KNIGHTSTOWN — Emotions ran high Friday night, especially for Emily Carlton.
Every time the Eastern Hancock senior forward and the Class 2A Royals face rival Knightstown, she can’t help but put focus on the past — just a little bit.
“I was excited, definitely. I’m always excited to play Knightstown, especially when I think back to my freshman year. We lost to them in the sectional championship that year,” Carlton recalled. “Every time we play them, that’s what I think of, even though it’s not the same team, but I still do.”
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Fueled to win, Carlton scored a game-high 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to help the Royals (8-3) defeat the host Panthers 62-49.
The victory marks Eastern Hancock’s first regular-season back-to-back against Knightstown since 2012-13 and 2013-14 in a series that has swung in both directions the past six meetings overall at 3-3.
The latest chapter cut Knightstown’s series lead to 12-11 in the past 15 years.
“It’s always the best feeling in the world, honestly. I love winning against them, especially in their gym and in this atmosphere,” Eastern Hancock senior Leah Ferguson said.
With three ties early through the first quarter, the Royals calmed their enthusiasm and found their game, building a double-digit lead prior to halftime 30-19.
Three starters scored in double digits with Haley Best finishing with 14 points on four 3-pointers and a runner late in the fourth quarter.
Ferguson had 10 points and seven rebounds while Peyton West dished out seven assists with six points.
“I think the kids just got a little too amped for this one early,” Meneely said. “Basic principle of psychology, when you get too up in stressful situations, you start falling back into old habits. Every team battles that at some points. We did that a little bit. They wanted to put up a big number and they wanted to do it in one possession. It doesn’t work like that. In the second half, they controlled that energy.”
The Royals’ lead shrank to four and three points in the third quarter as Knightstown rallied back with three scorers in double figures.
Silvia Panizzutti led the Panthers with 14 points as 10 came off uncontested layups in the second half. Katie Cleek had 13 points while Jessica Butler chipped in 10.
Carlton, however, pushed the Royals back up late in the third quarter, sinking a baseline jumper after a Bailey Allen 3-pointer to give Eastern Hancock a 43-34 lead.
A jumper by West increased the advantage by 14 points, followed by a 3-pointer from Best to give the Royals’ their largest lead at 15 points with 5:14 left in the game.
“We know our identity is pushing the tempo and pressing. They respond to it, so we’ve been trying to get higher percentage shots closer in,” Meneely said. “We want to grind it down early, so we can get into our pressing and start speeding it up.”
The Royals forced 22 Knightstown turnovers, including 10 in the second half to surge ahead. Carlton’s last bucket in the post before she fouled out put the Royals up 57-45.
A Ferguson 3-pointer with 2:10 pushed the Royals 13 points in front after a Lori Thomas put back shot cut the Knightstown (4-7) deficit to 10 points.
“In the fourth quarter, we got great shots,” Meneely said.
The Royals are now 3-1 against potential sectional foes after beating Knightstown. They’ve defeated Irvington Prep and Shenandoah with their only loss to Triton Central.
Chasing their first sectional title since 2001, the Royals intend to learn, progress and improve down the stretch.
“This game, we’re taking away things. There are certain things we can’t get away with from today to beat the teams we want to beat,” Meneely said. “We have some good tests coming up. We have a month and a half to keep improving and putting the stuff in we want to do.”
Eastern Hancock returns to the court at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cambridge City Lincoln.