Nine Lives: Cougars pounce on Quakers, push win streak to nine

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Greenfield-Central’s Joey Roland gets pressured against Plainfield on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — The Class 4A Sectional 9 tournament doesn’t open until next week, but on Wednesday night, the host Greenfield-Central Cougars were eyeing both the present and their immediate future.

With representatives from 4A No. 10 Anderson — Greenfield-Central’s opening-round sectional opponent — in attendance inside Dellen Automotive Gymnasium, the Cougars ran their winning streak to nine straight with double digits their next intended target.

Greenfield-Central junior standout Dylan Moles scored a game-high 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting — now just six points shy of 1,000 points for his career — and the Cougars built an early and sustainable 16-point lead to beat visiting Plainfield 62-49 to conclude their regular season.

“(Reaching 1,000) is something I’ve wanted to do, always. Since watching Tate Hall, growing up, when he reached it here. I was there for that game, I’m pretty sure,” Moles said. “It’s just something cool to be able to do, but obviously, that’s not the main goal. The main goal is to win, to win sectional and to cut down the nets.”

The Cougars last sectional title was clinched in 1998 when Greenfield-Central was part of Class 3A. Next week, on the Cougars’ home floor, the hosts aren’t necessarily favored to snap the 24-year drought.

Anderson, 4A No. 7 Mt. Vernon and Hoosier Heritage Conference rival New Palestine have the edge, according to the prognosticators, with the tournament’s first game only six days away.

However, what the Cougars do have is momentum, and they used it to get two games away from potentially matching the program’s most recent streak of 11 straight victories set in 2015-16 — coincidentally, (former program star) Hall’s senior year at G-C.

“At one point, I think, we were 4-6 this year, and we’ve won nine straight now, so we’re just rolling. At first earlier this year, I think, everyone was just trying to do too much. Now, everyone knows what we need to do, and we’re on fire. Everything is clicking,” Moles said. “We just need to carry that over into sectional.”

Against Plainfield (12-10), the Cougars (15-7) jumped out quick, taking a 19-4 lead after the first quarter behind a 15-2 run.

The margin grew to 16 points midway through the second quarter after a Moles’ layup put the Cougars up 25-9 with 4 minutes, 28 seconds left until halftime.

Moles had 11 points in the first half and poured in another 14 in the second, as Greenfield-Central fended off a few second-half rallies by the Quakers with 33 points scored overall in the final 16 minutes.

Greenfield-Central shot 64 percent from their home floor, buried five 3-pointers and went 9 of 13 from the free-throw line, including all nine in the fourth quarter.

The Cougars haven’t lost a game since falling in overtime on the road at HHC foe Pendleton Heights, 54-50, on Jan. 28. Since the calendar flipped, Greenfield-Central has only lost two games. The first was in overtime to Mt. Vernon, 60-59, on Jan. 7.

“We just show up and do the work. That’s been our mantra. We lost four in a row, and there was some chirping after the Eastern Hancock game, after Lawrenceburg, after Connersville, after Mt. Vernon about who we are, where this program is heading? Our guys just do what they do. Fall down seven, stand up eight. In 2022, as of now, being a big underdog against the Anderson Indians, we’ve lost two games,” G-C head coach Luke Meredith said. “It’s belief. It’s our kids fully buying in and our kids doing what they’re fully capable of doing.”

On Wednesday, the Cougars relied on patience, defense and ball movement to reach 60-plus points for the sixth time in their past nine games.

Joey Roland had 15 points and six rebounds. Frosh Braylon Mullins added nine points, three assists and two steals. Moles dished out three assists, while Tyler Kerkhof had seven points and three assists.

Rune Carpenter-Jones was one of four Cougars with three or more assists.

“We’re the underdogs. We’re not supposed to beat Anderson. We’re not supposed to beat Mt. Vernon. And then, if we somehow made it to the championship, we’re not supposed to beat New Pal. We’re probably the fourth or fifth team in there that’s ranked to win it,” Moles said. “So, that’s sort of our motto going in there, ‘Why not us?’”

The Quakers cut the Cougars’ lead to seven points with a 10-2 run in the third quarter, and they touched the margin two more times in the second half, but they never got any closer.

A big layup by Roland off a Kerkhof assist with 3:14 left in the game pushed the margin to 49-38, and the G-C senior extended the lead to 58-45 in the final minute by sinking a pair of free throws. G-C went 9 of 10 from the foul line in the game’s last 2:08.

“We’ve been tested like that all year in close games. I think we’ve had five or six losses by three or less,” Moles said. “We’re used to playing in those types of games, and they definitely prepared us for when it could be close in sectional.”

New Palestine opens Sectional 9 on Tuesday against Muncie Central at 7 p.m. before Pendleton Heights and Mt. Vernon face off on Wednesday, March 2, in the first of two quarterfinals games, beginning at 6 p.m.

The Cougars and Anderson cap second quarterfinal night at approximately 7:30 p.m. The semifinals will be on Friday, March 4 with the winner between Muncie Central and New Palestine advancing to play Richmond, who received the first-round bye.

“I’m excited for the opportunity. I know we’re big underdogs. I know they’re playing really well,” Meredith said of Anderson. “They are everything that we are not. They’re athletic. They’re big. They’re strong. They can shoot it, handle it, beat you on the boards, and they were here tonight. I hope they’re ready to think that they will automatically play in the semifinals with a potential matchup against Mt. Vernon because that’s all I’ve heard. I hope our guys are ready to show up again and do what we’ve done all year and that’s battle.”

Moles has 994 points in his career to date with 12 games of 20 points or more scored this season.

“Friday night against New Castle he had 33, and the next night in Martinsville he didn’t shoot the ball well. He didn’t make a single 3-point shot and still had 20. That’s just a mark of a great player. Tonight, once again, I had to ask how many points he had because he’s so quiet at times, and he had 25,” Meredith said. “That’s what dudes do, and he’s a dude. He’s our guy. He’s our most important guy. He is the most impactful player in our program. I meet him here at 7:15 a.m. every morning. He puts in work, and it shows.”

Greenfield-Central 62, Plainfield 49

Plainfield;4;13;14;18;—;49

Greenfield-Central;19;10;11;22;—;62

Plainfield (12-10): Eli Ellis 3 1-2 8, Cael Vanderbush 3 0-0 7, Cooper Martin 3 0-0 6, Collin Schmidt 4 0-0 9, Grant Irwin 1 2-2 4, Cameron Young 0 0-0 0, Garrett Irwin 6 3-3 15, Caden Vanderbush 0 0-0 0, Blake Woodard 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 6-7 49.

Greenfield-Central (15-7): Dylan Moles 10 2-2 25, Joey Roland 6 3-6 15, Braylon Mullins 4 0-0 9, Tyler Kerkhof 2 2-2 7, Rune Carpenter-Jones 0 0-0 0, Rashawn Street 1 0-0 2, Adam Lester 1 2-3 4, Owen Anderson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 24 9-13 62.

3-point goals: Plainfield 3 (Ellis 1, Cael Vanderbush 1, Schmidt 1); Greenfield-Central 5 (Moles 3, Mullins 1, Kerkhof 1)