Right on Target: Dragons jump out fast, eliminate rival Cougars

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Greenfield-Central’s Brooklyn McConnell, left, and New Palestine’s Isabella Gizzi fight for a loose ball during their Class 4A Sectional 9 quarterfinal game on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

FORTVILLE — The last time the New Palestine Dragons faced rival Greenfield-Central, their regular-season game was decided by 11 points.

For the rematch, the Dragons built a double-digit lead by the midway point in the first quarter Wednesday night to win decisively, 59-34, during the Class 4A Sectional 9 quarterfinals at Mt. Vernon High School.

The Dragons (13-10) went wire-to-wire in their 65th meeting all time with the Cougars (9-13), leading by as many as 26 points to claim their ninth-straight victory against their county foes.

New Palestine won 43-32 on Dec. 10 during both program’s annual Hoosier Heritage Conference matchup. Now, the Dragons will advance to the Sectional 9 semifinal round on Friday to play another HHC rival in Pendleton Heights (18-5) at 7:30 p.m. Sectional host Mt. Vernon (15-8) will play Anderson (9-14) in the first semifinal on Friday at 6 p.m.

Against the Cougars, New Palestine’s Alaina Miller had the hot hand, finishing with 22 points, marking her third consecutive 20-point game.

“We know she’s a great scorer, and she really came on for us tonight. We needed it, too,” Dragons head coach Sarah Gizzi said. “She’s huge for us. She always has been, and the games when we’ve done well, she’s done well. We have pretty consistent scoring from other players, and she’s been more consistent as the year has gone on, which has been great for us.”

Miller buried the first bucket of the game to give New Palestine a 3-0 lead, and she later scored 12 of her 22 points in the second half to put the Dragons ahead 52-28 with 3 minutes, 19 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

In the first half, the Dragons’ defense and shooting efficiency equated to a 13-0 run and a 16-2 advantage in the first quarter. New Palestine went 5-for-5 from the field to start, while the Cougars committed seven turnovers in the first quarter and 13 in the half.

Isabella Gizzi had 13 points for the Dragons in the game with six assists, seven steals and four rebounds, followed by 10 points from Vivian Miller. Alaina Miller dished out four assists and recorded a trio of steals.

The Dragons shot 9 of 13 in the first quarter with five different shooters knocking down at least one basket.

“Credit to New Pal, I thought they came out and their role players hit a bunch of shots early on, and for us being a young team out there, and I try my best not to use that as an excuse all year long because it doesn’t matter, but tonight it was one of the times when that youth kind of came through,” G-C head coach Bradley Key said. “(New Pal) hit shots and we were kind of shell shocked.”

The youthful Cougars narrowed the deficit 27-15 just prior to halftime as both freshman Chaney Brown and Brooklyn McConnell tried to get their team back in the game.

Brown finished with a team-high 21 points and 10 rebounds. She’s been averaging 15.2 points per game. Annan Tiede had four points, and McConnell had three.

“The last time we played them, their role players weren’t hitting shots, so that’s credit to coach Gizzi and her program where their other players stepped up,” Key said. “It’s hard to recover from that.”

The Dragons had more than a dozen steals as the Cougars committed 27 turnovers with nine coming in the third quarter.

A 10-run in the third for New Palestine increased its lead to 22 points.

“I actually thought, as far as my teams have gone over the five years I’ve been coaching, that this team has lacked a little bit of defensive toughness as a whole, and we’ve really been focusing on that in practice this past week even more than normal,” Sarah Gizzi said. “I think, they did a nicer job tonight, stepped up. I was really pleased with their defensive effort tonight.”

The Cougars had won back-to-back games entering the sectional tournament and posted wins in eight of their last 11 games.

“Starting 1-9 this season was really tough some games. We talked to them as a coaching staff to stick with us. We thought we could win some games around Christmas, and we had a great run,” Key said. “That game (tonight) doesn’t take away from all those games that we fought and we clawed to win. It wasn’t like we were blowing out teams. We were fighting for wins. I’m proud of them for that. I’m really proud of our seniors.”

The Dragons lost to Pendleton Heights during the regular season, 67-65 in overtime on Jan. 14. New Palestine led the HHC champion Arabians in the second half before the game slipped away. In the semifinals, they’ll get a chance to make up for the setback.

“It’s a huge challenge, but it was a really good game last time. We know we were up by 14 in the third quarter. We think that if we are knocking down shots and playing solid defense, we can be really competitive. We do have 10 loses because we haven’t done that in every game, so that’s something we’re really striving for now. That consistency,” Gizzi said. “We want the shots that we want that are good for our players.”

New Palestine 59, Greenfield-Central 34

Greenfield-Central;6;11;7;10;—;34

New Palestine;20;9;15;15;—;59

GREENFIELD-CENTRAL (9-13): Chaney Brown 7 6-8 21, Brooklyn McConnell 1 0-0 3, Annan Tiede 2 0-2 4, Schulyer Sparks 1 0-0 2, Josie White 1 0-0 3, Kami Anderson 0 0-0 0, Audrey Pechin 0 0-0 0, Taylor Smith 0 0-0 0, Katie Holmes 0 0-0 0, Jalyn Smith 0 1-2 1. Totals: 12 7-12 34.

NEW PALESTINE (13-10): Isabella Gizzi 6 1-1 13, Alaina Miller 10 0-0 22, Allie Blum 2 0-0 4, Rachel Kelley 2 0-0 4, Vivian Miller 5 0-2 10, Taylor Kelley 0 0-0 0, Tylar Whitaker 1 0-0 3, Brynna Kirsten 0 0-0 0, Neveah Gebhart 1 0-0 3. Totals: 26 1-3 59.

3-point goals: Greenfield-Central 3 (McConnell 1, Brown 1, White 1); New Palestine 4 (A. Miller 2, Whitaker 1, Gebhart 1)