The girls basketball teams from Eastern and Tipton got what they wanted Friday night: A chance to face each other tonight.
The local rivals will get a chance to settle bragging rights for the season when they square off for the championship of the Class 2A Madison-Grant Sectional at 7:30 p.m.
Eastern (17-4) punched its ticket first with a 56-38 victory over Madison-Grant (14-9) in Friday night’s first semifinal. The No. 9-ranked Blue Devils (19-4) followed with a dominating 80-46 win over Elwood (11-11).
“[The win was] pretty satisfying for our kids,” Eastern coach Jeremy Dexter said. “Tipton, Taylor and us do a lot of stuff in the summer. Our kids have a lot of respect for Tipton. I have lot of respect for [Tipton coach] Nick Comer and what he does. We wanted to play a team like Tipton in the final. Our kids are excited to do it and experience Saturday of sectionals, finals day.”
Comer was glad to see the sectional shake out this way.
“With all that Taylor and Eastern and I do together during the summer, we’ve always made it a priority in the summer talking about now matter how the sectional played out, we want two of us three to make it to the championship game, and for the second straight year we’ve been able to accomplish that goal,” he said.
Tipton beat Taylor last season for the sectional title. The Comets and Blue Devils met during the regular season on the Eastern floor, with Tipton taking a one-point win on Nov. 22.
Eastern 56, Madison-Grant 38
The Comets led just 33-30 heading into the fourth quarter but took control with an 11-0 run to start the period. Brittany Neeley got it started when she took a steal coast-to-coast for a layup. Twin sister Bethany Neeley then scored a hoop-and-harm 3-point play on a runner in the lane following a feed from Taylor Holliday. Bethany Neeley then hit two sets of two freebies sandwiched around a steal and layup from Ally Oyler.
That run put the Comets up 44-30 with 4:20 to go. It was the knockout blow the Comets had spent all game setting up.
“[M-G has] got three seniors and two juniors, we’ve played close games with them, it’s on their home floor, we just felt like they’d give us a punch early and they’d be emotionally ready and they were,” Dexter said. “It kind of put our kids on our heels a little bit and we had to work through it. All week [the message] was, ‘32 minutes, you’ll outlast them in the end.’
“We told our kids, ‘You may not see the steals, you may not see the transition points in the first two quarters, but over time you’ll wear them down in that fourth quarter.’ We’ve got guards that can handle it and space them out, we drill free-throw shooting all the time. We start practice and end practice with it every day.”
That paid off as the Comets were perfect on 15 free throws in the fourth quarter. Bethany Neeley hit nine, Brittany Neeley four and Amanda Alexander two. That shooting didn’t allow M-G to claw its way back into the game.
Brittany Neeley finished with a game-high 24 points, Bethany Neeley added 17 and Alexander had eight, including two key triples in the second quarter as the Comets took a 21-17 lead into halftime. Dexter also praised starters Holliday (nine rebounds) and Ally Oyler (five points).
“Those two kids, I really liked their performances, being able to stick with the game plan, stick to their roles and execute in an environment that was somewhat stressful,” Dexter said.
Tipton 80, Elwood 46
The Blue Devils didn’t waste any time taking control against a squad they’d thumped by 29 points in the regular season. Riding clean offensive execution, Tipton led 20-7 at the first quarter stop and 45-19 at halftime.
“We really felt like the way the past couple games went against Elwood that if we could just get on them early we could take away that slight hope that maybe they had coming in, and we could determine the way the rest of the night was going to go,” Comer said. “We certainly did that. We’ve been really sharp and really focused these last two games, regardless of who the opponent was going to be. We did what we wanted to do offensively and defensively.”
Frontcourt ace Brooklyn Juday scored a game-high 21 points, Kacie Juday scored 17, Taylor Degenkolb scored 15 — all in the first half — and Lela Crawford added 14.
“We’d like to have played a bit better and not had as many turnovers, but they’re just that good,” Elwood coach Candice Williams said of Tipton.
Tipton beat Taylor by 34 points in its opening game of the sectional on Tuesday.
“I’ve been really impressed with how these kids came to play these last two nights,” Comer said. “They’ve maintained that focus and togetherness that we talked about ultimately is what we have to have to make a deep run like we want to have.”