GREENFIELD — Persistence paid off for Crystal Peterson on Friday night.
Unable to find her shot early, the Greenfield-Central sophomore guard believed things were bound to turn around, and they did when the Cougars needed her the most.
With Greenfield-Central clinging to a 37-34 lead late in the fourth quarter against rival Mt. Vernon, Peterson knocked down a clutch 3-pointer to extend the Cougars’ margin and stepped up again — this time from 15 feet — for a pair of clutch free throws.
Junior Kate Real backed up Peterson and closed out the game with four straight free throws to give her a game-high 15 points, and the Cougars stayed in the Hoosier Heritage Conference hunt with a key 46-38 victory.
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Peterson finished with nine points — eight coming in the second half with the game still in doubt. She opened the game shooting 0-for-2 from the field and 1 of 5 from the foul line.
“I usually make those, especially my free throws, so I was very frustrated,” Peterson said. “At the end, something just kicked in. I think it was the intensity of the game.”
In need of a win to keep pace with Pendleton Heights (6-1 HHC) in the conference race, the Cougars (8-12, 5-1 HHC) battled through four ties and surged ahead in the second half to take the lead and never let go.
Hannah Farrell had 11 points, shooting 6 of 7 from the foul line, while Real went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line and buried three 3-pointers to put the Cougars in position to claim its fourth straight HHC win.
“My kids with experience bailed me out tonight. Hannah Farrell, Kate Real, Brittany Wheeler and Crystal Peterson, those four continue to make this rookie head coach look at least like he’s average,” Greenfield-Central head coach Joshua Means said.
“There are games that matter and games that don’t matter. And the conference is what matters for us. We’ve been super focused on conference all year long.”
The loss snapped Mt. Vernon’s winning streak at two straight. The Marauders led by as many as six points in the first half and were up 28-25 in the third quarter before the Cougars took over.
Sophia Willams scored a team-high 13 points and went 7 of 10 from the foul line for the Marauders. Mt. Vernon scored 25 first-half points, but struggled in the second half with turnovers, amounting to 13 total points.
Despite their offensive woes, the Marauders defense ramped up, but the Cougars found ways to get past their assortment of defensive sets.
The Cougars stalled for nearly four minutes in the fourth quarter while holding a 35-31 lead, but had turnover issues plague them as well. Able to get past their self-induced mistakes, the Cougars settle down the final two minutes to close out on a 6-0 run.
“We had our chances. We were down by four with five straight possessions and five straight turnovers. We score on three or four of those and we’re winning,” Mt. Vernon head coach Julie Shelton said. “It was more our 13 points in two quarters over them holding the ball.
“We got passive and didn’t get it into the post a lot. We settled for outside shots.”
The Cougars attacked the basket and drew eight free throw attempts to build on their 40-38 lead, converting them all in the fourth quarter.
Wheeler had eight points for Greenfield-Central, going a perfect 4-for-4 from the field.
The Cougars face HHC foe Yorktown on the road next on Tuesday with a chance to clinch a share of the league title with Pendleton Heights.
“We were expected to be second to last in the conference. We’re the underdogs,” Peterson said. “This was big. We really wanted it.”