NEW PALESTINE — To get to one of its yearly goals— competing for a Hoosier Heritage Conference title — it’s ideal to get off to a good start.

A year ago, New Palestine lost its HHC opener against New Castle. The Dragons went on to go 3-4 in league play, finishing fifth in the final standings.

The loss to the Trojans didn’t determine outcomes of the other contests, but it certainly made for an uphill battle with stronger teams remaining to be played.

On Tuesday at New Palestine High School, the Dragons made sure that wasn’t going to be the way the HHC portion of the schedule started this year.

New Palestine won its third game in a row and opened conference play with a resounding 68-24 victory over New Castle.

“They played really well against us last year,” New Palestine coach Sarah Gizzi said of New Castle. “They lost some kids to graduation and lost some key pieces. … (That loss last year) I think knocked us back a little bit. It was a game we thought we could win.

“I feel every year we have goals to compete for a conference championship, compete for a sectional championship, have a winning season. Those are your standard goals. You give yourself a chance by starting off 1-0.”

The Dragons pressure defense helped force 20 first-half Trojans turnovers. New Pal led 20-4 by the end of the first eight minutes and 41-12 at halftime.

The 68 points were just three shy of a season-high total, which was achieved in Saturday’s 71-60 win over Whiteland. The Dragons beat Rushville to start the streak of wins, 63-56. The offensive totals in the three games are the highest of the season.

“I do think the girls are progressing. We’re still really wanting to be a better rebounding team,” Gizzi said. “… We have a lot of girls that play fall sports and they play right up until that first day of basketball practice. I just think it takes them a while to get back in the swing of basketball … I feel like we’re coming together a little bit more, executing a little bit better. The girls are playing with more confidence. When the ball goes in, it’s such a confidence booster for the whole team. When a couple girls knock down shots, I feel like that loosens things up for everybody.”

Isabella Gizzi, a volleyball player in the fall ,who came in averaging 25.1 points per game, scored 27. She hit 11 of 12 free throws. Vivian Miller, a soccer player, also scored in double figures with 12.

Sadey Hughbanks and Tylar Whitaker, another fall soccer player, had nine points apiece.

New Castle was in trouble early, but it got worse late in the first quarter when its best player, guard Emma Hart, committed her third foul. The Dragons took advantage of New Castle’s best ball-handler being on the bench.

“The press really worked well for us, which helped us get some good opportunities early,” coach Gizzi said.

Hart led the Trojans in scoring with 17 points.

The Dragons are 5-3 overall and continue HHC play Saturday afternoon at Delta.

They have a big stretch of league games in December, all on the road. Along with the game at Delta, the Dragons play at Shelbyville Tuesday, Greenfield-Central a week from Friday and Mt. Vernon on Dec. 13.

New Palestine 68, New Castle 24

New Castle;4;8;10;2;—;24

New Palestine;20;21;17;10;—;68

New Castle (0-8, 0-3): Kenzie Clark 0 0-0 0, Jayci Reeves 1 1-1 3, Ava Stearns 1 0-3 2, Chloe Vaughn 1 0-1 2, Emma Hart 6 4-4 17, Kattie Mathews 0 0-0 0, Kaidyn Minyard 0 0-0 0, Arey McTier 0 0-0 0, Anna Tyner 0 0-0 0, Jaylee Bush 0 0-0 0 . Totals: 9 5-9 24.

New Palestine (5-3, 1-0): Vivian Miller 5 1-1 12, Allie Blum 2 2-2 6, Sadey Hughbanks 3 3-5 9, Tylar Whitaker 4 1-1 9, Isabella Gizzi 8 11-12 27, Kylee Beranek 0 0-0 0, Ella Holman 1 3-4 5, Natalie Sevier 0 0-0 0, Gabrielle Brown 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 21-25 68.

3-point goals: New Castle 1 (Hart); New Palestine 1 (Miller).

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