Dragons’ defense holds strong late

For The Daily Reporter

PENDLETON — New Palestine dominated early and held on late to hand Pendleton Heights a 62-58 defeat Saturday, the first win for the current group of Dragons seniors against the Arabians.

And it was the seniors who led the way.

Natalie Kehrt scored 21 points while Haley Stratman added 12, and Carly Hackler added 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. A fourth senior, Katlyn Keele, led the Dragons with 11 rebounds.

“We had a list of teams that this group of seniors hadn’t beaten,” head coach Brian Kehrt said. “And Pendleton was on that list. So to come here and win in this gym, it’s a hard place to win against a good coach and a good team that has been playing well.”

The Arabians had placed fourth earlier last week at an eight-team tournament at Greenfield-Central, having played three ranked opponents, winning one and suffering two close losses.

The Dragons fell behind early, but took the lead for good late in the first quarter on a 3-pointer from Kehrt. New Palestine (9-4) made their first four shots from behind the arc and were 7-for-10 in the first half.

That lead began to grow in the second quarter, sparked by a plus-11 in the rebounding column at halftime for New Pal. The team’s seventh 3-pointer of the half, this time by Stratman, helped push the Dragons’ lead to 11 at the break.

New Pal held the Arabians to just one field goal and six points in the third quarter and held their largest lead of the game at 43-27 on a driving layup by junior Raegan McMurray.

Pendleton Heights went to a full-court pressure defense in the fourth quarter and began to find success getting to the basket.

“The first half we dominated, but they came at us hard in the second half,” Brian Kehrt said. “Good teams always make a run, and when these kids were younger, they might have wilted. I’m really proud of our kids”

The Arabians closed to three points at 54-51 when junior Sam Hammel converted a three-point play with just over a minute to go. But the Dragons, who shoot over 70 percent at the line as a team, converted 8 of 10 free throws in the final minute and were able to hold off the furious Pendleton Heights rally.

With four Dragons in double-figures, Brian Kehrt said he feels the team’s balance makes New Palestine very tough to defend.

“We have some kids playing really well right now, top to bottom,” he said. “I think that makes us dangerous. I don’t see one kid where the other teams can just focus on stopping that one player.”

Pendleton Heights (6-10) was led in scoring by junior Adrienne Phillips with 18 and sophomore Lauren Landes with 12, but could not overcome New Palestine’s 38-26 rebounding edge.