NEW PALESTINE — If someone told Brian Kehrt at the beginning of the season that his team would have 15 wins with a single game left on the schedule, he probably wouldn’t have believed them.
With seniors Raegan McMurray, Cassidy Matheson and junior Emma Grable, mixed with a stable of underclassmen, Kehrt understandably had no idea what to expect entering this year.
Now, it has become very clear.
With a 70-41 win over county-rival Eastern Hancock on Thursday, New Palestine improved to 15-6 overall and is one win away from matching last season’s total.
Sophomore guard Haley Harrison came off the bench to score a game-high 18 points on six 3-pointers. McMurray added 17 points in the win, including a 7 of 7 effort from the free-throw line.
The victory also completes the county sweep against Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock, which is the first time for the Dragons since 2007.
“I wouldn’t have suspected that (15 wins now),” Kehrt said. “It’s a testament to the young girls and our seniors.
“It is nice when we can bring people off our bench (and score). All of our kids really did a nice job tonight. I was a little worried, watching film on Eastern Hancock shows they are a good basketball team.”
Royals’ senior forward Emiley Carlton led Eastern Hancock with 13 points, while junior guard Bailey Allen added seven points and six rebounds. However, 24 turnovers were too much to overcome on the road for head coach Andy Meneely’s squad, which moves to 9-9 this season.
“We had a lot of turnovers and those were our mistakes, we have been trying to get that under control,” Meneely said. “Rebounding was huge, too, they offensive rebounded 50 percent of their shots. We can’t do that and turn the ball over.
“This is a game where we knew we would get some learning situations and figure out what we need to do (moving forward).”
Four free throws from McMurray, who was honored before the game for surpassing 1,000-career points, gave New Palestine a commanding 52-32 lead with 2:10 to play in the third quarter.
The Dragons led 55-32 at the end of three after Harrison’s final three of the game. The Royals scored just six points in the frame.
McMurray, who passed the mark in the team’s last win over Beech Grove, is just the 19th girl in Hancock County history to score 1,000 points.
“It is quite an accomplishment for her,” Kehrt said.
Carlton, who averages a team-high 16 ppg, was held scoreless until the closing minutes of the half as New Palestine held a 42-26 advantage at the break.
Turnovers (12) also haunted the away team in the opening half, especially in the first quarter as the Royals fell behind 25-12 eight minutes in. Eastern Hancock shot 12 of 23 from the field in the half.
It simply had no answer for Harrison and sophomore forward Katie Herron, however, who combined for 27 of the team’s 42 points at halftime.
Harrison connected on three 3-pointers in the opening period to help her team build a 18-10 lead with just under two minutes to play.
Herron added 12 points in the first half and also grabbed a team-high five rebounds as the Dragons shot 16 of 28 from the field. Herron finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in the game.
The Royals were led by Allen’s seven points after two quarters of play. Sophomore Jenna Smith added five at halftime, while senior forward Peyton West added four points and two assists.
Eastern Hancock finished the game 18-for-41 from the field. The Dragons were 25 of 61 from the field and 13 of 14 from the charity stripe.
The Royals will play again on Saturday at Waldron at 12:30 p.m., while New Palestine will wrap up its regular season on Jan. 25 at home against Lawrence Central.