NEW CASTLE — Katie Helgason’s mind raced every which way as she watched her second free throw draw iron, trickle off the rim and plunge toward the parquet floor inside the New Castle Fieldhouse on Thursday morning.
With 12.6 seconds left, Helgason had just tied the game 46-all after burying the first of a 1-and-1 — the Greenfield-Central senior’s first and only point through nearly 32 minutes.
“My initial thought when I missed was, I have to get back,” Helgason said.
Instead, she ran forward, joined the scrum under the basket and emerged as the hero.
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Scooping up the ball and hitting a jumper in the lane with 4.1 seconds remaining, Helgason sank Class 4A No. 16 Plainfield 48-46 and pushed the Cougars into Thursday evening’s 2016 City Securities Hall of Fame Classic championship.
“Isn’t that fitting. She came back just for this tournament,” Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker remarked after his team’s first-round victory. “She wanted to come back to play specifically in this. I’m just so happy for her.”
Only her sixth game back since gaining clearance to return from a torn ACL suffered 19 weeks ago, Helgason is 17 weeks removed from surgery and almost three weeks from her first official practice.
Named an Indiana Junior All-Star, Helgason averaged 11.0 points, 4.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game a year ago. Through five games this season, the Ball State recruit has reached double figures four times and has been held scoreless just once against Connersville on Dec. 20.
The Plainfield Quakers tried to silence her a second time, double-teaming and pressing the point guard on numerous occasions. She bided her time through 30 minutes, though, her longest stretch on the floor in a single game this year.
“I definitely knew we would come out with a win. I believed we wanted it more,” Helgason said.
Until the final seconds, neither team could maintain much control as the lead changed hands six times. The game stood deadlocked three times.
Without 6-foot-1 senior Riley Blackwell, who was sidelined with a knee sprain, the Quakers jumped out to an 8-5 lead but trailed by as many as nine points in the second quarter.
Plainfield (12-4) turned to 5-9 Evansville recruit Kayla Casteel and 5-9 junior Indira Peters to pick up the offense without Blackwell, a 2016 Indiana Junior All-Star core player and North Illinois recruit.
Peters scored a team-high 16 points with six rebounds in just her second game back from a fractured foot. Casteel, an Indiana Junior All-Star, had 11 points, four assists and three rebounds.
“(Peters) did this all summer. This isn’t news to me. That’s what hurt about not having her. I don’t think everybody else realized just how good she is,” Plainfield head coach Curt Benge said. “She’s a smart basketball player. I was proud of how our girls went out and played without (Blackwell).”
The Cougars (9-7) used a 12-2 run to pull ahead 17-10 in the second quarter behind a Morganne Denny 3-pointer and pushed the margin to nine points after a Madison Wise layup against a Quaker triple team and a pair of free throws from freshman Hannah Farrell.
Wise’s game-high 23 points and 12 rebounds — all off the defensive glass — countered the Quakers’ attempts at snapping their losing streak against the Cougars. Greenfield-Central has now won four straight.
“Madison went off and got her runs. We were able to counter punch a little but, but unfortunately we were counter punching the whole game instead of being able to establish ourselves,” Benge said.
Wise, an Iowa State recruit, scored the Cougars first 11 points in the second half and 14 straight, stemming from the end of the second quarter. She shot 10 of 14 from the field and had two blocks and two steals.
Her third-quarter run gave Greenfield-Central a 35-26 advantage before the Quakers put together a 10-point swing to take the lead in the fourth.
Plainfield scored 10 points off 19 Greenfield-Central turnovers, but a sweeping baseline layup by Kate Real and another by Wise late in the fourth quarter put them up 45-41.
A clutch 3-pointer by Peters, who shot 7 of 12 from the field, with 23.0 seconds left gave the Quakers their final lead of the game 46-45.
“It’s typical Plainfield vs. Greenfield. It’s been that way four straight times and they’ve beaten us all four times,” Benge said. “We very easily could have beaten them all four times, but they seem to make a play when they need to.”