The mystery is over. Moved up a week by the Indiana High School Athletic Association, the pairings for all 64 girls basketball sectional sites were officially announced Sunday night in Indianapolis.
Hancock County’s four basketball programs netted good fortunes with two teams receiving first-round byes and the others placed in a path of lessened resistance with the sectional’s top opponents, according to the Sagarin Ratings, on opposite ends of the brackets.
The 42nd annual state tournament begins on Jan. 31 and continues through Feb. 1, 3, and 4. Admission for each session is $6 with all sessions at $10.
Story continues below gallery
Sectional 9 at Greenfield-Central
The Teams: New Castle (10-9), Connersville (10-10), Richmond (3-15), Mt. Vernon (5-13), Pendleton Heights (15-3), Greenfield-Central (12-9).
First-Round Byes: Pendleton Heights, Mt. Vernon.
What Happened Last Year: Head coach Doug Laker’s Greenfield-Central Cougars achieved what hadn’t been done since 2004. Able to fend off three consecutive teams for the second time in the same season, the Cougars won the Sectional 9 title, capped by a 61-43 triumph against host Mt. Vernon in the finals.
Greenfield-Central’s championship run and later regional finals appearance led to a school record in wins (23-5). Captained by Division I recruits Madison Wise and Katie Helgason, the team fell just one point short against Roncalli in pursuit of the program’s first regional title since 1988.
The Team(s) to Beat: While Greenfield-Central is the defending champion, the Pendleton Heights Arabians have emerged this season. Head coach Chad Cook’s team is one win away from clinching an outright Hoosier Heritage Conference title and a perfect 3-0 against the sectional field.
The Arabians are averaging 60.8 points per game and have knocked off Mt. Vernon 49-33, New Castle 53-50, and Greenfield-Central 60-58 already this year.
The Cougars won the HHC outright in 2015-16, but they were slowed early this season as Helgason, a Ball State recruit, recovered from a torn ACL suffered in August. The starting point guard has sparked the Cougars since she returned on Dec. 13, however, and with her in the lineup, they have won eight of their last 11 games.
The Arabians have an overall Sagarin Rating of 88.20 compared to Greenfield-Central’s 87.62. New Castle is third-best at 80.77. Greenfield-Central has the strongest schedule of the three, ranked 12th in the state.
The Most Compelling Matchup(s): If New Castle beats Connersville in the first round, head coach Corie West’s Trojans will run into HHC foe Pendleton Heights in the semifinals on Feb. 3. In their last meeting on Dec. 15, the Trojans led 28-24 at halftime and were up until the Arabians outscored them 24-15 in the fourth quarter.
A win by Greenfield-Central in the first round against Richmond will pit them against county rival Mt. Vernon for the fourth straight year. The Marauders beat the Cougars twice in the sectional before last February. Mt. Vernon has won three of its last five games and four of its losses have been by two possessions or less.
Players To Watch: Greenfield-Central senior Madison Wise, an Iowa State recruit, was recently nominated for the 2017 McDonald’s All American Game and is leading the HHC in scoring at 23.9 points per game. An Indiana Miss Basketball candidate, she is quickly nearing the 2,000 point mark.
New Castle sophomore Cameron Tabor is averaging 16.8 points per game. Pendleton Heights senior Sam Hammel is fourth in the HHC in scoring at 15.8 ppg, while the Arabians have five players averaging seven points or more.
Coach’s Comments: “It’s the best time of the year (tournament time). It’s a great opportunity for us to defend the sectional title … We are the hunted team this year … We were the hunter last year. Pendleton, New Castle and Mt. Vernon are playing their best basketball right now. You can’t overlook anybody this time of the year or you will get beat!” — Doug Laker, Greenfield-Central
“Basically, we’ve already won our first-round game and now we’re in the semifinals. The other good part about it is we will have all week to work toward the team we’ll play on Friday, which more than likely will be Greenfield. That will help our team. Even though the tournament isn’t seeded, the two best teams, according to the Sagarin Ratings, are in opposite brackets, so from that standpoint, it’s an even draw for all.” — Steve Doud, Mt. Vernon
Sectional 13 at Martinsville
The Teams: Franklin Central (8-9), New Palestine (13-6), Greenwood (3-16), Franklin (10-10), Whiteland (8-11), Martinsville (14-4), Center Grove (13-5).
First-Round Byes: Franklin Central.
What Happened Last Year: Head coach Shawn Sanders’ Center Grove Trojans rolled to their second straight sectional title and third in six years despite needing overtime to fend off Greenwood 90-85 in the finals.
Falling to 4A state runner-up Columbus North in the regional, Center Grove was 12-13 last season and are ranked 19th this year in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association’s Top-20 poll.
New Palestine lost to Whiteland in the opening round, 47-37, but exorcised that postseason demon this month with a 52-51 regular-season win at home. The Dragons last sectional title was in 2004 when they were in 3A.
The Team(s) to Beat: Based on the Sagarin Ratings, Center Grove remains the top target as the Trojans sport a 91.86 rating and have the eighth-strongest schedule in the state.
Franklin Central, despite being below .500, has the seventh-strongest schedule and is third-best in the Sagarin Ratings at 82.84 in the sectional. Martinsville is second-best in the sectional with a 90.83 rating. New Palestine is fourth at 82.44.
The upside for New Palestine, and the rest, is Martinsville and Center Grove will meet in the first round on Feb. 1, while Franklin and Whiteland will play in the bottom bracket’s other quarterfinal.
The Dragons are grouped with Greenwood and Franklin Central in the top bracket, facing the former in the first round on Jan. 31. New Palestine lost to both — 57-51 against Greenwood on Nov. 8, and 51-50 against Franklin Central on Nov. 15.
Following the defeats, the Dragons put together a nine-game winning streak, the program’s longest since 1997-98, and went 6-0 in the HHC before losing to Pendleton Heights on Dec. 31.
The Most Compelling Matchup(s): Beyond the hype surrounding the Martinsville vs. Center Grove game, the Dragons’ rematch with Greenwood should end differently.
In their first meeting, the Dragons were shorthanded without senior guard Raegan McMurray. Avenging the loss will run them straight into Franklin Central, who they led 40-26 before the Flashes outscored them 25-10 in the fourth quarter.
Players To Watch: Often overlooked, McMurray is second in the HHC in scoring with 17.1 points per game. Martinsville junior Kayana Traylor is averaging 23.8 ppg, while Whiteland junior Mackenzie Blazek is a force at 18.8 ppg along with senior Sidney Crowe (14.0 ppg). Center Grove junior Cassidy Hardin is posting 13.6 ppg.
Coach’s Comments: ”Being in the bracket opposite of Center Grove and Martinsville is definitely a plus. But, to get to Saturday night, we will have to beat two teams that we lost to during the season. A tall task but our players have shown that on any given night they are capable of beating anyone.” — Brian Kehrt, New Palestine
Sectional 42 at Knightstown
The Teams: Eastern Hancock (9-8), Irvington Prep (4-8), Knightstown (4-15), Triton Central (17-1), Shenandoah (4-15).
First-Round Byes: Eastern Hancock, Irvington Prep, Knightstown.
What Happened Last Year: Triton Central won three straight games, including a narrow 36-34 victory against Eastern Hancock in the sectional finals, to claim its second consecutive championship and fourth in five years.
Head coach Bryan Graham’s team finished 16-11, reaching the regional finals before losing to 2A state runner-up Covenant Christian 52-34.
Eastern Hancock’s sectional finals appearance was its second in three years — and second loss by four points or less in the title game.
The Team(s) to Beat: Ranked second in the state, Triton Central continues to hold the top spot. The Tigers are first in the sectional with a 75.49 Sagarin Rating ahead of Eastern Hancock at 60.64.
Triton Central is 2-0 against sectional foes, beating Eastern Hancock 52-35 and Knightstown 55-26 this season. The Tigers are 7-0 when facing 2A opponents and their lone loss is to 4A Whiteland 56-39 on Dec. 6.
The Most Compelling Matchup(s): If all things hold true, the finals will bring the Tigers and Royals full circle on Feb. 4.
Essentially earning a bye, the Royals open in the semifinals against Irvington Prep, which they defeated 75-30 during the regular season. Knightstown awaits the winner between Triton Central and Shenandoah in the other semifinal.
The Royals have lost three straight to the Tigers, dating back to 2015. Opening the year 8-3, Eastern Hancock rode a five-game winning streak before falling to 6-6 against 2A foes due to minor injuries and illnesses.
At 3-1 against their sectional, including wins against Shenandoah and Knightstown, all signs point to a potential rematch with Triton Central.
Players To Watch: Triton Central has four players averaging seven points or more per game. Senior Courtney Raymer leads the group with 11.9 ppg while senior Isabella Ratliff isn’t far behind at 9.1 ppg.
Eastern Hancock senior Emiley Carlton powers the offense with 16.1 ppg. Sophomore Haley Best carries a 10.2 ppg average.
Coach’s Comments: ”All the games preceding the tournament is preparation for this. The tournament is the goal. That’s where the banners that get hung on the walls come from. This is the fun part of it all. When you’re taking that last-second shot as a kid, it’s always for that big game, not the hum-drum game in December.” – Andy Meneely, Eastern Hancock
2017 Girls Basketball Sectional Pairings
Class 4A Sectional 9
Game 1: New Castle vs. Connersville, Jan. 31
Game 2: Richmond vs. Greenfield‐Central, Jan. 31
Game 3: Pendleton Heights vs. Winner of Game 1, Feb. 3
Game 4: Mt. Vernon (Fortville) vs. Winner of Game 2, Feb. 3
Championship: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4, Feb. 4
Class 4A Sectional 13
Game 1: New Palestine vs. Greenwood Community, Jan. 31
Game 2: Franklin Community vs. Whiteland Community, Feb. 1
Game 3: Martinsville vs. Center Grove, Feb. 1
Game 4: Franklin Central vs. Winner of Game 1, Feb. 3
Game 5: Winner of Game 2 vs. Winner of Game 3, Feb. 3
Championship: Winner of Game 4 vs. Winner of Game 5, Feb. 4
Class 2A Sectional 42
Game 1: Triton Central vs. Shenandoah, Jan. 31
Game 2: Eastern Hancock vs. Irvington Preparatory, Feb. 3
Game 3: Knightstown vs. Winner of Game 1, Feb. 3
Championship: Winner of Game 2 vs. Winner of Game 3, Feb. 4