FORTVILLE — With both teams ranked among the state’s top 20, Tuesday’s first-round matchup between Class 4A Greenfield-Central and New Castle felt more like a sectional championship.
Behind a complete team effort, said coach Doug Laker, the No. 15 Cougars held off their Hoosier Heritage Conference foe in overtime 40-37 en route to the team’s eighth-straight win.
Tied at 32-all at the end of regulation, Greenfield-Central, which is ranked 10th in its class, outscored No. 17 New Castle 8-5 in the bonus period to pull away for good.
“We were more aggressive in overtime,” Laker said. “We are such a team. Neither team deserved to lose this game. Both of us were going after each other.
“But hey, it’s only Game 1. You have to win three (to win the title) if I remember correct.”
With the victory, the Cougars move on to face Pendleton Heights (11-12) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals. Mt. Vernon (16-8) will play Richmond (8-13) in the first semifinal at 6 p.m.
The most recent time Greenfield-Central and New Castle met, the Trojans had no answer for the junior tandem of Madison Wise and Katie Helgason.
This time, however, senior Madeline Gibson wanted in on the fun. The guard finished with nine points and hit three humongous 3-pointers, including one in a back-and-forth second half.
“That’s why we’re a team,” Laker said.
Wise finished with a game-high 21 points.
Helgason, who added seven points, four assists and four steals, got on the board first in overtime after a rebound and layup to make it 34-32 Cougars. Wise followed with another layup as Greenfield-Central appeared to be in total control.
The Trojans would answer, however, much like the entire game, with free throws from senior guard Laura Thomas, who scored a team-high 12 points. But they couldn’t stop the Cougars from getting to the line.
After two more free throws from Wise, Thomas completed an and-1 to pull her team within one, 38-37. However, a free throw apiece from Wise and Helgason, plus timely rebounding, was enough to sneak past New Castle and into the second round.
The two teams were deadlocked at six-all after the first quarter. Two key 3-pointers from Gibson in the second quarter was enough to give the Cougars a 20-16 lead at the break, though.
Greenfield-Central handed New Castle its largest defeat of the regular season 50-39 on Jan. 15. Helgason finished with 18 points while Wise added 15 in the win.
For the game, the Cougars shot 34 percent (13 of 38) while the Trojans finished at 37 percent (15-for-41) on Tuesday.
Greenfield-Central senior guard Savannah Girolami suffered a hard blow to the head just minutes into the game and was unable to return, although she might be back for Friday’s contest.
That next opponent, Pendleton Heights, is no pushover according to Laker.
“One through eight, they have some talent,” he said. “I am telling you when that job opened up, it was a plum job. They have a lot of talent in that program. They have great kids. They want to win, and they play hard.”