NEW PALESTINE — Sometimes a fluky play can spark a run few saw coming. On Saturday afternoon, the New Palestine Dragons nearly became victims of that scenario in their 52-51 victory against the visiting Whiteland Warriors.
“I really thought (Whiteland) was sparked by a banked-in 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter,” Dragons head coach Brian Kehrt said after New Palestine snapped its two-game losing streak against the Warriors. “That just seemed to really energize them.”
At the time of the banked-in shot, the Dragons were leading 41-30 and in firm control of the game since early in the second quarter.
Whiteland’s 6-foot-2 junior Mackenzie Blazek minimized the paint defensively, which forced the Dragons to shoot from outside and kept the game close throughout the first quarter.
However, after Blazek picked up her second foul, the Dragons’ offense was able to build a lead as big as 13 points before heading into halftime ahead 28-19.
Leading the way for the Dragons in the first half was sophomore guard Haley Harrison, who finished the game with 19 points and four 3-point field goals. Harrison came off the bench in this game, which was a change.
“I was so proud to see Haley come out and play the way she did,” Kehrt said. “She had a tough game against Triton Central, and we thought if she came off the bench it would pay dividends.”
The third quarter belonged to Dragons’ senior star Raegan McMurray. After Blazek scored two quick baskets to give Whiteland some life, McMurray was on a mission, scoring on a spin-move to the basket and a driving layup as time expired in the quarter to provide the Dragons with a 41-27 lead.
The Warriors would make two 3-pointers in their first two possessions in the fourth quarter however. That, combined with increased pressure on defense, allowed the Warriors to go on a 15-2 run to tie the game at 45-45.
With the Dragons forced to double team Blazek in the post, the Warriors were able to make five shots from beyond the arc in the last quarter and turn a previously forgettable game into a memorable one.
“The shots we were getting (during the Whiteland run) weren’t necessarily bad shots,” Kehrt said. “But their pressure sped us up and we need to focus on getting even better looks in close games late.”
After Whiteland drained a three to tie the game at 51, McMurray took the ensuing in bounds pass, dribbled the length of the floor and was fouled with 1.3 seconds left.
After missing the first free throw, she calmly sank the second. A full-court pass to Blazek actually connected for the Warriors, but her shot came up short off the glass, and the Dragons won 52-51.
Whiteland defeated New Palestine twice last last year, both in the regular season and in the Class 4A Sectional 13 tournament. If they meet again, it will be for the sectional title next month.
“After letting a lead slip away at Triton Central, I’m glad to see we have the ability to stay poised enough to pull out a victory in a game like this,” Kehrt said.