Another Rivalry Game Awaits Cougars

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RICHMOND — With approximately 11 seconds left on the clock, Greenfield-Central sophomore Dylan Moles hauled in Wednesday night’s final defensive rebound along the baseline and nonchalantly dribbled up the court.

The elation within the Tiernan Center grew as the last remaining ticks wound down finalizing Greenfield-Central’s 72-59 victory over rival New Palestine during the Class 4A Sectional 9 quarterfinals in Richmond.

The Cougars’ fans stood and cheered while the student section jumped around and echoed their support in anticipation of an on-court celebration.

Moles didn’t break his focus or stride. Neither did junior Gavin Robertson, who hovered nearby in the backcourt.

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Once the final horn sounded, the Cougars’ bench and some of the on-court players rushed towards their classmates in the stands as the decibels boomed.

Moles and Robertson didn’t join the festivities.

Instead, the duo shook hands with the former back-to-back sectional champion Dragons, who headed to their locker room, and then followed suit, exiting without a single high-five or fist pump.

The victory was momentous without question, but it wasn’t the end goal.

It wasn’t a sectional championship. Something the Cougars haven’t captured since 1998 in Shelbyville when the program was classified 3A.

Prior to Wednesday, the Cougars (14-9) hadn’t beaten the Dragons (14-9) in five consecutive meetings and trailed in the overall series 28-27 dating back to 1984-85.

The Dragons defeated the Cougars 68-58 on Dec. 11 during the regular-season, so Greenfield-Central’s opening-round upset punctuated a milestone with New Palestine winning 17 of its 21 prior meetings against their county rival.

The last time the two programs met in the postseason, New Palestine prevailed, 60-45, in the 2018-19 sectional tournament in Richmond.

In state tournament contests, the Dragons held a 7-3 record versus the Cougars before Wednesday night and hadn’t endured defeat in an opening sectional game since losing to Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, 59-50, in 2015-16.

Moles and Robertson eventually let loose after the victory, but they waited until they reached the locker room, behind closed doors, where Cougars head coach Luke Meredith and his team released four years of frustration in two words: "Let’s go!"

Unable to secure a sectional win since 2016-17, the Cougars brought the "juice" to advance into tonight’s second sectional semifinal at 8 p.m. against another rival in Hoosier Heritage Conference co-champion Mt. Vernon (15-6).

On Wednesday, the Cougars charged back from an initial five-point, first-quarter deficit to lead by 11 at halftime and never let up despite a second-half Dragons’ comeback attempt.

Greenfield-Central’s 72 points marked its highest offensive output of the season. 

A 10-2 run in the second quarter gave Greenfield-Central a 17-14 lead, and a 12-2 run heading into halftime made it 29-18 with the Cougars in position to enact some revenge.

"We’re this team that everyone has been told for so long that we can’t do something and we slayed the dragon. We got the monkey off our back," Meredith said. "It started last year with this group, and now this year it has carried over and we’ve had some success and we’ve won more games than anyone thought we would."

A 12-12 team in 2019-20, the Cougars haven’t won more than a dozen games since going 20-5 in 2015-16. 

Against the Dragons, the Cougars utilized efficiency and grit to continue their upward trend.

Greenfield-Central has gone 4-1 since Feb. 12 and has amassed an 8-3 record over the past six-plus weeks to post its best single-season wins total in Meredith’s two-year tenure.

Their victory march on Wednesday was initiated by Moles, who had a game-high 20 points on 5 of 8 shooting. He was 9-for-12 from the free-throw line with three steals and five assists.

The 6-foot-1 guard knocked down a crucial jumper with 37.8 seconds remaining before the fourth quarter to give Greenfield-Central a 43-39 lead, and the Cougars continued the run in the fourth.

The Cougars’ 9-3 run midway through the second half increased their lead to 50-42, which they followed up with a 7-0 swing to fend off the Dragons.

The Cougars’ defense sparked the offense. As a result, the Dragons committed nine first-half turnovers and committed 18 second-half fouls.

Robertson had 19 points with 15 scored in the first half, including consecutive transition layups off steals from Adam Lester and Moles to cap a 22-point second quarter.

New Palestine shot 37 percent from the field in the first half (6 of 16), while the Cougars never dropped below 50 percent. Greenfield-Central converted 11 of 21 attempts from the field in the first half (52 percent) and were 10 of 17 (58 percent) in the second half.

The Dragons finished at 44 percent shooting overall behind a 15-of-31 conversion rate in the second half (48 percent), but Moles and the Cougars never trailed after deadlocking the game 12-all.

A Robertson 3-pointer off a Rashawn Street swing pass on the perimeter with 5:59 left in the second quarter tied it up, and a Caleb McIntire trey with 4:10 on the clock broke a momentary 14-all stalemate.

"There was a play in the fourth quarter where the ball was trickling out and (New Palestine’s Eli) Stephens was the only one who could get it, and there were three white jerseys on it first," Meredith said. "That’s the definition of Greenfield-Central basketball."

Selfless is another program characteristic with three players in double-figures and a combined 22 of 28 free throws made, including 17 of 22 in the fourth quarter.

Joey Roland had 12 points while going 6-for-6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Street added eight points and went 3-for-4 from the stripe. Lester had five points (2-for-2 on free throws). Will VanDuyn had five points on 2 of 2 shooting in the third quarter.

The cohesive production countered New Palestine’s Steele Brasfield’s team-high 15 points.

New Palestine turned a 37-21 deficit into a one-possession game with 1:15 remaining until the fourth quarter as Brasfield accounted for eight of the Dragons’ 12 points during a 12-2 run in the third quarter.

Brasfield’s dagger 3-pointer chipped away at the Cougars’ lead, 39-37, and a mid-range jumper later narrowed the margin 41-39.

But, the Cougars refused to be denied. Not this time. Not with another big game in front of them.

"We’re hyped for Mt. Vernon. No one remembers a team that wins one game at sectional," Moles said. "They only remember who wins it all, so we want that one just as bad."

Greenfield-Central lost to HHC co-champion Mt. Vernon, 57-52, in Fortville on Jan. 8 en route to a fourth-place finish in the conference.

The Cougars bested the Marauders, 44-39, during the 2019-20 regular season to snap a four-game losing streak against their rival.

Mt. Vernon (6-1 HHC) won its second straight game and sixth in its past nine in the first quarterfinal contest on Wednesday night against host Richmond, 40-34.

"That’s going to be the challenge. Our kids are so jacked. We had our principal come in (the locker room) and joked with them and said, ‘No school (Thursday).’ He was obviously joking, but our kids will face the same thing, again. We’re going to be double-digit dogs," Meredith said.

"They are the favorite. They are the best team in our conference. They have some dudes, but we only lost by five the first time we played them. And same thing. We have nothing to lose."

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Class 4A Sectional 9 Quarterfinal

Greenfield-Central 72, New Palestine 59

New Palestine;12;6;21;20;-;59

Greenfield-Central;7;22;14;29;-;72

NEW PALESTINE (14-9): Eli Stephens 2 0-0 5, Blaine Nunnally 2 3-4 8, CJ Oliver 2 2-3 7, Steele Brasfield 5 2-3 15, Matthew Brown 4 1-1 9, Kyle Bastian 3 0-0 8, Ian Stephens 3 1-1 7, Damon Hockett 0 0-0 0, Eian Roudebush 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 9-12 59.

GREENFIELD-CENTRAL (14-9): Gavin Robertson 7 2-4 19, Dylan Moles 5 9-12 20, Joey Roland 3 6-6 12, Adam Lester 1 2-2 5, Will VanDuyn 2 0-0 5, Caleb McIntire 1 0-0 3, Rashawn Street 2 3-4 8. Totals 21 22-28 72.

3-Pointers: NP 8-23 (E. Stephens 1, Nunnally 1, Oliver 1, Brasfield 3, Bastian 2). G-C 8-15 (Robertson 3, Moles 1, Lester 1, VanDuyn 1, McIntire 1, Street 1).

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