BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Another Taylor vs. Northwestern girls basketball clash went down to the wire Wednesday. This time, it was Taylor that found a way to win.
The Titans beat the Purple Tigers 43-35 Wednesday in the second semifinal of the girls Howard County Tournament to earn a spot in tonight’s championship against Western. Like the teams’ meeting on Dec. 13 (a four-point Northwestern win), the rivals took this game down to the wire. The difference was this time Taylor found ways to get things right in the closing minutes.
“I think the biggest thing is the fact we were more aggressive with the ball,” Taylor coach Dennis Bentzler said. “We’ve lost several games, three or four games ... where we lost the game in the last minute. I thought [on Wednesday] our kids wanted the ball, wanted to get to the free-throw line.”
Taylor led 33-29 going into the fourth quarter but suffered a stretch of 5:37 without scoring, spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters. In that time, Northwestern tied the game on a pair of jumpers by Sydney Zeck and Olivia McClure. Taylor pulled ahead 35-33 on a pair of free throws by Cami Hansen, but Northwestern tied again on a rebound hoop by Brooke Treadway with 3:58 left.
The Tigers didn’t score again. Taylor’s defense came up with critical stops and the Titans went ahead with a piercing drive by Brie Boehler, and a free throw from Hansen to lead 38-35 with :52 left.
Northwestern had a chance to tie or trim the lead in the final seconds but Treadway was called for traveling when she fell to the hardwood after enduring a physical challenge for an offensive rebound. Taylor’s Hannah Mullinax was fouled a few seconds later. She missed her first shot, and Northwestern was whistled for a technical foul. Then the Northwestern bench was hit with a second foul. Mullinax missed her next freebie, but Brie Boehler was 3 for 4 on the technical free throws to put the game out of reach with :24 left.
“We have worked so hard changing defenses. The kids were able to adjust [Wednesday] night,” Bentzler said. “We probably ran four or five different defenses. We had to battle so hard in the post because we’re so much smaller and I thought the kids did a great job of fronting Brooke, and we had help behind. We made it hard for her to get the basketball.”
Treadway had game highs of 15 points and 10 rebounds but scored just four points in the second half, with only one post hoop after scoring four baskets off post feeds in the first half.
Sydney Zeck and Sophia Beachy added six points each for Northwestern.
Kaitlynn Good hit three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points to lead Taylor. Boehler scored 11 points in an active game on all fronts, and Hansen scored 10. Boehler had seven rebounds and Lydia Owens added six.
WESTERN 87, EASTERN 33
Class 3A No. 9-ranked Western put the opening semifinal away early, racing to a 19-4 lead and taking a 26-7 advantage into the first stop. The Panthers were never challenged after that.
Carley O’Neal scored a career-high 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting to lead all scorers. Twin sister Caitlyn scored 19 in reduced minutes due to foul trouble. Siera Daniel added 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and Jessica Givens and Raven Black had eight points each.
“We knew we wanted to get out early,” Western coach Chris Keisling said. “We ran our press early and stayed with it and of course that got an early lead for us and kind of set the tone for the game.”
Western applied pressure in the full court and half court. The majority of Eastern’s 35 turnovers were forced by that pressure.
“Regardless of who we’re playing, we have to come out ready from the start,” Eastern coach Justin Coomer said. “Mentally, we weren’t prepared. Against a good team like that, they’ll take it to you if you’re not ready.”
Western canned eight 3-pointers in an efficient evening.
“We didn’t get on the shooters like we need to,” Coomer said. “I don’t know how many they hit but it seemed like they hit every one.”
Ally Oyler hit three treys for the Comets to lead Eastern with nine points. Jessie Sprinkles added seven.
Wednesday's scores Western 87, Eastern 33 Taylor 43, Northwestern 35 Tonight's schedule 6 p.m. -- Consolation: NW vs. Eastern 7:45 p.m. -- Final: Taylor vs. Western