INDIANAPOLIS — One year ago, the Greenfield-Central Cougars hosted the North Central Panthers and won a tight game in double overtime to serve notice to the state that the Cougars were for real.
On Saturday night, the Class 4A No. 6 Cougars served a different type of notice; they are still a team to be reckoned with despite being without two senior starters.
Greenfield narrowly fell to No. 5 North Central this time, 64-58, in a game in which the Cougars started two freshmen and a sophomore.
“With the injuries we have right now, this year’s team reminds me of last year’s to be honest,” Cougars head coach Doug Laker said after leaving an emotional locker room. “We were starting a lot of new varsity players in new positions last year, and now we started two freshmen against the fifth team in the state.”
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Despite relying on underclassmen to fill out the roster with seniors Jessica Farrell and Katie Helgason currently nursing ACL injuries, senior Maddie Wise still appeared capable of carrying her team early on.
In the first half, North Central could not contain Wise without fouling her, and 10 of her 14 first-half points came from the line. Early in the second quarter, the Cougars trailed 20-11, but Wise calmly sank four free throws followed by a 3-pointer from Kate Real to bite into the deficit and take a 27-26 lead into halftime.
Wise finished with 26 points and nine rebounds. Real and Brittany Wheeler each chipped in 11 points. Wheeler had seven rebounds.
“We came out a bit flat in the third quarter, which was my fault,” Laker said.
North Central’s guard-heavy lineup used its ball movement and speed to create open 3-point shots. The Panthers made seven of them.
The Cougars played zone defense in an attempt to contain sophomore Rikki Harris, the 17th-ranked national recruit for 2019, who finished with 20 points.
The Panthers’ 3-point shooting pushed their lead in the third and fourth quarters to ten points, which the Cougars were not able to cut into until some late pressure defense gave the Cougars a late chance.
North Central (3-0) was able to make its free throws at the end of the game, however, and it escaped with its third straight victory. The loss snapped Greenfield-Central’s winning streak at two straight.
“I push these girls really hard in practice, and they have never complained,” Laker stated. “Playing teams like this early in the year is going to get these young players ready for a tough conference season.”
The Cougars (2-1) start their defense of the Hoosier Heritage Conference championship next Friday at home against rival Pendleton Heights (2-1).
No. 5 North Central 64, No. 6 Greenfield-Central 58
Greenfield Central (2-1) – Wise 6 14-15 26, Real 4 2-2 11, Wheeler 5 1-2 11, H. Farrell 3 1-2 8, Bond 0 2-2 2; Totals: 18 20-23 58.
North Central (3-0) – Harris 6 5-11 20, Ramey 6 0-0 16, Brockington 3 6-8 13, Stallings 3 4-4 10, Johnson 1 0-0 2, Thomas 0 0-1 1; Totals: 19 15-24 68.
Rebounds: Greenfield-Central 27 (Wise 9, Wheeler 7, Bond 5, Loyal 2, Denny, H. Farrell, Loyal, Real 1), North Central 14 (Thomas 5, Johnson 4, Ramey 2, Harris, Robertson, Stallings 1). 3-Pointers: Greenfield-Central 4 (Real 3, H. Farrell 1), North Central 7 (Ramey 4, Harris 2, Brockington 1).