GREENFIELD — For the Greenfield-Central Cougars, it’s a matter of priorities. On the verge of clinching a share of their second Hoosier Heritage Conference championship in three years, the Cougars aren’t thinking too far ahead.
However, after Sunday’s blind sectional draw for the 43rd annual girls basketball state tournament conducted by the Indiana High School Athletic Association in Indianapolis, they can at least see the future.
The Cougars (8-12) and the Mt. Vernon Marauders (9-11) both received byes in the first round of Class 4A Sectional 9, which opens on Tuesday, Jan. 30 at Connersville’s Spartan Bowl.
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Greenfield-Central will face either host Connersville (8-13) or rival New Palestine (13-6) in the semifinals on Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. with both teams playing Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
Coincidentally, Connersville and New Palestine defeated the Cougars on the road with the Spartans winning 40-35 and the Dragons prevailing 42-31.
“It’s a good chance to see if we got better and have improved on some things. We’re excited about that,” Cougars head coach Joshua Means remarked on his team’s tournament draw. “It’s nice to see and have that in front of you, but really our focus is on (tonight) and making sure we finish conference strong because that’s been our goal before the season even started.”
The Cougars travel to HHC foe 3A Yorktown (11-8, 3-3 HHC) tonight for their final league game of the season. Greenfield-Central is 5-1 in the conference, one game behind HHC front-runner and defending champion Pendleton Heights (14-7, 6-1 HHC).
“Our two goals have been to win conference and win sectional, so if we can take care of (tonight), it will be big,” Means said.
The opportunity to avenge a previous loss en route to their postseason ambition holds equal emphasis, Means added. In both losses, the Cougars were slowed by injuries and suffered a significant hit when senior Jessica Farrell tore an anterior cruciate ligament against Connersville.
Prior to her season-ending knee injury, Jessica Farrell was averaging 6.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game along with 1.4 assists.
“It’s always fun being able to play teams that beat you. You feel like both of those were close games and in both we had Farrell injuries,” Means said. “In both of those games, we didn’t feel we were healthy or even close to it, so it will be nice to get a chance to play with everybody but Jess, which obviously hurts.”
When the Cougars played New Palestine on Dec. 8, Jessica Farrell’s younger sister, Hannah, suffered an ankle injury after overcoming a separate tweak in her other ankle while playing club basketball in the offseason. The timing of her second injury impacted the Cougars offense during a crucial HHC matchup.
“We were down three in the third quarter when Hannah Farrell got hurt at New Pal, and so that affected us the rest of the game,” Means said. “Then Jess Farrell tears her ACL a minute into the first quarter at Connersville. And her sister Hannah was only allowed to play a minute per quarter.”
Now, at near 100 percent, Hannah Farrell, a sophomore standout, has excelled to lead the team with 14.0 points per game while contributing 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.1 steals a night.
Her production, in addition to junior Kate Real’s 10.5 points on average, and a healthy Brittany Wheeler, a senior, have the Cougars in position to contend for their second sectional title in three years after reaching the title game in consecutive seasons.
For New Palestine, next week will mark the program’s first postseason away from Indianapolis’ south side since moving up from 3A in 2011-12. Stuck in the same sectional field with Center Grove, Franklin, Whiteland, and the likes of Greenwood in the past, the Dragons faced a difficult task.
They haven’t won a sectional title in 14 years when current athletics director Allen Cooper coached the team to a 3A championship at Pendleton Heights in 2014.
Under first-year coach Sarah Gizzi, the Dragons jumped out to a 9-0 start this season, but due to injuries the team lost some momentum late. At 5-2 in the HHC, New Palestine is 2-2 against sectional opponents this year, defeating Connersville, 52-48, and the Cougars.
They lost a heartbreaker to Pendleton Heights, 44-43, last Thursday, and to Mt. Vernon, 60-47, on Dec. 12. Greenfield-Central beat both Pendleton Heights, 57-50, on Nov. 17, and Mt. Vernon, 46-38, this past Friday.
Pendleton Heights, who is 3-1 against sectional teams, opens the quarterfinals against Richmond (11-10), which has only played Connersville (winning 44-42) and Mt. Vernon (losing 60-40).
The winner will move on to face Mt. Vernon in the semifinals on Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. with the championship on Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m.
Mt. Vernon was riding a two-game winning streak before losing to Greenfield-Central, led by sophomore guard Sydnee Perry’s 10.4 points per game. Senior Sophia Williams has been a force inside for the Marauders at 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest.
Unlike the Marauders, who must wait seven days between their regular-season finale and their first sectional game, 2A Eastern Hancock plays in the first game in Sectional 42 at Triton Central.
The defending sectional champion Royals (13-7) face Irvington Preparatory Academy (10-8) in the quarterfinals on Jan. 30 at 6 p.m., five days after playing at Tri this Thursday.
“I don’t like big gaps between games late in the season, so I am happy to be playing Tuesday and the girls are as well,” Eastern Hancock head coach Shari Doud said. “Many of the girls got to experience a hard-fought sectional last year, so they know what it takes. This sectional will be the same dog fight as last year.”
The Royals upset top-ranked Triton Central in the sectional finals last February, beating the Tigers 57-50 to secure the programs first title since 2001 before their run ended in the regional finals.
Four of the six teams in Sectional 42 have 10 wins or more. Triton Central, which is ranked eighth in the state, enters as the favorite with a 17-3 record. The Tigers are powered by freshman Tenleigh Phelps at 15.7 points per game.
Triton Central received a first-round bye and will play either Indianapolis Howe (7-9) or Knightstown (3-17) in the semifinals on Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
If the Royals advance to the semifinals on Feb. 2, Mid-Eastern Conference rival Shenandoah (16-5) awaits, led by freshman Kathryn Perry, who is averaging 19.0 points a night.
The Raiders beat the Royals 47-36 on Nov. 21, but Eastern Hancock has turned it on of late, winning three straight. Jenna Smith, a junior, paces the offense with 9.8 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. Haley Best, the program’s career 3-point leader, is averaging 8.6 points and 1.4 assists.
“There are a lot of talented teams and players in our sectional, and we feel we are in the middle of that mix of teams and players,” Doud said.
Girls Basketball Sectional Schedule
Class 4A Sectional 9
G1: Richmond vs. Pendleton Heights, 6 p.m.
G2: New Palestine vs. Connersville, 7:30 p.m.
G3: Mt. Vernon vs. G1 winner, 6 p.m.
G4: Greenfield-Central vs. G2 winner, 7:30 p.m.
G5: G3 winner vs. G4 winner (championship), 7:30 p.m.
Class 2A Sectional 42
at Triton Central
G1: Eastern Hancock vs. Irvington Preparatory Academy, 6 p.m.
G2: Indianapolis Howe vs. Knightstown, 7:30 p.m.
G3: Shenandoah vs. G1 winner, 6 p.m.
G4: Triton Central vs. G2 winner, 7:30 p.m.
G5: G3 winner vs. G4 winner (championship), 7:30 p.m.