NEW CASTLE — Something had to give, and unfortunately for the New Palestine Dragons, they flinched first Tuesday night.
With both teams entering the Hoosier Heritage Conference matchup riding three-game winning streaks, the Class 4A Dragons watched theirs end as 4A New Castle picked up the tempo and ran away with a 52-26 win at Chrysler Fieldhouse.
“I think my kids and myself included learned something about ourselves tonight, about how we have to play,” New Palestine head coach Brian Kehrt said. “Maybe we need longer possessions and get to the ball first. We need to keep games like this close rather than getting into a run-up-and-down game with them.”
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The deliberate formula worked to perfection in the first quarter as New Palestine led 4-3 and limited New Castle’s top-scorer Samantha Underwood’s shot attempts. Underwood came into the night averaging 14.7 points per game and only found one jump shot through the first eight minutes.
The Trojans (6-1, 2-0 HHC) wouldn’t let the Dragons (4-3, 0-1 HHC) dictate the pace for long, however, as they came out quick in the second quarter, making their initial run as New Palestine led 10-7.
An Underwood 3-pointer tied the game with 4:56 left in the first half, and the Trojans never looked back behind a 15-2 run to end the quarter.
New Castle built a 25-12 advantage at halftime.
“Part of it was we didn’t shoot the ball very well, and we turned it over in the first half,” Kehrt said.
“But I really felt we locked them down defensively pretty well early. They’re just a really good team.”
The Dragons shot 25 percent from the field in the first half and turned over the ball 10 times, which the Trojans used to fuel their 62 percent shooting.
A 13-4 run to open the second h alf put the game out of reach for New Palestine at 44-19 after three quarters.
“I told our kids this was going to be a tough game, and we’re kind of building for the sectional tournament,” Kehrt said. “I let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, and I told them, I’m building for after Christmas. I knew we would have some struggles, but after that, if everything meshes, I think we can be really competitive.
“I think that’s what our goal has to be and it is.”
Before the loss, New Palestine won three straight against Class 4A Franklin Central, Class 2A Indianapolis Scecina and in overtime vs. Class 4A Perry Meridian.
According to Kehrt, New Castle’s pressure defense was the difference as Laura Thomas and Underwood disrupted the passing lanes.
“I think the style in those games hurt us because we were able to score easily and quickly,” Kehrt said. “When you play a solid defensive team, and you try to score one-on-one or quickly, it plays into their hands.”
Underwood finished with a game-high 12 points, hitting 4 of 8 from beyond the arc. She was 23 of 66 for 35 percent through the team’s first six games.
Thomas added 11 points and Zoe Curtis contributed 11 points in the post, working second-chance shots off her seven rebounds. The Trojans out rebounded New Palestine 33-19.
“Hopefully, we learned that lesson tonight. We need to make that extra pass to beat a team like this,” Kehrt said. “You have to learn each night and I challenged my seniors a little bit. You can’t let one game spoil your season.”
Raegan McMurray paced the Dragons with nine points and four rebounds.
The loss marked the Dragons fourth consecutive to the Trojans with their last win in the series dating back to 2004-05.
The Dragons have little time to dwell, however, with five straight HHC games on their schedule, including four straight at home where they are 3-0 on the season.
They host Delta on Saturday before Shelbyville comes to town Tuesday.
“When you play 22 games, you’re going to lay an egg,” Kehrt said. “Some teams you don’t match up well against, but you have to learn from it. We have two home games coming up where we are undefeated, and we’ll try to keep that streak alive. We just need to keep working.”