Domination. If you look up the word in the North Central Conference dictionary, it says, “See Lady Kats.”

For the eighth time in nine years and the 12th time overall, the Kokomo Lady Kats earned at least a share of the NCC girls basketball championship with a 57-29 romp over the Muncie Central Lady Bearcats Saturday afternoon at Memorial Gym.

Class 4A No. 2-ranked Kokomo (16-1, 6-0 NCC) used a familiar formula to produce its 10th straight win: strong defense, unselfish passing and 4 of 5 shooting from 3-point range by leading scorer Audrey McDonald, who produced a game-high 16 points despite playing with a injured index finger on her left hand.

Kokomo coach Charlie Hall, whose teams have won NCC titles in all eight years he’s coached the Lady Kats, gave credit to his team.

“I’ve been lucky,” he said modestly. “I’ve been eight for eight in talent.”

The Lady Kat mentor must be doing something right, too. He owns a 53-1 NCC conference record in his tenure as coach and currently owns the state’s best winning percentage among active coaches at .891.

“I thought [our team] did a nice job of keeping their focus throughout the conference games,” Hall added. “We don’t set a lot of goals during the year, but this is definitely one that we set. We have another [conference] game left [next Saturday at Richmond], but we have, I guess, clinched at least a tie [for the championship].”

For Lady Kat senior forward Whitney Farris, who led all rebounders with six and dished out four assists in the game, the NCC championship is just another step along the way.

“[Winning the NCC] is very exciting,” she said. “We didn’t win it last year, and we had won it the past two years before that. It’s nice, but we’re looking on towards sectionals and getting better. That’s our big goal, to win and get better.”

Farris exemplifies the Lady Kats. While scoring only six points, her passing, rebounding, and defense were major contributions in the win.

“Whitney and Kayla [Drake] did a great job early of getting the ball to the right people,” said Hall. “This is a very unselfish team.”

Farris is a believer, too.

“We’re all about the team,” she said. “There is no ‘I’ in team. That’s been our slogan. We play hard, we play smart, and we play together.”

Early in the game, however, the Bearcats (10-8, 2-4 NCC) looked like they might spoil the Kats’ party. Muncie Central jumped out to 9-2 lead, paced by lightning quick point guard Vanneisha Ivey. But with 4:23 left in the opening stanza, Ashley Richardson came off the bench to spark the Lady Kats.

“Ashley came in and made an aggressive move to the basket and laid it in,” said Hall. “That kind of got us jump started. Then Katie Zunick came in and gave us an inside presence.”

Richardson’s lay-up ignited a 17-0 run over the remainder of the first period that included eight points from McDonald as Kokomo went up 19-9. Kokomo continued to roll in the second, with Zunick scoring four and Farris passing for three assists. The Lady Kats outscored Central 17-6 in the period to assume a 36-15 halftime lead.

Early in the third quarter the Kats put together a play that summed up the game and their unselfish play according to Hall.

“Audrey was open [on the left wing]; she throws to Olivia Martin [on the right wing]. Olivia’s wide open, and she throws [the ball] in to Rebekah Basinger for a lay-up,” said Hall. “We had two kids who, if they were looking for their own statistics, would have shot [the ball]. I think that is indicative of this team.”

That basket put the Lady Kats up 42-15, and Hall emptied his bench in the fourth period as Kokomo cruised to the win.

For Muncie Central coach Brent Tinder, Kokomo’s experienced team was just too much for his young squad. The Lady Kats were able to collapse inside on the Bearcats’ leading scorer, senior Shanese Pointer, holding her to just six points.

“[Kokomo] did collapse inside on us,” said Tinder. “I think if you look at our games throughout the year, we’re really hunting for a shooter. We have one, [Adria McCellen] a ninth-grader, but we just don’t have that second shooter right now. Teams that have zoned us and packed it in on Pointer have had success.”

Indeed, Kokomo went away from its usual man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone for much of the second half.

“[The reason for the change] was a combination of wanting to keep Muncie Central out of the paint and the fact that we needed to work on [our zone],” said Hall.

Right now, Hall hopes his team can get healthier before sectional play begins.

“Olivia Martin’s got some tendonitis, Audrey’s reinjured her left hand, and Rebekah Basinger’s always had ankle problems and right now she can hardly move,” he said. “With the seven games in two weeks and five of those on the road, we’re ready to take a couple of days off.”

Kokomo won’t have long to rest, however, as it travels to Frankfort on Wednesday before closing out the NCC schedule at Richmond on Saturday. The Kats wind up the regular season at home against North Central on Jan. 31.

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