GREENFIELD — Kenzie Gustin made sure Pendleton Heights got off to a fast start against Greenfield-Central Friday. Then the Arabians’ senior swingman put the game out of the host Cougars’ reach to start the second half.
Gustin, the Hoosier Heritage Conference’s leading scorer, finished with 28 points to lift Pendleton Heights to a 67-48 win over G-C in both teams’ conference tip-offs.
“When Kenzie knows I’m in the gym, she just lights me up like a Christmas tree,” G-C coach Doug Laker said. “She’s a great kid, great family. I’m happy for her success, just not happy when she lights us up.”
The last time Gustin was on G-C’s court, she bucketed 23 points to help end the Cougars’ season as Pendleton Heights took a 55-45 sectional quarterfinal victory Feb. 7. In a 60-54 regular season win by the host Arabians Nov. 18 of last year, Gustin had 17 points.
While Laker was familiar with Gustin’s potential, it took his relatively young players a while to figure it out.
The Arabians’ guard/forward tallied five quick points during the visiting team’s 11-0 run to start the game. Gustin went on to make six of her first eight shots for 14 points with just under four minutes remaining in the first half.
Laker had seen enough, and with his team trailing 29-21, he called a timeout, met his squad near midcourt and asked his girls, loud enough for most of the crowd to hear, “Do you see number 24 over there? She’s good. Somebody better start guarding her.”
The Cougars’ defense responded and Gustin went scoreless to close out the second quarter while G-C (1-3, 0-1 HHC) pulled within 34-28.
That would be the only respite for the Cougars from Gustin’s relentless attack. She drained eight points during the Arabians’ 12-6 blitz to start the third quarter and her team led by double digits the rest of the way.
Gustin added a game-high eight rebounds while shooting 11-of-19 from the field. The standout is averaging a conference-best 25.6 points on the young season for Pendleton Heights (3-0, 1-0 HHC).
Junior forward Taylor Siefken (13 points, six rebounds) and senior guard Tiffany Wertz (11 points) added to the Arabians’ win over the Cougars, who started a pair of sophomores and included another sophomore and a freshman in the rotation.
“We’re just inexperienced at playing together as a team,” Laker said. “They’re learning to play new roles. We lost 50 percent, 60 percent of our scoring or whatever. Sometimes it takes time to adjust.
“Year-to-year, you’re going to have ups and you’re going to have downs. Right now we’re down, but it’s a life lesson.”
Sophomore point guard Shelby Oldham had 13 points to lead the Cougars, while sophomore forward Regan Lewis had 10 points and six rebounds. Seniors Sara Jones (10 points) and Shelby Davis (seven points) contributed for G-C, which played its fourth game since opening the season last Friday with a 49-23 win over Cambridge City.
The Cougars fell to Franklin 52-41 Saturday and New Castle 52-38 Tuesday heading into the conference opener Friday.
“I think we learned something tonight,” Laker said. “When we lost the last two games, they just had a different look in their eye. Tonight, they had that look like, ‘We tired of this. We’re ready, let’s go. Let’s get it in gear and let’s play.’”
Laker noted that the Cougars’ more experienced squad of a year ago also got off to a 1-3 start, only to finish 13-8.
“As coaches we’ll keep working hard and I know these kids are going to play hard,” the sixth-year coach said. “We’re going to be okay. I know I keep saying that, but good things happen to good kids.
“Life’s not always a bowl of cherries and everything’s great. It’s going to be: ‘Do you put your head in the sand like an ostrich or you pick your head up and play like a Cougar all the time?’”
The 4A Cougars are off until next Saturday when they host 4A Marion (2-1). Ft. Wayne Wayne beat Marion 55- 49 Friday.
Pendleton Heights is at 2A Frankton (1-1) today.
Notes: Pendleton Heights won the JV game 29-24, led by Jordan Dean’s eight points. Jackie Landuyt had six points for G-C. … Junior forward Kiawna Cottrell added nine points, six rebounds and five assists in the Arabians’ varsity win. … The Cougars went 4-of-12 from the free throw line; the Arabians were 12-of-18. … Including the final two games of last season, G-C has been held under 50 points in six straight games, the longest such stretch of Laker’s career with the Cougars.