By KEVIN HARRIS
The last two teams of the Clark County contingent at the Class 2A Paoli Sectional had their respective seasons come to an end on Friday night at Chambers Gymnasium.
After trailing only 20-13 at halftime, Providence could not stay with Class 2A No. 4 Paoli and lost the first semifinal, 59-24. In the second semi, Henryville led by two points at the end of three quarters, but could not hold on in a 44-32 setback to Eastern.
Tonight’s championship game at Paoli will be a rematch of last year’s 2A Eastern Sectional final, which was won by the Rams in double overtime 41-40.
Trailing 16-13 at halftime, it looked like the Hornets (14-10) were getting their offense going.
They outscored the Musketeers (10-12) 12-7 in the stanza on 5-of-11 shooting to go up 25-23. It was Henryville’s first lead since 3-0 in the opening moments of the contest.
But Eastern turned the tables in the fourth quarter. It got more aggressive in its man-to-man defense as the Hornets missed eight of their 10 field-goal attempts in the period and scored just seven points.
“We quit attacking,” Henryville coach Josh Conrad said. “In the third quarter, we did a good job of spreading them out and looking to attack, but be ready to pass it to the open teammate. During the fourth quarter, we got a little bit stagnant. If we hit those little bunnies, it’s probably a different game.”
The Musketeers got the lead back and then pulled away in the fourth thanks to their free-throw shooting. In the final stanza, Eastern connected on 15-of-17 from the stripe. Doing the most damage from the line was Musketeer guard Katie Ernstberger, who was 7-of-8 in the final quarter. For the game, Eastern connected 19 of its 24 foul shots.
Musketeers’ coach Mike McBride was happy to see the efficient free-throw shooting, which is an area Eastern has struggled with this season.
“That’s the first time all year that we’ve stepped up and made free throws like that,” the Charlestown High School graduate said. “Our Achilles’ heel all year has been free throws, so it’s a great time that we are shooting with confidence and under pressure.”
Henryville freshman guard Emily Hollis tallied a team-high 10 points, while fellow freshman Haley Huddleston poured in seven. Huddleston grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, while teammate Jasmine Harrell had six boards.
Harrell and guard Chelsea LaMotte are the lone two seniors for the Hornets. Conrad thinks Friday’s loss should be a good learning experience for his younger players.
“I think it’s a huge learning experience for them,” Conrad said. “We had a young team, but we also had two of the best seniors you can ask for in Jasmine and Chelsea in being leaders and being role models. They didn’t quit and they didn’t quit all year.”
Ernstberger paced Eastern with 15 points, three assists and three steals. Musketeer senior Krista Roberts had 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
McBride expected a defensive battle with Henryville after Eastern won the regular-season matchup on Jan. 24 in a low-scoring contest, 41-35.
“They’re going to be patient,” McBride said. “Their guards are very good at taking care of the ball. We were hoping to get a few more transition buckets. But they did a great job in defensive transition. This time of year, it’s going to come down to possession-by-possession games.”
The Rams (20-1) took full control of the contest in the third quarter. They started the stanza with an 8-3 run to extend their lead to 28-16.
Following a layup by the Pioneers’ Taylor Smallwood, Paoli reeled off 24 points in a row to up 52-18 in the opening minutes of the final quarter.
The Rams shot 60 percent in the second half (15-of-25). As for Providence (11-11), it tallied only 11 points and made only four of its 22 field-goal attempts in the final 16 minutes.
Smallwood was the only Pioneer to score in double figures with 12 points. Providence says goodbye to three seniors in Meredith Endris, Kacie Pace and Nichole Tucker.
Sophia Sears paced Paoli with a game-high 23 points, a game-high five assists and three steals.