GREENFIELD — The despair in Madison Wise’s eyes voiced her disbelief with overwhelming heartbreak Saturday night.
Recording her fifth foul with 28.6 seconds left in the Sectional 9 finals, the Greenfield-Central senior peered up at the scoreboard before her emotions overwhelmed her as she headed to the sideline.
Walking off her home court to a standing ovation — for the last time in her illustrious career — the most prolific player in program history had nothing left to give, and yet, had so much more.
It was over, and it cut deep as the Class 4A Cougars lost 51-41 to New Castle in the championship game.
“It’s hard. You don’t realize it until it’s over,” Wise remarked on the finality of the evening while wiping tears from her eyes. “We just couldn’t finish it. We just couldn’t get it done tonight.”
Though halted from a sectional repeat, Wise and the Cougars did everything they could to make it happen, despite battling adversity at every turn — in the game and all year long.
Wise scored a game-high 27 points, shooting 12 of 23 from the field, and grabbed a team-best nine rebounds to increase her school-record career total to 1,089.
The 6-foot-1 Iowa State recruit pushed her historic career point total to 2,109, the most in Greenfield-Central High School history, ahead of John Hamilton’s 2,064, to place her among the state’s top 25 girls’ basketball scorers of all-time.
“She’ll go down as the greatest basketball player in Greenfield-Central history. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I’m so proud of her and all of these girls,” Cougars head coach Doug Laker said. “But give New Castle credit. They took it to us in the second half.
“The shots just didn’t fall.”
After building a double-digit lead in the first half, the Cougars (17-11) struggled to find their offense in the final 16 minutes as the Trojans (16-9) rediscovered theirs.
Greenfield-Central led by 10 points three times before taking a 24-17 halftime lead behind 45 percent shooting as a team and 16 first-half points from Wise.
In the third quarter, however, nothing fell for the Cougars, who shot 18 percent in the frame (29 percent in the half) and went scoreless for 8 minutes, 37 seconds while their lead dissipated.
A 16-0 run by New Castle, which carried over from the third quarter and into the fourth, turned the tide, which Greenfield-Central couldn’t overcome.
“Our offense wasn’t flowing, and our defense wasn’t there,” Wise said. “They were hitting shots, and we just weren’t defending our greatest.
“I knew we could win the championship, but we just didn’t play our best tonight.”
Without sophomore shooting guard Kate Real, who suffered a torn ACL during a full-speed practice scrimmage Thursday, the Cougars labored to contain and match New Castle’s attacking back court.
Olivia Porter, who finished with a team-high 19 points, sliced to the basket for eight of the Trojans’ points during their decisive swing. Cameron Tabor kicked off the run with a layup and capped it with one of her two daggers from beyond the arc. She had 14 points.
Hannah Farrell had seven points for the Cougars while senior point guard Katie Helgason, a Ball State recruit, still slowed less than two months after being cleared from a torn ACL, gritted through for two points.
Shorthanded from the beginning of the year as starting junior forward Jessica Farrell went down with her own season-ending knee injury, the Cougars pushed themselves the past three months.
Against New Castle, their fatigue spun full circle.
“Honestly, we chased all year long, losing Jess. She was our most improved player this summer, then you have Kate Real, who became a knockdown shooter for us,” Laker said. “Kate Helgason was maybe at 30 percent.
“We were battling with all of these injuries. But it’s a part of life. You have to be able to adjust, and our kids adjusted all year. We were just tired.”
A Wise 3-pointer with 5:41 remaining cut the deficit 36-31, but the Cougars never pulled any closer as New Castle shot 71 percent in the fourth quarter and converted 8 of 10 free throws. The final two came after Wise sat on the bench where her teammates shared her pain.
“Being a family all four years, knowing we always had each others backs is what I’m going to be most proud of,” Wise said, taking a moment to collect herself. “These past four years have been great. I’m so thankful for all of my teammates in years past and this year.”