GREENFIELD — On paper, Greenfield-Central’s first-round sectional game against Richmond was decided long before it began on Tuesday night.
After having knocked off the Red Devils by 30-plus points during the regular-season, the Class 4A Cougars were projected to win big, again.
As expected, the prognosticators were correct, but the Cougars wouldn’t know. They’re not listening.
“You can’t look past anyone, no matter how much you beat them in the regular season,” Greenfield-Central senior Madison Wise emphasized. “Tonight, we were focused on Richmond.”
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Greenfield-Central was locked in from the start, building a double-digit lead in the first quarter and cruising to a 68-48 win on its home floor to advance into Friday’s semifinals against Mt. Vernon (6-16) at 7:30 p.m.
New Castle (14-9) won the first sectional quarterfinal game 52-25 against Connersville (10-14) and will play Pendleton Heights (19-4) in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. on Friday.
For the Cougars, the win was their fourth in five games and upped their series lead to 16-2 against Richmond the past 15 years.
More importantly, it pushes them one step closer to their primary goal — repeating as sectional champions.
“It feels good to get one under our belt. There are still things we need to work on, but it feels good to get a win,” Wise said.
Wise, an Iowa State recruit, scored a game-high 36 points, had 13 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks while shooting 15 of 21 from the floor and 3 of 5 from the free-throw line.
Led by their 6-foot-1 Indiana Miss Basketball candidate, the Cougars didn’t miss many offensive opportunities, shooting 50 percent from the field in the game and hitting their peak in the second half.
Using an 11-0 run near the tail end of the second quarter, Greenfield-Central (16-10) pulled ahead 36-18 and led by 16 points at halftime.
In the third quarter, Richmond (4-20) charged back with an 11-3 run behind Kalianna Lauderdale’s 18 points on the night and Braxtyn Hurley’s team-high 19. But the Cougars kept their composure, turning a narrowed 47-36 lead to a 20-point margin.
A Hayleigh Loyal 3-pointer with 7:28 left in the fourth quarter extended Greenfield-Central’s advantage to 56-38 as the Cougars shot 57 percent in the final frame.
“When it comes to tournament time, and any game in general, we have to be confident and playing that hard schedule all year has really prepared us for this,” Wise said.
Katie Helgason and Kate Real each finished with 10 points for the Cougars while Hannah Farrell chipped in seven. Helagson had five assists.
Wise scored 20 points in the second half and was 3-for-6 from 3-point range.
The Cougars beat Richmond 69-37 when they last met on Dec. 22, which was the third game in a four-game winning streak for Greenfield-Central.
The aim for the team this week is to win three in a row — one at a time.
“We are the hunted. Everyone is going to want to come get us, and credit Richmond, they did a great job of attacking,” Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker said, “but bottom line, who cares if we win by 30, 40 or whatever? It’s survive and advance.
“We keep telling them — we can’t win a championship if you don’t get to the championship game.”
The Mt. Vernon Marauders are the last team to beat the Cougars in a sectional game, when they topped Laker’s team 45-43 in the semifinals in 2014-15.
“You can’t overlook anybody, especially a county rival,” Laker said. “They’re going to be gunning for us.”