we just want to keep cutting down more net, like last year,” Western guard Allison Lindley said. “It’s exciting since this is the second [HCT title] in a row. I really wanted to win being a senior and being my last time I’ll ever get to play in this tournament. It was fun.”
The Panthers improved to 12-2, two games better than at this same point last season when current IUPUI player Nicole Rogers carried a big offensive load.
This season, the Panthers are winning with a balanced offensive attack and their usual stingy defense.
Raven Black led the way against the Tigers with a game-high 12 points, Carley O’Neal followed with 10 and Lindley had nine.
“We all have really good chemistry together,” Lindley said. “We’ve been playing together since middle school, playing on different AAU and PAL teams, so I think we all just play really well together and it flows easily for us.”
Lindley helps make the Panthers go by doing a little bit of everything. She complemented her nine points in the title game with a game-high 12 rebounds (seven offensive) and some steals and assists.
“She is our lone senior and she has really performed like a senior,” Western coach Chris Keisling said. “She has what I call ‘big-play moments’ from game to game like a key rebound putback or a key drive for a score. She is a smart, savvy player. Just a true winner.”
Keisling added Lindley is the best rebounding guard, girl or boy, he has coached in his career.
Northwestern jumped to a 5-2 lead against Western, but the Panthers turned on their full-court pressure to take control. The Panthers had a 9-0 run en route to a 12-7 lead at the close of the quarter and they held the Tigers to just one bucket in the second quarter for a 25-9 halftime advantage.
The Tigers had 19 turnovers in the first half.
“Their defensive pressure really took us out what we wanted to do offensively,” Northwestern coach Kathie Layden said. “I thought we started out pretty strong and took some good shots, then they came out in that full-court, man-to-man pressure and it really took us out of the tempo we wanted to play and forced us into a lot of turnovers.”
The Panthers held the Tigers to a single point in the third quarter, building a 31-10 advantage, and went on to lead 37-10 at 5:31 of the fourth quarter.
Layden pointed to rebounding as another difference in the game. The Lindley-led Panthers had a 29-16 advantage — including 16-6 in offensive boards.
Hannah Treadway led the Tigers with five points. Brooke Treadway had five rebounds, including four offensive.
Northwestern (7-6) saw a four-game winning streak come to an end.
“I told them this takes nothing away from how much we’ve improved up to this point,” Layden said.
Next up for Western is a Mid-Indiana Conference showdown against Class 3A No. 3-ranked and defending league champion Hamilton Heights (11-1) on Tuesday at Western. They are the last two unbeatens remaining in MIC play.
“We have a tall order coming up. It’s another great challenge for us, like Lebanon was,” Keisling said, referring to a pair of games Western split against the Class 3A No. 4 Tigers last month.
Eastern 60, Taylor 39
Class 2A No. 6-ranked Eastern bounced back from a disappointing loss to Western in the semifinal round to beat Taylor in the consolation game.
“Consolation game or not, it’s Taylor, it’s a rivalry and it’s a program we respect and coaches we respect, so our kids were ready to give it everything they have,” Eastern coach Jeremy Dexter said. “It wasn’t a perfectly played game by either side. I’m sure both sides would like to be playing in the championship game, but you have to move forward and learn from your mistakes and be ready for the next game and I think our kids did a good job of that.”
The Comets (12-2) led 16-11 after the opening quarter, then pulled away for a 36-21 halftime advantage. They were up 48-29 after three quarters.
Bethany Neeley led the Comets with 21 points, hitting 9 of 12 shots from the field. Brittany Neeley added 16 points and Taylor Holliday had 15.
Holliday hit 7 of 9 free throws, a nice improvement after missing all five of her attempts against Western.
Brie Boehler led Taylor (4-11) with 14 points.