CONNERSVILLE — One word. That’s all Sarah Gizzi needed to stress to her New Palestine Dragons at halftime of the Class 4A Sectional 9 semifinals on Friday night.

“I asked the girls to play harder. I said, ‘We’re playing against Greenfield. What else do I have to say?'” the Dragons head coach said.

The Dragons paid attention. Down 19-15 at halftime to Greenfield-Central, New Palestine erupted for a 15-0 run in the third quarter en route to a 43-32 victory. The Dragons advance to play Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Mt. Vernon in the championship finals at the Spartan Bowl tonight at 7:30 p.m.

“Coach told us in the locker room, if we want it, then we have to try harder,” Harrison said. “We looked at each other, and we were like, ‘you know what, good point.’ So we all came out with a bunch of intensity and brought it to them. She’s a smart one.”

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The Dragons were led by Leah Seib with 13 points and four rebounds. Katie Herron had nine points and 10 rebounds, while Harrison, Tatum Biddle and Michaela Jones each had five points.

The Cougars, who were riding a four-game winning streak prior to Friday, had won the past two postseason meetings against New Palestine. They also clinched a share of the HHC title with Pendleton Heights this season, a goal the Dragons were attempting to achieve.

Motivated by their prior setbacks, the Dragons snapped their playoff drought and upended the HHC’s second champion after Mt. Vernon eliminated the other in the first semifinal in with a 47-40 win against the Arabians in overtime.

Hannah Farrell led the Cougars with 15 points and nine rebounds, burying the first shot of the game from 3-pointer range. She drilled three treys with her second midway in the second quarter, putting Greenfield-Central ahead 15-9.

“Defensively, we had to be more aggressive. We wanted to speed the game up. We had to speed the game up,” Gizzi said. “We took six threes in the first half and we were 0-for-6. We felt we had the advantage inside, so we decided to work it. We have plays to get the ball inside against the zone. We had to be patient and take care of the basketball.”

They took control in the third quarter, building a 30-19 lead as Greenfield-Central was limited to three points.

Cougars head coach Joshua Means was whistled for a technical foul with 3:21 left in the third for arguing foul calls. The Dragons were awarded 20 free throws overall, converting 14, while the Cougars had 13, hitting four.

“I think the guy who gave me the (technical), he had us earlier in the year and we didn’t have a good experience then, and I think he made the game about himself,” Means said. “My kids matched their intensity and did everything we asked them to do. It’s unfortunate when you get refs that decide to make playoff games about them. I think it was pretty obvious, especially when the other officials say they understood. It’s hard playing against six.”

Several of the calls went the Dragons way while Farrell, the Cougars’ top scorer attacked the basket. New Palestine was 13 of 16 from the line in the second half.

“If we’re attacking more on the dribble and we’re throwing it into the post more, and they’re getting calls, that doesn’t make sense,” Means said.

The Dragons won the regular-season meeting against the Cougars 42-31, but they lost to Mt. Vernon 60-47, which hurt their chances at claiming the HHC title.

Now, they look to avenge the defeat while seeking the program’s first sectional championship since 2004 in 3A.

“I’m excited. I feel like when we played them, we didn’t play to our full potential,” Harrison said. “I think we can against them, and I feel confident we can pull through, if we do. I really want to pull it through.”

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.