NEW PALESTINE — Before the opening tip Tuesday night, New Palestine head coach Brian Kehrt walked the sidelines and pondered.
“It’s time to see how much we’ve grown up,” Kehrt said aloud near the Dragons’ bench during warm-ups.
His team answered against visiting New Castle, surviving a back-and-forth game that featured 12 lead changes to win 51-44.
New Palestine’s lone senior starter Raegan McMurray posted a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double as the Dragons improved to 4-3 overall and 1-0 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
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The win stretched the Dragons’ current streak to three straight and avenged a tough 52-26 loss to New Castle a year ago. The Trojans had previously won three consecutive against the Dragons.
“They want to improve more than anyone I’ve been around, so I knew with that kind of attitude, maybe something special could happen,” Kehrt remarked on his young lineup consisting of three sophomore starters. “It’s a process with this group, but we keep growing.”
Their maturation unfolded in the final minutes of both halves. Down 15-11 midway through the second quarter, New Palestine put together a 10-4 run, capped by a key 3-pointer from sophomore point guard Haley Harrison off an assist from McMurray.
Harrison’s dagger put the Dragons up 21-19 at halftime.
“Once we started to settle down and played our pace of the game, we had control of this game,” McMurray said. “I’m so confident in our two point guards that they will keep us under control.”
Harrison and backcourt partner Megan Jolly both finished with eight points apiece and seven assists combined. Leah Seib, a sophomore, had 11 points and five rebounds for New Palestine. Junior Emma Grable worked the glass for six rebounds.
The Dragons pushed their lead to 37-30 after the third quarter, but the Trojans (3-5, 1-1 HHC) charged back with an 8-0 run.
Cameron Tabor scored six of her team-high 18 points during the momentum swing as New Castle went up 38-37 with 4:58 remaining.
The Trojans led 40-39 before the Dragons (4-3, 1-0 HHC) put the game away with a 12-4 run by shooting a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
McMurray converted nine straight free-throw attempts after starting out 2 of 5. She finished 11 of 14 and shot 50 percent from the field (4 of 8).
“We told each other that we weren’t losing this game,” McMurray said. “Everyone was confident at the end.”
A lesson learned, Kehrt said from a rough start to the season, which included a three-game losing streak after opening 1-0.
Falling to Franklin Central on the road Nov. 15, 51-50, after leading by 16 points in the fourth quarter, the Dragons refused to let their HHC opener slip away.
“We were up 16 on Franklin Central, and they pressed us and came back and won,” McMurray said. “Knowing that we built from that is tremendous. Two weeks ago, we wouldn’t have won this game. We would have lost, but knowing that we can calm down, make our cuts and find our shots, it doesn’t scare us anymore. We’re not afraid.”