Slow start hurts Cougars in loss at Greenwood

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Greenwood’s Lily Howe (10) blocks the shot of Greenfield-Central’s Chaney Brown (12) in their game Thursday at Greenwood High School.

Rob Baker | For The Daily Reporter

By Ken Severson

For The Daily Reporter

GREENWOOD — Lily Howe’s free throw with 4.8 seconds left, along with two key baskets by Ella Stivers, allowed host Greenwood to slip past a stubborn Greenfield-Central, 37-34, in the season opener for both teams on Thursday night.

The Woodmen took the lead early, then withstood a second-half shooting drought and some close calls to eke out the win.

Despite the loss, this was a much better performance for Greenfield-Central against Greenwood. Last year, the Woodmen buried the Cougars by 36 points.

Both coaches, Greenwood’s Justin Bennett and Greenfield-Central’s Bradley Key, entered their fifth seasons with hopes of a season-opening win and fresh start to the year.

It was Bennett grinning and wiping his brow at the end.

“I give credit to the girls,” he said. “Our defense kept us in it. We rotated a lot of girls early and we had them come in and knuckle down. It was good to see them come out and fight.”

Judging by the statistics of both teams, one could tell it was a season opener.

Greenfield-Central shot 37% from the field, missed eight free throws and turned the ball over 19 times. Greenwood was marginally better shooting but also committed 18 turnovers, something Bennett hopes improves soon with a rugged schedule coming up.

“We got a little rushed at times,” Bennett said.

It was a contrast of experience.

Key started a young squad, with only one senior, Aryanna Hibbard, on the floor for the tip, while the Woodmen had four seniors in their lineup.

Midway through the second quarter, the Woodmen increased their lead to 22-6, thanks to some pretty cold shooting by the Cougars, who went nearly five minutes without a score.

“We were pretty shell-shocked,” Key said.

But once the Cougars finally did score, they reeled off 10 straight points and the Woodmen went in a funk themselves that lasted through the end of the half, and then some.

The Cougars pulled to within one before Greenwood’s Emma Gardner hit an easy set shot at the 4:24 mark of the third to break the dry spell.

Greenwood increased the lead to six, but the Cougars whittled the lead to one on two occasions early in the fourth quarter. It was still 34-32 before Stivers hit the first of her key shots with 1:47 left. Nearly 40 seconds later, Stivers did it again to give the Woodmen a four-point cushion.

Howe hit her first free throw but missed the second; Greenfield-Central sophomore Chaney Brown’s desperation shot then hit the rim and bounced away, and Greenwood could finally breathe.

The Woodmen were led by both Howe and Stivers, who had 12 points each. Greenfield-Central was led by Brown, who had a game-high 21 points and nine rebounds.

“It was good to play somebody else in live action,” Key said. “I thought Greenwood did a good job of finding the open spots in our zone in the first half. We finally cranked up the defense in the second half.”

“Man, that’s a great game to be a part of,” Bennett said.

Greenwood is at Bloomington North for a Saturday afternoon matinee. The Cougars face another Mid-State Conference team, this time a home affair against Whiteland, on Saturday evening.