By James Howell Jr./For Daily Reporter
NEW PALESTINE — On Friday night, two crucial Hoosier Heritage Conference games took place on the court at New Palestine High School as both the boys and girls varsity teams hosted the rival Pendleton Heights Arabians.
In the opening game of the doubleheader, the Arabians (13-3, 7-0) entered undefeated in HHC play and needed just one win against the Dragons (10-8, 3-4) to conclude a perfect conference season and an outright championship.
Early in action, the Arabians proved themselves as dominant with the height of Hailee Brunnemer and Whitney Warfel causing issues for the smaller Dragons.
They jumped ahead in the early portions of the game, but not so far ahead that Alaina Miller couldn’t bring her Dragons roaring back. Miller poured in 17 first-half points to give the Dragons as much as an 11-point lead in the first half.
Quick hands defensively by the Dragons, especially those of Isabella Gizzi, kept the Arabians at a distance and left the Dragons with a nine-point cushion at the halftime break, 34-25.
In the second half the Dragons extended the lead to as many as 14. The lead evaporated over time in the late third and early fourth quarter, however. With 4:49 remaining, the Arabians knotted the game up at 50.
Dragons head coach Sarah Gizzi explained after the game what she saw from the bench as the lead slowly melted away.
“We just made too many mistakes,” Gizzi said. “This was a really physical game and maybe the toll of the physicality wore on us a little more than it did Pendleton. I wouldn’t even say they were uncharacteristic mistakes. They were mistakes we make, but we just made too many of them.”
Still the Dragons held tough and never let the Arabians take the lead. That was until the last minute of a necessary overtime period when Whitney Warfel hit a layup to give the Arabians a two-point edge.
Two late steals from Kaycie Warfel sealed the win and the conference title for the Arabians.
In the game, Isabella Gizzi surpassed 1,000 career points. This makes her just the third-ever Dragon in girls basketball program history to reach the mark. She joins her mom Sarah (Haynes) on the exclusive list.
“I know she’d trade that milestone for the win tonight,” Sarah Gizzi said. “We all want the win, but it is a great thing for her. She is always so strong and consistent for us and it’s got her here — and as only a junior. I’m proud of her reaching her goals.”
Alaina Miller led the team with 24 points. Gizzi finished with four steals, six rebounds, and three assists to go with her 19 points.
The Dragons girls basketball team finishes the HHC season 3-4.
In the closing game of the evening, the New Palestine boys (8-4, 3-1) earned a bounce-back win over the Arabians (2-10, 0-2), 61-53.
The Arabians seemingly took the momentum of the girls’ win into their game with an early onslaught of scoring that pulled them ahead 16-3. The early lead put the Dragons down but far from out as they would prove in the second quarter.
After falling behind 22-12 in the first, the Dragons defense became a problem for the Arabians. The Dragons caused eight turnovers in the quarter and let the Arabians score just four points.
In the meantime, the Dragons’ offense found its rhythm. By the end of the first half, the Dragons roared back to lead 27-26.
Steele Brasfield’s size and Blaine Nunnally’s passing continued to earn the team scoring opportunities in the second half as they pushed the tempo and led by as many as 11.
Pendleton Heights would not lay down late. With just five minutes remaining they clawed back and tied the game. With a quick look at the scoreboard, the Dragons leaders and an impressive effort from freshman Ben Slagley, the Dragons were finally able to put the Arabians away for good and stay in the hunt for a conference title.
Brasfield led the Dragons with 23 points. Slagley provided 10 off the bench.
The Dragons are back in action Saturday night against Mooresville.
Pendleton Heights 67, New Palestine 65
New Palestine (10-8, 3-4 HHC): Alaina Miller 8 2-2 24, Isabella Gizzi 6 7-12 19, Rachel Kelly 4 0-0 10, Allie Blum 2 3-4 7, Vivian Miller 3 0-0 7. Totals: 23 12-18 65.
Pendleton Heights (13-3, 7-0 HHC): Whitney Warfel 11 1-4 25, Hailee Brunnemer 6 2-3 18, Kaycie Warfel 6 3-4 15, Kylea Lloyd 3 0-1 6, Ava Phillips 1 0-0 2, Berkeley Shelton 0 0-0 0. Totals: 27 8-14 67.
3-point goals: New Palestine 5 (Alaina Miller 3, Rachel Kelley 1, Vivian Miller 1); Pendleton Heights 5 (Brunnemer 4, Whitney Warfel 1).
New Palestine 61 , Pendleton Heights 53
New Palestine (8-4, 3-1 HHC): Steele Brasfield 8 4-5 23, Blaine Nunnally 5 4-5 15, Ben Slagley 4 2-2 10, Ian Stephens 1 3-3 5, Eian Roudebush 1 0-0 3, Bryant Nunnally 1 0-0 3, Damon Hockett 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 13-15 61.
Pendleton Heights (2-10, 0-2 HHC): Jameson Dunham 6 0-1 15, Josiah Gustin 6 1-1 14, Luke Candiano 6 0-0 13, Ethan Ross 3 0-0 6, Brayden Kanitz 1 1-2 3, Nolan Sauders 0 2-2 2. Totals: 22 4-6 53.
3-point goals: New Palestine 6 (Brasfield 3, Blaine Nunnally 1, Eian Roudebush 1, Bryant Nunnally 1); Pendleton Heights 5 (Dunham 3, Gustin 1, Candiano 1).