NEW PALESTINE — If there’s any reason to doubt the New Palestine girls basketball team won’t defend its sectional title next week, it wasn’t on display Tuesday.
The focused Dragons never trailed against Lawrence Central, dominating the visitors in an 86-48 victory.
“They’re amping up,” New Palestine head coach Sarah Gizzi said. “I think they’re really starting to feel like this is it. In fact, before the game I heard one of the girls say to the other, ‘We only have two more games at home,’ kind of like, ‘Let’s go.’
“If they’re doing that for each other, it makes my job a lot easier.”
The Dragons (19-2) will host Indianapolis Ritter (15-7) on Thursday to close the regular season. In Class 4A Sectional 9 at Mt. Vernon, New Palestine drew a first-round bye and will play on Feb. 1 against the Jan. 29 winner of Greenfield-Central (9-12) vs. Richmond (5-16).
A year ago, New Palestine avenged a regular season loss to Mt. Vernon with a sectional-championship victory over the Marauders. Underdogs no more, the Dragons went 4-0 against the sectional field this season, including wins against Hoosier Heritage Conference foes Greenfield-Central, Pendleton Heights (13-9) and Mt. Vernon (16-5).
“We kind of know we have this huge target on our backs now after winning conference … but we’re ready,” said junior Jordan Reid, the only non-senior starter for the Dragons. “There’s something to be said for being underdogs, but if we are voted the favorites, we’re definitely going to come out and prove that we are the favorite.”
Against Lawrence Central (5-15), the Dragons extended a 10-7 lead midway through the first quarter with a 12-0 run to finish the quarter, and they led by double digits the rest of the way.
New Palestine, in a zone defense much of the evening, forced eight turnovers in the first eight minutes.
Senior forward Leah Seib led the Dragons with 24 points and 12 rebounds, including 12 points in the third quarter as the host team pushed its halftime lead from 41-23 to 62-35 entering the final quarter.
“We count on Leah,” Gizzi said. “She’s been really consistent for us. She’s struggled in a game or two, and we struggled in those games as well. She’s really steady.”
Haley Harrison registered 15 points, including eight points during the Dragons’ 12-0 blitz to end the first quarter.
“I love that she was finishing around the rim,” Gizzi said of Harrison, a senior guard. “Because she’s a little more of an outside shooter. But she had a really great start and got us going.”
Reid finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Megan Jolly (eight points), Tatum Biddle (seven points) and Emily Newcomb (six points) added to the scoring for New Palestine.
Next week, the Dragons will aim for the sixth sectional title in program history, and their first back-to-back crowns since the 1991-92 and 1992-93 teams.
“It’s been a fun ride, and we’re hoping to keep it going,” Reid said. “We’re just going to keep going hard in practice and games. And working our butts off every play, every possession.”
Dragons: New Palestine improved to 10-0 at home this season. … The Dragons won the junior varsity game 46-41. … The varsity’s 86 points was a season-high. … New Palestine beat Ritter 56-52 a year ago to end the regular season. Ritter went on to win a 3A sectional title.
Bears: Charlize Turner (13 points) and Kalyn Williams (10 points) led the way. … They’ll host Marion (17-4) Friday in their regular season finale. … Lawrence Central will face Heritage Christian (15-5) in 4A Sectional 10 at Indianapolis Cathedral on Jan. 30.