YORKTOWN — The jitters were contagious through the first eight minutes Tuesday night, but so was the will to win, and the Greenfield-Central Cougars weren’t going to be denied.
Down by 10 points to the host Yorktown Tigers in the first quarter, the Cougars shook off the nerves, regrouped and completed their mission — capturing a share of the Hoosier Heritage Conference championship.
Led by team leaders sophomore Hannah Farrell’s 15 points and 13 from junior Kate Real, Greenfield-Central (9-12, 6-1 HHC) flipped the script to take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter en route to a 41-32 win.
The victory clinched the girls basketball program’s second HHC title in three years and prevented the Pendleton Heights Arabians (6-1 HHC) from claiming the championship outright for a second straight year.
“We told the parents, even before the first practice, we’re only going to focus on what matters, and for us that’s conference and sectional,” Greenfield-Central first-year head coach Joshua Means said. “We go 6-1 in conference, tie with Pendleton, but we beat them, so I know we don’t technically do tiebreakers in our conference, but we’re going to claim it. There’s nothing ‘co-‘ on our t-shirts.”
After the graduation of two Division I players and a change at coach during the offseason, the Cougars weren’t projected to contend for the conference, but the naysayers did nothing to deter the players’ desire.
After an 0-4 start to the season, Greenfield-Central won their first game against Pendleton Heights 57-50 on Nov. 17. Over the never two months, the Cougars only lost one HHC game, to New Palestine, 42-31, on Dec. 8.
“This means everything. Coming in with a new coach and everyone doubting us. Nobody thought we would win,” Real remarked. “This means a lot.”
Fittingly, senior Jessica Farrell, who is out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, sat sideline to cheer on the Cougars as they rallied back to tie Yorktown at 19-all by halftime.
Hannah Farrell, Jessica’s younger sister, fueled the Cougars’ 22-point second half with 12 points in the final 16 minutes. A Real 3-pointer to put the Cougars ahead 28-21 in the third quarter gave the team its largest lead until the final frame.
“I knew we were ready, but I could tell everyone had some nerves. We knew it was for the championship. We knew it was a big game,” Real said. “And they sped the game up when they started pressing, and I don’t think we were ready for that. We just kept it together and slowed the game down where we needed it to be.”
In the first half, the Cougars had 13 turnovers and finished with 22 overall as Yorktown went up 16-10 at the end of the first quarter. The Tigers surged back in the third quarter with a 5-0 run to cut the deficit 28-26.
The Cougars didn’t flinch, however, putting together a 10-2 run in the beginning of the fourth capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Real and Farrell.
“We had so many injuries and adversities this season, it’s just good to win,” Farrell said. “Throughout the season we got better.
“We’re doing it for her,” Farrell added, referring to her sister, who has endured two ACL tears in two years. “I think it means a lot to her that we didn’t just fall down after she got hurt (on Dec. 19).”
Donning custom No. 23 jersey shirts in Jessica Farrell’s honor the last few pre- and post-games, the Cougars defense clamped down on the Tigers. After Yorktown’s double-digit first quarter, they could only muster three, seven and six points in the last three.
“Once we got past the first quarter, we settled down and started playing like ourselves again,” Farrell said.
A key element to the Cougars’ identity has been control, especially when ahead. Implementing the “Means’ Delay” in the fourth, Greenfield-Central held the ball for more than three minutes total on three different possessions, which disrupted the Tigers’ offense.
Carley Culberson led Yorktown with 11 points. She had six in the first half. No other player reached double figures as the Cougars controlled the glass with 30 rebounds.
Freshman Addison Hill had a team-high eight rebounds for the Cougars, while Real added seven and Farrell hauled in five to go with four assists.
“For us, it’s all about defense. We’re holding people in the mid to low 30s pretty consistently now,” Means said. “If we can do that, we’re going to be pretty tough. We say, we don’t care if you take a bad shot, don’t worry about turnovers. If you lock up D, and you rebound, we’ll be fine. That’s what we focus on and we feel it gives us a chance every game.”
The Class 4A Cougars return to the court Thursday for their regular-season finale at home against 4A Avon before sectional opens next week.