NEW PALESTINE — The past and the present intertwined for Raegan McMurray on Wednesday night.
Honored along with New Palestine’s only other senior, Cassidy Matheson, on the Dragons’ home floor one last time, before the opening tip against Lawrence Central, the star guard played back her career momentarily.
From nine wins as a freshman to 12 the year after, McMurray and the Dragons made it back-to-back 16-win seasons with a solid 62-49 win against the visiting Bears.
For McMurray, however, the future fueled her performance on the court en route to a satisfying senior night victory to give the Dragons an 11-7 all-time series lead against Lawrence Central.
“I’ve been thinking about sectional a lot the last couple of games,” McMurray remarked after her team’s regular-season finale. “I think about sectional, and I think we got this, there’s a chance. I’m pretty excited.”
Her anticipation shined under the senior spotlight as McMurray posted a game-high 24 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the field and 10 of 12 from the free-throw line.
“It’s crazy. Four years flies by so fast. Now, the season is almost over,” McMurray said. “Winning on senior night means a lot to any senior. It’s one big last home game. It means a lot to me, and my team played great today. They played for us.”
Wrapping up the regular-season with a 16-6 record, the Dragons built an early 25-12 lead against Lawrence Central behind an 11-2 run and never looked back. At one point, the margin swelled to 22 points in the third quarter with the Dragons capping their historic season on a four-game winning streak.
By defeating the Eastern Hancock Royals last Thursday, New Palestine won the de facto Hancock County title by sweeping all three rivals. The feat marked the first time in program history since 2006-07.
In the process, the Dragons secured a runner-up placement in the Hoosier Heritage Conference at 6-1, posted consecutive 16-win seasons for the first time in 20-plus years, and McMurray became the first player in 23 years to reach 1,000 career points.
She enters next week’s Class 4A Martinsville Sectional with 1,044 points in 86 games played. The last New Palestine girls player to surpass the mark was 1994 Indiana All-Star Sarah (Haynes) Gizzi, who reached 1,172 points.
“(Raegan and Cassidy) are two incredible young ladies that have taken this program to a different level. When they came over, the year before they were freshmen, this team went 3-18. Since then, they’ve gone from 9 to 12 to 16 wins twice in a row now,” New Palestine head coach Brian Kehrt said. “What a jump, and it’s a credit to their leadership.”
Their grittiness was on display against the Bears (4-17), especially from McMurray, who hauled in eight rebounds. Sophomore Katie Herron followed her lead and had eight points and 12 rebounds.
Emma Grable, a junior, added six points, along with freshman Jordan Reid, who also chipped in six rebounds. Sophomore Leah Seib had seven rebounds and four points.
The Dragons led 34-15 by halftime as the defense held the Bears scoreless for three-plus minutes and the offense scored 11 straight unanswered points.
“We were running our offense, and when we do I feel we can get mostly anything we want from it,” McMurray said. “If we do that in the postseason, I think we’ll be good.”
The Dragons face Greenwood in the sectional opener on Tuesday night at 7 p.m., against team they lost to without McMurray on Nov. 8 this season 57-51.
If they win, they will get a crack at another revenge game against Franklin Central in next Friday’s semifinals. The Flashes bested New Palestine 51-50 on Nov. 15.
“It’s a tough sectional, and driving an hour from here, especially for our fans makes it tougher, but we’ve had stretches this season where on any given night we can beat anybody,” Kehrt said. “We just haven’t put it together yet. If that happens in the tournament, we can be a dangerous team.
“I have a lot of confidence in these girls.”