NEW PALESTINE — As of Thursday night, there remains a three-way tie for second place in the Hoosier Heritage Conference boys basketball standings.
By the end of tonight, however, that might no longer be the case.
With Class 4A No. 17 Mt. Vernon in control of its conference championship destiny at 4-0 in the HHC and 8-2 overall, 4A New Palestine (7-4, 2-1 HHC), 4A New Castle (9-2, 2-1 HHC) and 3A Yorktown (4-5, 2-1 HHC) are deadlocked behind the Marauders.
With a HHC boys-girls varsity doubleheader set for this evening at New Palestine High School against rival Pendleton Heights (2-9, 0-1 HHC), beginning with the girls’ game at 6 p.m., the host Dragons are in prime position to shake things up.
The Pendleton Heights boys own a 20-16 all-time series lead, but the Dragons have won the past four meetings, including a 55-34 victory on the road last season.
This is the second boys-girls basketball doubleheader of the 2021-22 season for New Palestine at home with the Dragons sweeping the first against HHC rival Greenfield-Central on Dec. 10.
The Dragons boys team has won two of its past three games, highlighted by a 26-point win, 56-32, over HHC foe Delta at home on Jan. 7. New Palestine is 3-0 on their home court this season and have only lost one conference game at New Castle, 48-37, on Dec. 17.
Ian Stephens, a junior, is averaging 12.3 rebounds per game over the past six contests and has posted five double-doubles in each of those games, while scoring 15.8 points during his hot streak.
Stephens paces the HHC in rebounds, averaging 9.7 a contest and leads the league with 2.4 steals per game. Senior Steele Brasfield is tied for second in the HHC in scoring at 19.1 points per game.
New Palestine’s Blaine Nunnally, who was sidelined for a brief stint of the season due to injury, dished out a career-high nine assists against Delta and leads the conference with 4.7 assists per game.
Pendleton Heights has struggled this season, losing five straight games to open the year and four in a row before beating 2A Frankton, 68-55, on Jan. 5 during the Madison County Basketball Tournament.
Senior Jamison Dunham is the Arabians’ primary scorer at 19.1 points per game, which ties him with Brasfield for second in the conference.
Luke Candiano (8.9 ppg) and Josiah Gustin (8.6 ppg) have provided support behind Dunham.
On the girls side, the Dragons (10-7, 3-3 HHC) are looking to play spoiler against the Arabians (12-3, 6-0 HHC).
New Castle (9-7, 3-1 HHC) and defending champion Mt. Vernon (10-7, 2-1 HHC) trail Pendleton Heights in the standings, but if the Dragons can score an upset, then it opens the door for a potential shared HHC title by season’s end.
The Arabians hold the all-time series advantage, 25-18, but New Palestine won last year’s meeting, 57-54, and have won four straight heading into the program’s 44th matchup.
Pendleton Heights is coming off a Madison County Tournament championship run last week and have clinched a share of the HHC at this point while winning five of its last six games.
Freshman Kaycie Warfel (14.5 ppg), junior Whitney Warfel (13.5 ppg) and senior Hailee Brunnemer (12.0 ppg) have powered the Arabians towards a potential outright HHC title, if they win tonight.
New Palestine junior Isabella Gizzi is closing in on 1,000 career points, sitting at 990 after scoring 16 during the Dragons’ 54-44 win at home over 2A Triton Central on Tuesday. She posted three consecutive 20-point games before Tuesday.
Gizzi is attempting to join Raegan McMurray (1,081 points, 2013-17) and her mother, Dragons coach Sarah (Haynes) Gizzi (1,172 points, 1990-94) as the third New Palestine girls’ 1,000-point scorer. Her brother, Maximus Gizzi, is the boys’ career scoring leader with 1,612 points (2016-20).
Cougars postpone games through weekend
The Greenfield-Central athletics office issued a special announcement on Thursday afternoon.
The release stated: “Due to our recent surge in COVID cases the following events have been postponed for this weekend.”
The games listed included Thursday night’s boys and girls junior varsity basketball contests at New Castle, tonight’s varsity basketball home doubleheader against New Castle, Saturday’s junior varsity and varsity girls basketball games at home against Indian Creek and Saturday’s junior varsity and varsity boys basketball home contests against Richmond.
The athletic office stated in the release that “reschedule dates are to be determined and will be posted as soon as possible.”