GREENFIELD — When the Hancock County Basketball Tournament ceased to exist a few years ago, Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker saw an opportunity.

Instead of losing games on the girls’ basketball schedule, he didn’t scramble, he went ahead and replaced them — right in his team’s own backyard.

With the creation of the inaugural four-team Greenfield-Central Tournament in 2013-14, which included Centerville, Bloomington North and Fishers, the idea took root. Now, in its current form, the field stands at eight for a second straight year. 

And it’s growing stronger with each passing installment.

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“I got the idea from a couple of tournaments from around the state, so I just decided to throw it together,” Laker said. “We had huge success with it last year, and it’s the only time you play three games in two days with the way schedules are typically put together.

“It’s a great way to get an extra three games.”

In its third year of existence, the Laker Farm Implement Service Inc./Riley Park Tire Tournament was born out of necessity but has matured from a perfect scenario.

The Cougars needed to fill a void and the Indiana High School Athletic Association permitted basketball programs an additional two games beginning in 2014-15. The result was more teams, heftier competition and a true mid-season proving ground.

Last year, the tournament was highlighted by the state’s most prolific scoring team in Class 4A Homestead, which defeated Greenfield-Central 73-42 in the championship game before finishing the season as state runner-up to Columbus North.

State-ranked Noblesville, East Central and Lebanon also brought marquee NCAA Division-I players into the fold.

Today, when the Cougars open the 2015-16 tournament against returning Richmond at 10 a.m. at Greenfield-Central, the road to victory will be just as tough.

Replacing Homestead is 4A No. 7 Westfield (13-1), which boasts two NCAA Division-I players and three college signees. 

Overall, four teams are ranked in the top 10 of their respective classes — Class A No. 6 Marquette Catholic (10-1), 2A No. 4 Whitko — with one from out of state in Louisville Eastern (9-1) of Kentucky.

Class 4A East Central (10-4) has returned while 4A Pendleton Heights (5-7) comes in as a newcomer but hardly unknown as a familiar Hoosier Heritage Conference and Sectional 9 foe.

“Pendleton I still think has the deepest squad one through eight in terms of the conference,” Laker said. “Eastern out of Kentucky is ranked, and Westfield is obviously a state power here. It’s a great field.”

If there’s one thing Laker’s team knows, it’s good competition. With the Cougars’ schedule full of quality hurdles, the path to their 10-3 record has been earned. 

Of Greenfield-Central’s three losses, two have been by one point and all three to 4A programs in Warren Central, Hamilton Southeastern and Pike (via a last-second bucket).

In the same bracket as Marquette Catholic and East Central, there’s no easy way to the championship game on Wednesday night, just one test after another.

“That’s what it is. The first 23 games are just a pretest to the real season, so hopefully, we’ll get better these next couple of days and weeks,” Laker said. “I’m looking forward to this tournament.

“We have three back and I have a list of coaches that want to play in it next year. It’s a situation where you can get better, playing against good teams and well coached teams.”

Not to mention the players, including Greenfield-Central’s Madison Wise, a top recruit in the Class of 2017. Undecided on her college choice, she’s fielding interest from several Division I programs. Facing a handful of premier talent these next two days will be a welcomed occasion.

“You look at her stat line and it’s scary. It’s unreal,” Laker said,” but she works at it. She’s in here 45 minutes to an hour before anyone else, shooting. Her and Katie Helgason raise it to another level because they just keep working. They want to get better. We want to get better.”

TOURNAMENT BREAKDOWN

Whitko (10-2): The Wildcats have their claws deep in the Class 2A rankings, situated at fourth overall after rattling off two five-game winning streaks. Whitko’s lone losses have come to 4A Huntington North, 54-37, and 3A No. 6 Tippecanoe Valley, 56-32. Aly Reiff, a 5-foot-11 junior, leads the team with 20.1 points per game, followed by senior 5-foot-10 Jennifer Reiff at 10.3 ppg. The younger Reiff also paces the squad in rebounds (5.2), steals (5.4) and assists (5.4) per game. She shoots 52 percent from the field. Brianna Cumberland, a junior, comes in at 10.0 ppg with 25 of 69 jumpers made from 3-point range.

Marquette Catholic (10-1): Head coach Jerry Bechtold’s team has won 10 straight games after losing its season opener to Class 4A Elkhart Memorial, 50-39. Freshmen Sophia and Emma Nolan power the offense, averaging 18.1 and 15.5 points per game, respectively. The 6-foot-1 duo also dominates the boards with Sophia averaging 6.8 rebounds a night and Emma hauling in a team-best 8.7 along with 4.0 steals. Freshman Emmery Joseph pushes the tempo with 6.1 assists per game while Emma defends the paint with 2.3 blocks on average.

Westfield (13-1): The Class 4A No. 4 Shamrocks come at their opponents from multiple angles. Opening the year 10-0 before losing to No. 10 Carmel earlier this month 51-48, Westfield is led by three standouts. Haliegh Reinoehl, a senior, is a three-star recruit, according to ESPN, and has signed with Akron. The 6-foot-1 wing is averaging 12.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Maddy Grennes, a 5-10 senior and Rockhurst University signee, chips in 12.4 points and 4.9 rebounds on average. Allison Van Dyke, an Eastern Illinois signee, leads the team with 14.7 points and 5.5 rebounds. Senior Abby Reeder, the Shamrocks’ leading distributor, is averaging 4.5 assists for a team that has buried 79 of 255 jumpers from beyond the arc.

Richmond (4-6): It’s been an up-and-down season for head coach Casey Pohlenz’s team, opening the 2015-16 campaign 1-5 before turning things around of late. The Class 4A Red Devils have won three of their last four games and look to build off their recent momentum. Lexus Perkins, a junior, sets the tone with a 12.0 points per game average. Her partner in shooting is sophomore Kalianna Lauderdale at 10.0 ppg. Senior Hannah Goddard leads the team with 7.6 rebounds per game and senior Raya Fields grabs nearly six rebounds for the Sectional 9 program.

East Central (10-4): The Trojans racked up 55 wins in three seasons prior to the 2015-16 opener and have already tacked on 10 more behind their undisputed star, Allie McCool. The 6-foot-1 George Mason signee is a three-star recruit, according to ESPN, and has lived up to the billing by leading the team in both scoring (16.9 points per game) and rebounds (12.1). For good measure, she is also averaging 2.2 blocked shots. A 60-percent shooter from the floor, McCool is supported by sophomore Courtney Robbins (9.7 ppg) and Corryn Caudy (8.6 ppg). McCool was named to the all-tournament team last year for East Central, which placed seventh.

Pendleton Heights (5-7): Another Sectional 9 team, which includes Greenfield-Central and Richmond, the Class 4A Arabians are potentially on course for their first losing season since 2001-02. With a dozen or so games left on the regular-season, this program won’t let it unfold without a fight. Winners in two of their last three games, the Arabians will turn to juniors Adrianne Phillips and Sam Hammel to seize a few more wins this week. Phillips leads the team with 13.1 points per game while Hammel isn’t far behind at 12.1. The tandem combines to average nearly 11 rebounds a contest while Hammel is the team leader in assists (3.5) and steals (3.5).

Greenfield-Central (10-3): The host Class 4A Cougars roster has one of the best junior players in the state with 6-foot-1 Madison Wise, but their record is a result of solid all-around team play. Of Class 4A Greenfield-Central’s three losses, two were by one point (vs. 4A Hamilton Southeastern and 4A No. 8 Pike). They knocked off North Central, which is ranked 18th in the IBCA top 20, 77-73 in double overtime and have won five straight. Wise, a four-star recruit according to ESPN, is averaging 24.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 3.2 steals and 3.7 blocks per game. Junior Katie Helgason fills up the stat sheet regularly as well with 11.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.2 apg and 2.3 spg. Flirting with the state rankings in weeks past, a few key victories could catapult the Cougars into the top 10 discussion.

Louisville Eastern (9-1): Ranked eighth overall in the state of Kentucky by Maxpreps (as of Dec. 23), the Eagles opened the 2015 season a flawless 7-0 before losing in the Lexington Catholic Tournament over Christmas break. Eastern finished as regional runner-up in 2014-15 and was ranked 13th in the state by the Courier-Journal prior to their first game against No. 15 Mercy, which it defeated 77-61. Junior Natalie Collins has proven to be a factor from the perimeter as a 3-point threat while senior Shavia Thompson is among the team’s leaders in scoring. Senior Markeia Porter and freshman Mikayla Kinnard have been key contributors so far this season as well.

If you go

Tournament Time

The Laker Farm Implement Service Inc./Riley Park Tire Tournament is set to begin today and run for two days at Greenfield-Central High School.

The host Greenfield-Central Cougars open the 12-game tournament at 10 a.m. today against Richmond. Four first-round games will take place on Day 1, followed by two consolation matchups.

Semifinals and placement games will be conducted on Wednesday.

Greenfield-Central Tournament Schedule

at the Greenfield-Central Fieldhouse

Today’s schedule

Game 1: Richmond vs. Greenfield-Central, 10 a.m.

Game 2: Marquette Catholic vs. East Central, 11:45 a.m.

Game 3: Whitko vs. Pendleton Heights, 1:30 p.m.

Game 4: Louisville Eastern (Ky.) vs. Westfield, 3:15 p.m.

Game 5: Consolation Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 6 p.m.

Game 6: Consolation Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 7:45 p.m.

Wednesday’s schedule

Game 7: Semifinal Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 10 a.m.

Game 8: Semifinal Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 11:45 a.m.

Game 9: Seventh-place game, 1:30 p.m.

Game 10: Fifth-place game, 3:15 p.m.

Game 11: Third-place game, 6 p.m.

Game 12: Championship game, 7:45 p.m.

At a glance

Remembering Last Year

Date, Game, Result, Round

Jan. 2, 2015: Gm 1 Greenfield-Central 61, Floyd Central 45, First round

Jan. 2, 2015: Gm 2 Richmond 68, Hamilton Heights 41, First round

Jan. 2, 2015: Gm 3 Lebanon 56, East Central 47, First round

Jan. 2, 2015: Gm 4 Homestead 58, Noblesville 44, First round

Jan. 2, 2015: Gm 5 Floyd Central 66, Hamilton Heights 39, Consolation

Jan. 2, 2015: Gm 6 Noblesville 55, East Central 44, Consolation

Jan. 3, 2015: Gm 7 Greenfield-Central 49, Richmond 44, OT, Semifinal

Jan. 3, 2015: Gm 8 Homestead 88, Lebanon 61, Semifinal

Jan. 3, 2015: Gm 9 East Central 61, Hamilton Heights 33, 7th place

Jan. 3, 2015: Gm 10 Noblesville 80, Floyd Central 38, 5th place

Jan. 3, 2015: Gm 11 Lebanon 71, Richmond 59, 3rd place

Jan. 3, 2015: Gm 12 Homestead 73, Greenfield-Central 42, Championship

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.