Friday night at Memorial Gym was full of debuts.
First, there were the Lewis Cass and Kokomo girls basketball teams, both making their delayed season debuts. Both had five games either postponed or canceled over the season’s first three weeks.
Next, there was Haley Peckinpaugh making her debut as Kokomo’s coach.
Also, there was Kendal Johnson playing for Cass for the first time following a transfer from Winamac.
But Kokomo freshmen Aijia Elliott, Lilly Hicks and Kamaria White stole the spotlight with solid play in their high school debuts, leading the Kats’ charge as Kokomo beat Cass 46-43 in overtime.
Elliott was fantastic inside. The 6-foot post had team highs of 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. She made 8 of 14 shots from the field with back-to-back buckets in the OT session to put the Kats in the lead for good.
“As the kids say, she’s a dog in there,” Peckinpaugh said. “She’s going to do the dirty work — she’s going to box out, she’s going to go get rebounds and then she’s such a big body that she’s hard to guard. Now people know who she is so we’ll see how it goes.”
Hicks and White also provided sparks. Hicks scored six points and grabbed five rebounds and White offered three points, four rebounds and pesky defense.
Hicks shook off 0-of-6 shooting from 3-land over the first three quarters to drill a triple in the fourth quarter and another in OT.
“Lilly is going to be a special player,” Peckinpaugh said. “She’s in the gym before practice and after practice shooting. She has the green light from me at any time. She misses seven or eight 3s, that’s OK — keep shooting, kid, because you’re going to make the next one.
“It’s important that we coach our shooters to make sure they know they can shoot and they’re not scared to shoot.”
Other than Kokomo scoring first, Cass led throughout the first three quarters. It was 11-7 after one, 24-16 at halftime and 29-20 after three.
The Kings held a 34-27 lead midway through the fourth quarter before the Kats rattled off a 7-0 run to knot the score with 2:00 remaining. Kokomo’s pressure defense caused a pair of turnovers during the stretch. Cass also missed the front end of a one-and-one and had a lane violation on another free throw attempt.
Cass regained the lead at 1:34 when Johnson hit one of two free throws to make it 35-34. Kokomo’s Sanighia Balantine hit a baseline jumper to put the Kats ahead 36-35 at :22. Johnson forced OT when she split a pair of free throws at :05.
The teams traded the lead in OT before the Kats pulled away with a 5-0 spurt that made it 44-40 at :21.
“Our best player on paper, Chloe McClain, fouls out [late in regulation] and our team could have just folded. Instead, they rose, and we had three freshmen on the court in overtime. I couldn’t be more proud,” Peckinpaugh said.
McClain had an off shooting night, but led the Kats with five assists.
For Cass, Johnson had a game-high 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists and Paxtyn Hicks had 14 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.
Two areas sunk the Kings — 14 of 31 free-throw shooting (6 of 17 over the fourth quarter and OT) and 33 turnovers.
“It’s hard to win basketball games when you’re not consistent from the line,” Cass coach Kyle Amor said. “We had opportunities but we missed a lot of point-blank layups and we turned the ball over too much.”
Cass came off a two-week quarantine Tuesday.
“I told the girls, I’m not using that as an excuse,” Amor said. “We just have to fight through that kind of adversity. Everybody is going to be having these types of layoffs. You have to be able to overcome these things.”
Kokomo hosts Carroll tonight in a 6 p.m. varsity-only game. Cass’ game against Northwestern today is postponed, making six games altered on the Kings’ schedule.
TAYLOR 61, TRI-CENTRAL 45
Taylor put up 24 points in the first quarter to establish a lead and kept the advantage throughout in a 61-45 victory over Tri-Central at Taylor. Taylor led 24-12 after a quarter, 31-21 at the half, and 45-30 after three quarters.
Taylor improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the Hoosier Heartland Conference. TC fell to 2-2, 0-1 in the HHC.
The Titans got big nights from their two main scorers as Emma Good scored 26 points and Kelsi Langley 23. Katie Hogan added 10. They helped offset a monster night from Tri-Central’s Kenadie Fernung, who scored 31. Both squads played without a starter, and TC also was without its top reserve. Taylor had just six players available.
“Shots went. Emma Good came out like a woman possessed,” Taylor coach Tony Oliver said. “After the way we played the other night against Lebanon [a loss], I tried to hold Emma and Kelsi accountable. Boy, did they [Friday] night. I can’t talk enough about every kid on the floor.”
TC coach Mathew Corn said Taylor’s hot start was the difference.
“We just seemed a step slow,” he said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half, going 8 for 28 while settling for shots instead of looking to attack. Taylor just played harder than we did.”
TIPTON 54, DELTA 31
Tipton’s defense put the clamps on Delta and the visiting Blue Devils (2-1) dealt the Eagles (2-1) their first loss of the season. The Blue Devils led 16-7 after a quarter, 28-15 at the half, and 40-23 after three quarters.
Abigail Parker and Ashlee Schram each scored 17 points for Tipton, and Ella Wolfe added eight. Schram took 13 rebounds.
“What worked best for us was our pressure defense,” Tipton coach Chad Wetz said. “We have a goal to keep teams under 12 points per quarter and we achieved that goal all four quarters for the first time this year, against a really good team. When we can have that kind of defensive pressure often it turns into some really easy transition baskets and that was really the key to the game.”
ROSSVILLE 42, EASTERN 38
The Comets fell to 0-4 overall and 0-2 in the HHC with the home loss. Kassidy Fritch led Eastern with nine points. Tara Wagoner, Macy Coan and Addison Budde each scored seven. Rylie Davison had nine rebounds, Wagner added five assists and Budde four steals.
“The girls took on a pretty physical Rossville team and didn’t give them an inch,” Eastern coach Andy Steele said. “We really improved. We’ve got to stay determined and keep motivating each other.”