For the Daily Reporter
PENDLETON — Twenty-four years. That’s how long of a wait the New Palestine Dragons girls basketball program had to wait for another conference title, after sharing the inaugural Hoosier Heritage Conference crown in 1994.
The wait is over, as the Dragons defeated the Pendleton Heights Arabians 52-40 to clinch their first outright HHC championship. For head coach Sarah Gizzi, this was a bit of déjà vu.
“It feels great,” Dragons coach Gizzi said afterwards outside a jubilant locker room. “It’s a little extra special for me; we won conference at Pendleton when I was a senior that year, so for that to happen again was fun.”
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The game started off slowly for the 17-2 Dragons, as they only scored six points in the first quarter, as the shots weren’t falling.
“We knew we had clinched at least a share of the championship,” Gizzi said. “That took a bit of the pressure off, but that also may have contributed to our slow start.”
The roles reversed in the second quarter however, as the Dragons used 10 points from Leah Seib in the quarter to build an eight-point halftime lead that would not seriously be threatened the rest of the way.
“We were getting good shots, they just weren’t falling,” Gizzi said. “But that happens sometimes and some games you win by just staying focused even if you’re not doing anything overly special.”
Each time the Arabians looked to spark a run in the second half, the Dragons were able to match the bucket on the other end. Pendleton Heights was forced to apply pressure to attempt to get back into the game. Jordan Reid was the beneficiary of that strategy, as the Dragons’ press-beating lead to eight third-quarter points to keep the Arabians at bay.
“We really focused on being aggressive on defense and the boards,” Gizzi said. “If we kept holding them to one shot, then I liked our chances.”
Despite struggling at the free throw line (they finished 11 for 28 at the line), the Dragons were able to comfortably close out the win and take home a trophy (figuratively).
When asked about what the team will focus on between this conference season and the start of sectional play, Gizzi exclaimed, “Free throws! But seriously, we’ve accomplished a lot of our big goals for the year, so now it’s time to really refine what we do and put ourselves in the best position to defend our sectional crown.”
Dragons boys top Arabians
The New Palestine boys team still has HHC dreams of their own after defeating the Arabians in the second game of the doubleheader, 71-65. With the victory, their conference record improves to 3-1.
It appeared as if the Dragons would run away with this one, as the score at the end of the first quarter was 19-5 in their favor, but Pendleton Heights would not go away quietly.
“It was nice seeing the shots fall in the first quarter,” Dragons coach Trent Whitaker said afterwards. “But it’s always tough playing here, so we knew they would come back at us.”
The shots were certainly falling for Dragons senior guard Matthew True, who finished 5-6 from the three-point line and a game-leading 22 points.
But once the Arabians began to come back, it was behind the front court duo of Tristan Ross and Damieon Warrum, who combined for 35 points.
“I give a lot of credit to our kids,” Arabians coach Kevin Bates said. “They never gave up, and kept fighting. But we’ve had a lot of games like this one tonight where we just start out behind.”
Things were looking a bit dicey for the Dragons in both he third and fourth quarter. In the third, the Arabians cut the lead to 34-33.
But the Dragons then made nine shots out of their next 10 to counter each and every basket the Arabians were making and take a six-point lead into the final quarter.
Ross and Warrum kept battling, though, and the game was tied 62-62 with 3 minutes remaining. In stepped Matthew True with a dagger three and two free throws to give New Palestine the breathing room they would need to close out the win.
“It comes down to confidence,” Bates said. “We play great after making a tough shot or making a hustle play. If we can play with that enthusiasm in the first quarter of games then we can get where we want to go.”
As for the Dragons, Whitaker was just happy to see some shots fall.
“We haven’t been shooting well at all this month,” Whitaker joked. “When the shots go in it makes me look a lot smarter.”
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New Palestine 52, Pendleton Heights 40
New Palestine (17-2, 7-0 HHC) – Seib 6 1-4 17, Harrison 4 2-4 13, Reid 5 0-3 10, Jolly 1 7-12 9, Biddle 1 1-4 3, Herron 0 0-1 0. Totals: 17 11-28 52.
Pendleton Heights (10-8, 4-3 HHC) – Graham 3 2-2 10, Wilson 3 2-3 9, Davis 3 0-0 7, Mills 2 2-5 7, Loomis 1 1-3 4, Martin 0 1-2 1. Totals: 12 8-15 40.
3-pointers: New Palestine 5 (Harrison 3, Seib 2), Pendleton Heights 6 (Graham 2, Davis, Mills, Loomis, Wilson 1). Rebounds: New Palestine 25 (Seib 7, Reid 5, Biddle, Herron 4, Newcomb 2, Cherry, Harrison 1), Pendleton Heights 21 (Graham, Mills 5, Davis, Lloyd, Loomis 3, Teague 2).
New Palestine 71, Pendleton Heights 65
New Palestine (6-5, 3-1 HHC) – True 7 3-4 22, Gizzi 6 7-9 20, Eastes 3 2-2 10, Romine 3 2-2 9, Walker 3 0-0 6, King 2 0-2 4. Totals: 24 14-19 71.
Pendleton Heights (4-9, 0-2 HHC) – Ross 8 1-4 19, Warrum 5 1-3 16, Jones 2 4-5 10, Black 3 1-2 8, Spinks 3 0-1 8, Early 0 2-2 2, Noel 0 2-2 2. Totals: 21 15-21 65.
3-pointers: New Palestine 9 (True 5, Eastes 2, Gizzi, Romine 1), Pendleton Heights 8 (Jones, Ross, Spinks 2, Black, Warrum 1). Rebounds: New Palestine 29 (Eastes 7, Romine 6, True 5, King 4, Gizzi, Hook 2, Roudebush 1), Pendleton Heights 25 (Warrum 10, Ross 5, Spinks 4, Black, Wimmer 2, Conkling, Jones 1).