WHITELAND — Win or lose, New Palestine’s season was never going to be defined by its sectional semifinal result Friday.
Already with nine victories, the girls basketball program had tripled its win total from a year ago while slicing its defensive average by 10 points.
Without a single senior on the roster this winter, the Dragons could feel good about their future no matter how they fared against Greenwood in 4A Sectional 13 Friday evening.
Still, after a down-to-the-wire 39-38 loss, there wasn’t much looking ahead. Just the pain of a defeat.
“We finished on such a high the last month,” New Palestine first-year coach Brian Kehrt said. “The girls played some great basketball. You just wish you could keep it going for one more game, especially to get into that sectional championship.
“I am excited about next year, but it’s hard to think about right now.”
Greenwood sophomore guard Holly Hoopingarner hit a well-guarded fadeaway with 51 seconds remaining that proved to be the game-winner.
Hoopingarner finished with a game-high 13 points to lead the Woodmen (10-11) into today’s championship against Franklin Central (16-4).
“She’s one of the best guards we’ve seen this year, and she hit a big-time shot, a 17-footer with a hand in her face,” Kehrt said.
Still, the Dragons held Hoopingarner under her 18-point average. Two weeks ago, on Feb. 1, New Palestine beat Hoopingarner and the Woodmen 55-47, part of a 5-3 finish to the regular season for the Dragons.
New Palestine’s defense was even better Friday, but the Woodmen had a strategy of their own.
“They spread out a zone, which slowed us down a little offensively,” said Kehrt, whose team went 1-of-16 from the field in the first half. “Most teams that do that are down 20, but our defense kept us in it.”
Greenwood led 17-12 at halftime, 25-14 midway through the third quarter and 33-21 early in the fourth.
New Palestine roared back to take a one-point lead with just over one minute left on a Haley Stratman four-point play. The sophomore forward was fouled while in the process of a successful 3-pointer and she made the ensuing free throw to put the Dragons ahead 38-37.
“These kids had no quit in them,” Kehrt said. “There were a couple different times where we really could have let them get away from us, but these girls stayed with it.”
With two seconds left, Greenwood missed a pair of free throws and New Palestine’s attempt at a half-court buzzer-beater was off the mark.
Stratman finished with eight points and sophomore Natalie Kehrt led the team with 11 points. Junior Emma Laughlin — the Dragons’ lone upperclassman — had five points.
Franklin Central defeated Franklin (11-11) by a 62-42 count in the other semifinal Friday. FC and Greenwood did not face off this season, but the Flashes beat the Woodmen 53-36 in last year’s sectional title game.