NEW PALESTINE — Following a painful loss at Franklin Central earlier this season, New Palestine head coach Brian Kehrt made a slow stroll to the team bus waiting outside. With a look of disbelief, Kehrt attempted to piece together the events that just took place.
Giving up a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter to cap a three-game losing streak will do that to a coach, especially with a team full of underclassmen. But with a positive attitude, Kehrt and New Palestine rolled up their sleeves and went back to work.
Now, it appears the Dragons have grown up.
With a convincing 47-23 win against Yorktown on Saturday afternoon, New Palestine (9-3, 6-0 Hoosier Heritage Conference) is just one win away from a conference title. A date with Pendleton Heights, who is 5-0 in the HHC, looms on New Year’s Eve with the conference championship on the line.
The victory also was the team’s eighth consecutive win since the loss to the Flashes on Nov. 15.
“In the short term, a game (Franklin Central) like that can hurt to lose, but in the long run it can help you grow,” Kehrt said. “As bad as that hurt, I think we learned a lot about ourselves since that game.
“At the time, I was not too happy.”
The veteran play of senior guard Raegan McMurray is one way to pinpoint the Dragons’ success.
A starter on last season’s senior-led squad, McMurray brings a cool, laid-back demeanor to each game and practice, which has helped calm some of the younger players. Rarely sped up or forced out of control, the senior has been a prime example for the rest of the team on how to carry oneself on the court — and off.
She is averaging 16.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this season and leads the team in free-throw attempts. McMurray is shooting 48 percent from 2-point range, which also leads the team, and scored 11 points in the win on Saturday over Yorktown.
Another factor, according to Kehrt, is the younger players are simply more experienced, although there really is no magic recipe. Sound defense, tremendous heart and execution on offense has served New Palestine well.
“We are really making some progress on defense, and I am happy about that,” Kehrt said. “Offensively, it’s nice when teams clamp down on Raegan. It just seems like on different days, different kids can step up. The young kids having confidence now has helped.”
Sophomore forward Leah Seib has started and came off the bench throughout the streak but is second on the team in scoring at 10.8 ppg. She has been a nice threat inside for the Dragons and has shown skill beyond her years around the basket. She had a season-high 19 points in a win against Perry Meridian and scored 11 against the Tigers over the weekend.
Seib and sophomore Katie Herron, who stands 6-foot-1, are second on the team in rebounding at 4.0 per game.
At the guard positions, sophomore speedsters Megan Jolly and Haley Harrison have shown vast improvements since the beginning of the season. Jolly leads the team in assists (2.8) and is second in steals per game at 2.2. At 8.4 ppg, Harrison is third on the team in scoring and is first in steals at 2.3 per game. She also is averaging 2.5 assists per game and has hit a team-high 14 threes.
And defensively, Kehrt said, the Dragons have forced opponents into 57 turnovers the past two games. Yorktown had 15 by halftime (26 in the game) on Saturday, thanks to a stiff full-court press led by Jolly.
“Megan Jolly is one of the best on-ball defenders that I have ever coached,” Kehrt said. “To put that type of pressure on the ball, it allows others to run around. Haley Harrison has some quickness and is starting to read things better.
“We have some pretty good athletes who are flying around and beginning to figure some things out.”
Through the winning streak, New Palestine is averaging 55 points on offense while allowing just 35 points on defense. Even more impressive, six of the eight wins were on the road.
“The young kids looked to Raegan during that stretch on the road,” Kehrt added. “I don’t think they have the nerves that they did before.”
Yorktown shot 22 percent from the field on Saturday and made only six shots during the entire game. The Tigers scored seven points after halftime, two of which came in the third quarter. Jolly and Harrison each had five steals in the win, while McMurray finished with three.
“I would like to say it’s coaching, but I know better than that,” Kehrt said with a smile.
Following the defeat at Franklin Central, the Dragons rolled through Scecina, 75-19, and came away with a three-point win at Perry Meridian a game later. Then came the six consecutive HHC wins, including an impressive 54-41 win at Greenfield-Central. New Palestine began its season with a win over Connersville before the three-game skid.
The 6-0 mark in the HHC is the first in the program’s history. With a win against Pendleton Heights, it would also be New Palestine’s first conference title since the 1993-94 season, the first year of the HHC. The current win streak is the longest for the team in approximately 18 years.
Yorktown 23, New Palestine 47
YORKTOWN (5-5, 1-3 HHC) — Bell 2 0-0 4, Irelan 1 4-4 6, Miller 0 3-4 3, Pettigrew 0 0-0 0 , Manor 1 1-2 4, Aul 0 0-0 0 , Davis 0 0-0 0 , Tucker 2 0-0 6. Totals: 6 8-11 23.
NEW PALESTINE (9-3, 6-0 HHC) — McMurray 2 7-9 11, Harrison 3 2-2 9, Seib 5 1-2 11, Herron 1 0-0 2, Jolly 2 2-4 6, Grable 2 2-2 6, Matheson 0 0-0 0 , Reid 0 0-0 0 , Jones 1 0-0 2, Biddle 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 14-19 47.
Rebounds: Yorktown 20 (Bell, Irelan 6, Miller 3, Pettigrew, Aul, Davis 2, Tucker, Team 5), New Palestine 37 (McMurray 9, Seib 4, Herron 7, Jolly 3, Grable 3, Reid 4, Biddle, Team 5). 3-Pointers: Yorktown 3 (Tucker 2, Manor), New Palestine 1 (Harrison). Turnovers: Yorktown 26, New Palestine 15. Fouls: Yorktown 16, New Palestine 12.