FORTVILLE — After defeating New Castle on Tuesday night in the opening round of Sectional 9, Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker spoke of the balance and talent within the Pendleton Heights basketball program.
He called the Arabians head coaching position, which was vacant over the summer, a “plum job.”
Pendleton Heights proved worthy of the compliment Friday, taking the No. 15 Cougars down to the wire in the sectional semifinal.
However, behind a dominant performance from Greenfield-Central junior Madison Wise in the fourth quarter, the Cougars overcame the Arabians punches and earned a 58-50 win.
Three-pointers from junior Katie Helgason, freshman Kate Real and senior Savannah Girolami in the pivotal fourth period, mixed with 13 points from Wise, helped Greenfield-Central outscore Pendleton Heights 26-15 and earn its ninth-straight win after trailing nearly the entire game.
Wise finished the game with 27 points and eight rebounds while Girolami, who missed the New Castle game after a hard blow to the head, added 12 points.
“I thought we kept coming at them,” Laker said after the game. “It was the heart in our team. We refused to lose. It was a group effort from everyone.
“They (Pendleton Heights) are a solid, solid team. They are young and all coming back.”
With the win, Greenfield-Central moves on to face Mt. Vernon in the sectional championship today at 7:30 p.m. The Cougars beat the Marauders 75-40 on Jan. 22.
Greenfield-Central (21-4) trailed Pendleton Heights 35-32 at the end of the third quarter and took its first lead of the second half with just under four minutes remaining in the game. A Wise basket and a free throw put the Cougars ahead 43-41.
Wise would score again to extend the Cougars lead to four, but a 3-pointer from junior Kelsey Burton, who finished the game with 10 points, at the top of the key pulled the Arabians (12-13) within one, 45-44, with 3:15 left.
After trading baskets — much like the entire game — Girolami added her second 3 of the game with 1:30 left in regulation, giving Greenfield-Central breathing room (52-48) until the final free-throw filled minute.
From there, Wise would knock down six-straight freebies at the line to seal the win.
Pendleton Heights, which led 22-20 at halftime, saw three players score 10 points, with junior Maggie Dooley and sophomore Lauren Landes joining Burton in double figures. Junior Sam Hammel added nine points while junior Ashley King finished with seven.
Dooley gave the Arabians an 11-3 lead with 40 seconds remaining in the first quarter. A Girolmai 3-pointer just before the buzzer kept the Cougars close, 11-6, however, Greenfield-Central finished 1 of 8 from the field in the opening period.
“There were some bad calls (in the first half),” Laker said. “It was just inconsistent.”
For the game, the Cougars shot 22 of 39 (56 percent) from the field while Pendleton Heights finished 13-for-34 (38 percent).
Greenfield-Central, which had eight players score against the Arabians, is one step away from its first sectional title since 2003-04 season under head coach Donna Buckley.
And although Greenfield-Central topped Mt. Vernon by a lopsided margin just weeks ago, Laker knows the Marauders are much healthier than they were in the team’s first meeting.
“They are a great team led by a great player (in Sydney Shelton),” Laker said of the Marauders. “She is one of Hancock County’s best guards of all time — boy or girl. It will be fun.”