CHARLOTTESVILLE — The Knightstown Panthers buried the first bucket on rivalry night at Eastern Hancock High School, but their lead wouldn’t last long.
Down 2-0 momentarily, the host Royals ignited the scoreboard for nine field goals in the first quarter and put together a 19-2 run to beat Mid-Hoosier Conference foe Knightstown 74-44 on Friday.
“This is a heated, huge rivalry, and the girls definitely came to play tonight,” Eastern Hancock head coach Shari Doud said. “It certainly helps when you have more than one or two players hitting shots. We were hitting a pretty good clip out there.”
The Royals (9-3, 2-2 MHC) shot 54 percent from the field and had three players finish in double figures to snap a two-game losing streak against Knightstown (1-10, 0-6 MHC).
The Class 2A Panthers defeated the 2A Royals, 65-63, on Dec. 19, 2014, and eliminated them during the 2013-14 sectional finals the year prior, 59-55.
During the team’s 25th meeting in 15 years, the margin wasn’t nearly as close, as shots fell from every angle for the Royals after the game’s first four minutes.
Haley Best scored a team-high 17 points, coming off the bench, and fueled her team’s initial — and decisive — run, shooting 5-for-6 from 3-point range.
The 5-foot-2 freshman guard knocked down her first two treys in the opening quarter and added an assist to Emiley Carlton for a baseline jumper to put the Royals ahead 17-4.
“It’s always important to get out there and get a good lead. It gets us excited and ready to go,” Best said. “This was a big game.”
Best dropped another pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter on back-to-back possessions, blowing the game wide open 29-9.
“Once I hit that first one, I was on fire pretty much,” Best said.
The entire Royals lineup contributed, with Kaysi Gilbert providing 15 points on 7 of 8 shooting and three assists. Carlton had 11 points.
Leah Ferguson led the offense with four assists and Peyton West pulled down a team-high five rebounds as Eastern Hancock took advantage of 10-first quarter turnovers by Knightstown (16 in the first half).
Eastern Hancock’s lead grew to 30 points early in the third quarter behind a Hope Spaulding jumper that capped an 8-0 run. Another shot by Best — this time a two-pointer — in the third quarter pushed the lead to game-best 34 points. Best was 6 of 8 from the field.
“This was a real important win to get us more confident in ourselves,” Best said. “To lose two games and come back and win a big game means a lot.”
Eastern Hancock dropped two of their last three entering the night but improved to 4-0 against potential Sectional 42 opponents.
Brooke Vise led the Panthers with a game-high 18 points and 12 rebounds.
“It’s always nice to beat the neighbor, the one we know, and they’re a sectional opponent,” Doud said. “We could be looking at them again, and you know it could be a whole different season at that point. We’ll enjoy this one for the weekend.”
The Royals return to the court at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at home against Cambridge City Lincoln.