KNIGHTSTOWN — Friday night was all about respect, and the Eastern Hancock girls basketball team displayed it with class.
Facing an Irvington Prep Academy program which has existed for only nine seasons, the Class 2A Royals treated the game and their opponent with dignity as they won 51-7 in the Sectional 42 semifinals.
Never once playing man-to-man defense or applying a single press, the Royals (13-10) achieved what needed to be done while preparing for their third sectional championship game appearance in four years.
The Royals will face top-ranked Triton Central (23-1) tonight in the title game at Knightstown High School at 7:30 p.m.
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“It’s so good that it’s our senior year and we get this chance again,” Eastern Hancock senior Kaysi Gilbert remarked after her team’s semifinal win. “We’ve had this chance before in our four years, and hopefully this year we can actually finish it out. We’ve been so close for four years.”
As freshmen, the Royals’ current senior group lost to rival Knightstown in the sectional title game 59-55. In 2015-16, the team fell in the semifinals against Union County 52-41. Last year, Triton Central beat them in the title game 36-34.
The two met in the regular season this year on Nov. 12 with Triton Central winning 52-35.
“They’re a quality team. We’ve seen them on tape and we’ve seen them live,” Eastern Hancock head coach Andy Meneely said. “Hopefully, we can find where they are weakest and try to hit that area. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Before they secured their chance at a rematch, the Royals had to navigate past the Irvington Prep Ravens (5-14), who showed tremendous heart on the court with only five players and no bench.
In the past three seasons combined, the Ravens’ program has won 10 games and began competing in 2008-09. As expected, the Royals built an early lead quickly with senior Emiley Carlton scoring a game-high 16 points.
“We didn’t want to just give up because I feel like that doesn’t respect the game, but we also didn’t want to play our full speed because then that’s not respecting them,” Carlton said. “They only had five players. I give them props for coming out there and playing.”
Carlton had seven rebounds and Jenna Smith added 10 rebounds as the Royals led 36-0 at halftime.
Madison Duncan led the Ravens with seven points and Zamanena Kirby had a team-high nine rebounds.
“They played really hard. They didn’t give up, and they were very nice,” Gilbert said. “They had great sportsmanship. I was very impressed with them.”
Tonight, the Royals hope to leave an impression on the Tigers as they chase their first sectional crown since 2001. Triton Central is riding a 15-game winning streak after beating Knightstown 74-36 in the semifinals on Friday.
“They don’t shoot themselves in the foot. That’s the biggest thing I’ve seen,” Meneely remarked on Triton Central’s strengths. “They have a couple of players, obviously, but they don’t turn the ball over. They get a lot of one-and-dones on the defensive end. And when you have a team that does that, you have to do the same or else you have to make up for it in other ways.”