Sectional Time: Dragons, Cougars set to clash in postseason


New Palestine’s Isabella Gizzi drives past Eastern Hancock’s Addison Trittipo on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

HANCOCK COUNTY — A winter storm warning is in effect this week, and so is high school girls basketball sectional action, which is heightening anticipation and concern all around.

With impending snow storms and potential hazardous road conditions ahead, contingency plans are being put into place as the 2021-22 girls basketball postseason officially opens.

At Mt. Vernon High School where Class 4A Sectional 9 will be conducted, Anderson (8-14) and Muncie Central (11-8) kicked off the tournament Tuesday on schedule.

As of Tuesday evening, the tournament’s two remaining quarterfinal games are yet to be postponed from their original time slot of tonight with Greenfield-Central (9-12) and New Palestine (12-10) set to play at 6 p.m. and Richmond (8-14) and Pendleton Heights (17-5) preparing for their opening tip at approximately 7:30 p.m.

The winners from all three contests will advance into Friday night’s semifinal round with host Mt. Vernon (15-8) facing either Anderson or Muncie Central at 6 p.m.

The victors from tonight’s quarterfinal match-ups are scheduled to meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The sectional championship game is set for Saturday evening at 7 p.m.

According to Mt. Vernon athletics director Brandon Ecker, the IHSAA issued guidelines early this week in case of potential snow storm delays with sectional hosts across the state hoping to conduct both Tuesday and tonight’s games, if possible.

Yet, if the winter storm halts tournament play, the scheduling reconfiguration will entail games being pushed back one day to evaluate transportation and student-athlete safety.

If both the tournament’s semifinal and championship games are yet to be played by Saturday, then semifinal match-ups will be conducted on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The sectional championship game will then be moved to Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m.

The IHSAA’s goal is to have all sectional championship games concluded in the same region on the same day. If a finals games is held on Tuesday, Feb. 8, then the contest can start no earlier than 6 p.m.

Class 2A Eastern Hancock (16-6) is tentatively scheduled to open postseason play in the semifinal round Friday night at Heritage Christian School for Sectional 42 against Triton Central (19-4) at 6 p.m.

The tournament’s lone quarterfinal game was played on Tuesday night between host Heritage Christian and Scecina Memorial.

Rematch Time: Cougars vs. Dragons

While questions swirl around the potential impact of this week’s winter storm, there is little mystery surrounding Greenfield-Central and New Palestine ahead of their sectional quarterfinal meeting.

The New Palestine Dragons are shooting for a seventh sectional title in program history and a third in the past five seasons. Historically, a trio of the Dragons’ all-time sectional titles have been captured at Mt. Vernon (1990, 1992 and 1993).

However, in order to strive towards another title, the Dragons need to clear the first hurdle in a rematch with Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Greenfield-Central.

On Dec. 10, the Dragons successfully defended their home court against the Cougars, winning 43-32 after putting together a decisive 24-point second half.

The Dragons defense limited the Cougars to a mere 10 points in the final two frames with New Palestine junior standout Isabella Gizzi pacing the hosts with 14 points.

New Palestine owns a 33-31 all-time series lead over Greenfield-Central and have won the past eight meetings through the past six seasons, including a 23-point, sectional win in 2018-19.

Greenfield-Central opened the 2020-21 season at 1-9, but the team has turned the corner in the second half of the year, finishing 8-3 with back-to-back victories against HHC foe Yorktown, 39-31, on Jan. 25 and Southport, 45-31, on Jan. 27 to end the regular season.

Coach Bradley Key’s Cougars have won four of their last five games while New Palestine has dropped three of its last five.

G-C freshman Chaney Brown has been the team’s catalyst by averaging 15.2 points per game.

In recent games, New Palestine has turned to senior Alaina Miller while Gizzi has missed some time prior to the postseason.

Miller scored 21 points in the regular-season finale at home — her second straight 20-point performance — against Greensburg, 60-51, to secure New Palestine’s seventh consecutive winning campaign.

Sophomore Allie Blum sharpened her game against Greensburg with a double-double by contributing 12 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Rachel Kelley also posted a career-high 17 points in the win.

Gizzi remains the Dragons’ top scorer this season, averaging 20.7 points per game. She is the third 1,000-point scorer in program history with 1,046 and 413 this season. She is 53 points away from tying the single-season record of 468 set by her coach and mother Sarah (Haynes) Gizzi in 1994.

Greenfield-Central is 0-4 against sectional foes this season with the closest contest coming against Richmond, 37-33, on Nov. 16. New Palestine is 1-2 against sectional teams, beating Greenfield-Central but falling to Mt. Vernon, 57-37, on Dec. 14 and HHC champion Pendleton Heights, 67-65, in overtime on Jan. 14.

Notes: Arabians hold the advantage

The Pendleton Heights Arabians are 17-5 on the season and won the HHC team title outright this season at 7-0. Mt. Vernon, the 2020-21 HHC champion, was second in the league standings at 6-1, losing only to the Arabians, 47-36, on Dec. 4.

The tournament wildcard is Muncie Central at 11-8 overall and 2-0 against sectional foes. The Bearcats beat Richmond, 42-27, on Nov. 27 and bested Anderson, 58-44, on Jan. 18.

Mt. Vernon finished the 2021-22 season 4-1 against potential sectional opponents, beating Richmond, 51-21, on Jan. 18; Greenfield-Central, 64-30, on Jan. 21; Anderson 58-21, on Dec. 7; and New Palestine, 57-37, on Dec. 14.