CONNERSVILLE — Haley Harrison heard it from the Connersville student section inside the Spartan Bowl on Tuesday night.
Misfiring a jumper early in the second half, the rambunctious crowd had some fun reminding the New Palestine junior guard that her shot fell short of the iron with chants of “air ball.” Unfortunately for the Spartans’ faithful, Harrison has a pitcher’s mentality and a knack for persistence.
With the visiting Dragons opening the third quarter 0-for-9 from the field and the Spartans narrowing their deficit 24-20 with a 7-0 run, Harrison quieted the crowd and the rally with one shot.
Harrison buried a momentum-swinging 3-pointer en route to tying a career-high with 18 points to lead the Dragons to a decisive 53-32 victory in the Class 4A Sectional 9 quarterfinals.
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The shot sparked a 13-0 run as New Palestine led wire-to-wire to advance into Friday night’s sectional semifinal when they will play rival Greenfield-Central at 7:30 p.m.
“At first it started to get in my head,” Harrison said. “And then, I thought, ‘what am I doing?'”
Harrison didn’t miss another shot attempt the rest of the game, going 6 of 13 from the field and 1-for-1 from the foul line. Leah Seib had 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting to go with four assists for the Dragons, who are riding a three-game winning streak.
New Palestine shot 44 percent from the floor in the game and were 6 of 17 from beyond the arc to lead by as many as 27 points in the fourth quarter.
“This grew our confidence to show what we can do against the zone, if we’re patient,” New Palestine head coach Sarah Gizzi said. “I think we wore them down. I think they spent a lot of energy in their comeback.”
The Dragons were just getting started once they shook off their slow second half. Their defense clamped down on the Spartans (8-16), holding them scoreless for nearly six minutes after a 3-pointer by Lauren Thompson cut the lead to 24-20.
A Harrison and-1 with 1:54 left in the third put the Dragons ahead 31-20 before a steal and a layup by Megan Jolly followed by a bucket from Seib secured the Dragons’ third-quarter agenda.
“They brought it to four and called a timeout, and I told them, ‘we’re still trying to be up by 15 at the end of the quarter,'” Gizzi said. “And they just went after it.”
The Dragons finished the quarter on an 11-0 run, extending it into the fourth. They added another 13-0 run in the fourth to take a 52-25 advantage.
Katie Herron added eight points and four rebounds for the Dragons, while Jolly dished out nine assists and hauled in seven rebounds with four points. Emma Grable had seven points.
“We hit shots. That’s what hitting shots will do, and Haley hit a three, and I think that was one of the biggest shots of the game,” Gizzi said. “Of all the girls on the team, she’s probably spent the most time working on her own. In practice, she doesn’t get upset about misses. She has a short memory. We’ve really tried to promote that on the team. As long as you’re taking quality shots, shoot it.”
The Dragons (16-6) hope they continue to peak during the semifinals on Friday against co-Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Greenfield-Central (10-12), who drew a first-round bye.
During the regular season, New Palestine beat the Cougars 42-31 on Dec. 8. Their postseason meeting marks the first since the two programs played in 1999 and 2000. In both games, the Cougars prevailed. In 1999, Greenfield-Central needed overtime to win 61-57. The next year, they won 51-46.
“They’ve had some great wins over the last month,” Gizzi said. “They do the same thing and try to muck it up with the zone a little bit, and pack it in, slow it down and dare you to shoot the three. And they mix in the zone, so we’ll have to come out and play hard.”
Co-HHC champion Pendleton Heights (15-8) won the sectional opener against Richmond 59-40 and will play Mt. Vernon (10-12) in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. on Friday.
“We kind of had a chip on our shoulder. We wanted to knock it out and send a message,” Harrison said. “I think our intensity grew as the game went on.
“(The Cougars) are definitely capable, but every team in the sectional is capable. It’s kind of whoever is hot on the right night.”