Dragons fall in sectional title game


GREENWOOD — Brian Kehrt dreamed up the headline before the game: Class 4A’s smallest school upsets ranked foe twice its size, wins sectional championship.

The New Palestine basketball coach knew stunning No. 17 Center Grove was a long shot, but if his girls caught a few breaks and knocked down a few shots, Kehrt believed the Dragons could shock the basketball world.

It would have made quite a story.

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Unfortunately for Kehrt and the Dragons, this won’t be the year it is written. They fell 58-33 Saturday night in the Sectional 13 final at Greenwood.

New Palestine discovered the Trojans (20-6) were as good as advertised, proving every bit as talented as their rank and size would suggest. Center Grove seized control of the game from the opening tip and never relinquished it.

“I thought we didn’t play our best defense early on, and we gave them some open looks,” said Kehrt, who knew his stingy defense (42.1 points per game allowed) would need a signature effort to pull off the upset.

“Any time they had an open look, they hit it. They are a very good basketball team. We knew we’d be playing a team on a different level.”

Center Grove opened up a commanding 18-6 lead in the first quarter, fronted by senior Regan Wentland, who scored seven points in the period on her way to a game-high 17.

New Palestine (12-12) responded by embarking on its best defensive stretch of the evening in the second quarter, holding the Trojans to 11 points. However, the Dragons could muster only four of their own, and the deficit increased to 29-10 heading into the break.

From there, Center Grove’s Jessica Norris ambushed any thoughts of a Dragons comeback with a barrage of 3s. She knocked down three in the second half to lead the Trojans’ offense in both quarters. The senior finished with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc.

“We were hoping maybe they’d miss some shots, like they did Thursday, but that didn’t happen,” said Kehrt, specifically referring to Norris, who went 0 for 9 from 3-point range in the Trojans’ first two tournament games. “What can you do? Tonight, she was on fire.”

Despite the disappointing outcome, the second-year Dragons coach spoke fondly of his team’s season, citing measures the New Palestine girls basketball program had not achieved in years.

The 2014-15 Dragons were the first bunch since the 2004-05 squad to win 11 games in the regular season and 12 games total.

And with their New Palestine Invitational championship at the end of December, they also were the first group to a capture a regular-season tournament title of any kind in nine years.

Senior Emma Laughlin said after the game that these were accomplishments she never would have imagined possible just a couple of seasons ago.

“We’ve come a long way from my sophomore year,” said Laughlin, fighting back tears. “We were 3-18. To go 12-12 … When I look back at my sophomore year, I didn’t think we be able to come this far. … This is something I’ll never forget.”

Notes: Haley Stratman led the Dragons with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. Raegan McMurray followed her with eight points and team highs in rebounds (four), assists (three) and steals (three). Carly Hackler added seven points, while Laughin contributed two points, two assists and three rebounds. … New Palestine won its most recent sectional championship in 2003-04. … The Dragons finished .500 for the third time in five seasons. … New Palestine graduates a pair of seniors in Laughlin and Gia Nitschke, both starters Saturday night.

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Girls basketball, local regional schedule. All games Saturday (semifinals, 10 a.m., noon; championships, 7 p.m.).

4A at Decatur Central

Mooresville (24-4) vs. Lawrence North (25-1)

Richmond (20-6) vs. Pike (19-7)

4A at Bedford North Lawrence

Columbus North (24-1) vs. Evansville Central (22-3)

Center Grove (20-6) vs. Bedford North Lawrence (25-0)

2A at Speedway

Hagerstown (21-4) vs. Covenant Christian (19-6)

Triton Central (23-1) vs. Heritage Christian (24-2)