CHARLOTTESVILLE — Down 50-47 with less than four minutes remaining in the Class 2A Sectional 41 championship, Knightstown didn’t waver from the game plan that had sustained it for the first 28 minutes: get the ball in the paint and get to the free throw line.
Panthers senior center Emily Thomas scored six of her game-high 24 points down the stretch during a 12-5 run as the visitors secured a 59-55 title win.
The Knightstown (18-4) blitz marked the final swing in a back-and-forth affair. Down 35-26 at the break, 2A No. 7 Eastern Hancock (17-5) surged to a 41-40 lead late in the third quarter. The second half featured four lead changes and three ties, and there were six lead changes and eight ties overall.
“I just think it was a game of momentum,” said Knightstown coach Dawn Basicker, who led the program to its second-straight sectional title. “As a fan, it had to be an awesome game to watch, because as a coach it was amazing.
“It was fun, that’s all I can say. Back-to-back is awesome.”
Unranked Knightstown advanced to the Speedway Regional, where it will face No. 2 Ritter (19-3) Saturday at noon. No. 1 Heritage Christian (23-1)-Monrovia (12-12) is the morning semifinal, with the championship at 8 p.m.
If Ritter coaches view Knightstown’s sectional film, they’ll see an abundance of dump-ins to the post, offensive rebounds and put-backs. Thomas and Knightstown forwards Macy Burton and Brooke Vise combined for 37 rebounds; EH’s starting frontline totaled four rebounds.
The Royals, meanwhile, countered by pushing the ball on offense and pressure on defense. EH, which had only five turnovers in the contest, forced 22 Knightstown giveaways.
Eastern Hancock’s effective pace allowed it to rally from an early 10-2 deficit. Shelby Mourey and Lauren Harmon hit back-to-back 3-pointers to spark a 15-3 run that gave EH a 17-13 lead heading into the second quarter.
With the game tied 21-21, Knightstown closed the half on a 14-5 streak, with Thomas and Kori Biehl combining for nine points. The Panthers won the first-half rebounding battle 23-2, but had 11 turnovers to EH’s three.
“It was kind of a tale of two sides: speed versus bigs,” Basicker said. “And we thought if we could handle their pressure that we could do a lot of damage.
“The first game we played them, we kind of put the bigs up, so now we tried to make everybody go long. I think we got a lot of easy baskets out of the press and then it kind of rattled them.”
The Royals forced 30 turnovers in a 60-48 win over Knightstown on Dec. 20 and their pressure ruled the third quarter Saturday, forcing five turnovers and limiting Thomas to two points. EH turned a 35-25 halftime deficit into a 43-all game with eight minutes remaining.
A steal-and-score by Kiersten Schrope early in the fourth quarter put the Royals ahead 47-45, and they were up 50-47 on a basket by Kristin Eischen halfway through the quarter. EH made only one more consequential basket the rest of the way, however.
Knightstown put together a 9-0 run capped by a Thomas offensive rebound and put-back that gave the Panthers a 56-50 lead at the 47-second mark.
Schrope answered for the Royals to make it 56-52 and Knightstown turned it over on a five-second call with 22.5 seconds left. But EH missed a 3-pointer, Knightstown grabbed the rebound and the Royals were forced to foul.
The Panthers made 3-of-4 from the charity stripe in the closing moments to seal the deal, and EH’s Hannah Best drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to complete the scoring.
“We didn’t hit some shots in that last four minutes,” EH coach Jeremy Powers said. “Had some layups that didn’t go, had some jump shots that didn’t go. Quite honestly, had some questionable calls down on the defensive end that I think turned the momentum a little bit.
“And we just didn’t get the stops we needed.”
Eastern Hancock was called for 23 fouls and Knightstown was whistled for 12 fouls. The Panthers went 13-of-24 at the free throw line; EH, 3-of-8.
Seniors Schrope (12 points), Best (11), Eischen (8) and Harmon (8) led the Royals in scoring.
In addition to the 24 points from Thomas, Biehl and Jill Gross had 10 points apiece. Thomas had 11 rebounds and Vise grabbed 18 boards.
Except for a pair of 3-pointers by Biehl, all of Knightstown’s points were made under the basket or via free throws that resulted from fouls in the paint.
Eastern Hancock will graduate seven seniors, most of whom played heavy minutes.
“There are no words right now that can heal their hurt,” Powers said. “I told them that I’m proud of them and everything they’ve done, especially these seniors these last three years to build this program back up.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t get them a title here tonight on their home floor, but man they gave an effort in that second half.”
Sophomore center Darby Shaw, who had nine rebounds for EH in the regular season win over the Panthers but was unable to play Saturday due to injury, is eligible to return next season, along with junior Shelby Mourey (five points vs. Knightstown) and freshman Emiley Carlton (seven points).
The Royals’ JV team went 17-1 this season.
“Cupboard’s not going to be bare, cupboard’s not going to be bare for a long time,” Powers added. “What these seniors did to rebuild this program will never be forgotten. And now these underclassmen have even more of a chip to put on the shoulder to come back again and take a championship next year.”
Notes: Schrope added four rebounds, eight assists and six steals. … In Saturday’s semifinals, postponed from Friday due to snow, EH beat Hagerstown 49-34 and Knightstown advanced past Northeastern 59-44. … Knightstown, Morristown and South Decatur are Mid-Hoosier Conference teams still active in the state tourney, through Saturday. Morristown shocked Class A No. 2 and MHC champ Southwestern 60-50 in the Sectional 59 semifinal and beat Lutheran 55-43 in the title game. South Decatur was scheduled to face Jac-Cen-Del in the Sectional 60 final Monday evening.
2A Sectional 41 at E. Hancock
Knightstown 59, Eastern Hancock 55
KN — Vise 3-4 0-2 6, Gross 3-9 4-4 10, Hammer 0-2 3-4 3, L. Thomas 0-0 0-1 0, Fowler 0-0 0-0 0, Biehl 3-11 2-5 10, Burton 2-5 2-2 6, E. Thomas 11-16 2-6 24. Totals — 22-47 13-24 59.
EH — Schrope 6-14 0-3 12, Eischen 4-13 0-0 8, Best 4-10 1-2 11, Harmon 3-9 0-0 8, Marshall 0-3 0-0 0, Neisler 2-2 0-0 4, Mourey 2-6 0-0 5, Carlton 2-5 2-3 7. Totals — 23-62 3-8 55.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
KN (18-4) 13 22 8 16 — 59
EH (17-5) 17 9 17 12 — 55
Three-pt. field goals: KN 2-8 (Gross 0-1, Biehl 2-7). EH 6-19 (Schrope 0-2, Best 2-5, Harmon 2-7, Mourey 1-3, Carlton 1-2).
Rebounds: KN 51 (Vise 18, Gross 5, Hammer 2, L. Thomas 1, Fowler 1, Biehl 5, Burton 8, E. Thomas 11), EH 16 (Schrope 4, Harmon 1, Marshall 2, Neisler 2, Mourey 5, Carlton 1, Eischen 1). Assists: KN 10 (Vise 1, Gross 4, E. Thomas 1, L. Thomas 1, Fowler 1, Burton 1, Hammer 1), EH 16 (Schrope 8, Mourey 3, Best 2, Marshall 2, Neisler 1). Steals: KN 1 (Gross 1), EH 17 (Schrope 6, Eischen 1, Best 1, Marshall 1, Neisler 3, Mourey 1, Carlton 3, Harmon 1). Blocks: KN 1 (Hammer 1), EH 2 (Schrope 1, Mourey 1). Total fouls: KN 12, EH 23. Fouled out: Burton (KN). Turnovers: KN 22, EH 5.
Monrovia (12-12) vs. Heritage Christian (23-1), 10 a.m.
Knightstown (18-4) vs. Ritter (19-3), noon
Championship, 8 p.m.