NEW CASTLE — For four years, the Greenfield-Central seniors have wanted nothing more than a chance.
On Thursday night, they embraced their opportunity and dominated en route to the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic Tournament championship inside the historic New Castle Fieldhouse.
After winning a thriller against No. 16 Plainfield in the morning session 48-46, the Class 4A Cougars (10-7) put together their best game of the season in the tournament finale, running away with the trophy by defeating 3A No. 1 North Harrison 61-37.
“We been wanting to get into this tournament since our freshman year,” Greenfield-Central senior Katie Helgason said. “We got into this year and we’ve been looking forward to it and winning. It’s awesome.”
The Cougars finished the game with three players in double figures with each being named to the All-Tournament team.
Madison Wise posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. She added five assists and a blocked shot. Fellow senior Katie Helgason had 14 points, five rebounds and two assists.
The Cougars were led, however, by sophomore Kate Real with 19 points, six rebounds and a perfect 4-for-4 shooting from 3-point range.
Greenfield-Central shot 52 percent in the first half and converted 45 percent of its shots in the second half to finish at 48 percent overall.
Crashing the defensive boards, the Cougars hauled in 36 rebounds, including 29 on North Harrison’s end of the court, which opened up their up-tempo style.
“We’re starting to come together as a team,” Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker remarked after his team’s sixth win in seven games. “I thought we did a great job of handling their pressure, their 2-2-1, their 1-2-2, going over the top. We could get anything we wanted at times and in the second half we did a really good job of adjusting.”
Up 28-21 at halftime, the Cougars put the game out of reach behind a 16-2 run to open the third quarter, capped by an assist from Wise to senior Morganne Denny to put them up 44-23.
Real opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers as the team shot 8 of 12 from beyond the arc.
“We almost have to beg her to shoot the basketball,” Laker joked when referring to Real’s perimeter prowess. “When she shoots the ball, she does a great job.”
The Cougars’ defense clamped down in the second half, holding North Harrison to five points in the third quarter and ultimately handing them its fourth loss in 46 games.
“We came out of the locker room just booming,” Helgason said. “It was awesome. Our team chemistry came together today.”
Sophomore Lilly Hatton paced the North Harrison with 17 points and nine rebounds in addition to five blocks, but North Harrison struggled in the second half, shooting 20 percent from the floor. For the game, they were 29 percent and only hit 1 of 16 3-pointers.
“How about our defense. We thought we could run against them, and a lot of it was 4A basketball. We play the Homesteads, you go down the list, we play anybody and everybody,” Laker said. “Hopefully, that will get us more championships. That’s what we’re working on. This is the first. Let’s go get another one in about another month and a half.”
The Cougars lead swelled to 28 points late in the fourth quarter as Wise, an Iowa State recruit, buried a pair of free throws for her final points. She jogged to the bench seconds later to loud applause.
After the game, she was awarded the tournament’s most valuable player honor.
“We played really well as a team. Katie (Helgason) stepped up, Kate Real stepped up, the bench played hard. We definitely won this as a team,” Wise said. “(Real) knew what she had to do and played really well. She picked up her game on both sides.
“We wanted this win because it’s the neatest tournament in Indiana.”