GREENFIELD — Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker’s body language said more than enough. Friday night’s loss to Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Pendleton Heights was tough to take.
Even more so when it was preventable.
Down by six points early before pulling ahead at halftime 25-20, momentum proved elusive for the Class 4A No. 10 Cougars as the visiting 4A Arabians (3-1, 1-0 HHC) held on to win the HHC opener 60-58 against last year’s outright champions.
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“We played hard. We tried, but we made some mistakes in the middle, and we lost some shooters in transition,” Laker said. “It’s going to get a little tougher from here now. It needs to get tougher on the defensive end. Sixty points is not good. If you can give up 60 points, you’re not going to be very successful.”
The Arabians’ success stretched outside the arc where they hit eight 3-pointers, including five key jumpers in the third quarter to end their losing streak at three straight against the Cougars.
Greenfield-Central led 30-24 early in the third quarter, but the Arabians caught fire, going on a 25-2 run to build a 17-point lead.
Senior Kelsey Burton kicked off the run with back-to-back 3-pointers, and senior Maggie Dooley capped it off with another to push Pendleton Heights’ advantage 49-32.
Burton finished with 15 points and six rebounds, shooting 5 of 7 from the field with three treys. Sam Hammel, a senior, who battled foul trouble early, had 12 points.
Senior Adrienne Phillips, who had a team-high 11 rebounds and nine points, hit a three during the Arabians’ surge along with junior Lauren Landes, who finished with seven points.
“They got comfortable, and again, that’s about toughness. When someone hits a three, we have to understand that we need to get tougher on them,” Laker said. “When you get comfortable, especially in your gym, good things aren’t going to happen.”
The Cougars regrouped in the fourth quarter behind a 17-2 run as the Arabians racked up six turnovers and were whistled for seven fouls.
Five-star senior prospect Madison Wise, an Iowa State recruit, chipped in nine of the team’s 17 en route to a game-high 28 points and 14 rebounds with a pair of blocked shots.
Wise buried a pair of contested shots in the game’s final 40 seconds that narrowed the margin to three and two points. Scoreless in the third quarter, Wise had 13 points in the first half alone.
Kyrstin Bond, a freshman, contributed 13 points followed by junior Brittany Wheeler with seven. Hannah Farrell, a freshman, and Kate Real, a sophomore, each finished with five points apiece.
“That’s part of it. We’re playing two freshman, a sophomore and a junior,” Laker said. “There is a lot of nonexperience, but it’s not an excuse. We have to do a better job and it starts with me. I didn’t have us ready, and this one is on me.”
With Ball State recruit Katie Helgason still rehabbing from a torn ACL and junior Jessica Farrell out with an injury, the Cougars (2-2, 0-1 HHC), relied heavily on Wise, who faced double and triple teams.
“We did a good job of concentrating on where she was. She has a different role with Helgason out with her handling the ball more, and that’s going to make the team better,” Pendleton Heights head Coach Chad Cook said. “Being able to concentrate on her was good, but she still got to the line and we had quite a few reach calls in that fourth quarter.”
The Arabians kept the Cougars at bay late from the foul line, converting 12 of 23 attempts compared to Greenfield-Central’s 16 of 27 made.
A Hammel wide-open layup off an outlet pass the distance of the floor with less than 15 seconds sealed the win before a put back shot by Wise at the buzzer.
“We’ll see Monday. We’ll see what kind of toughness we have,” Laker remarked referring to the Cougars’ upcoming practice. “The seniors last year and the seniors before them, they were tough. We didn’t allow people to get comfortable like that, and that’s my fault. It’s on me.”
The Cougars return to the court Tuesday as they host Warren Central at 6 p.m.