By MATTHEW CRESS
It’s a matchup that may never materialize in the postseason, but don’t tell that to Charlestown or North Harrison.
The potential state-tournament foes — put together on the same side of the bracket in the Class 3A Charlestown Sectional that begins this week — took to the court on Saturday night in a clash which both entered with identical 5-3 records in the Mid-Southern Conference.
In the end, the host Pirates (13-8, 6-3 MSC) emerged with a 59-45 victory to separate themselves from the Cats (11-9, 5-4), gain sole possession of third place in the conference standings and pick up the all-important momentum for postseason play.
While they met as rivals on Saturday, Charlestown and North Harrison find themselves in the same circumstances for their opening-round sectional contests on Tuesday — both will be playing the role of underdog.
The Pirates drew Brownstown Central, the 16-1 MSC leader that already owns a victory over Charlestown on Jan. 11. North Harrison will play Scottsburg, which handed the Cats a 25-point loss back in November. Brownstown and Scottsburg were the two teams that finished ahead of Charlestown in the MSC.
If both teams were to survive on Tuesday, they would meet again in the sectional semifinals on Friday night.
That’s for another day. Charlestown wasted no time in showing there is no time like the present.
The Pirates built an 8-2 lead early and never trailed, taking firm control with a 10-1 run in the second quarter. The margin ballooned to as many as 17 before North Harrison made a final, frantic run to pull within 49-43 with 2:36 left to play.
From there, the Pirates knocked down eight consecutive free throws to reclaim a double-digit lead and cruise to the finish line.
The victory was the Pirates’ second on Saturday, as they downed Rock Creek Academy earlier in the day. It was also the final regular-season game for five Charlestown seniors, each of whom got the opportunity to start.
Hopefully, they’ll forgive junior Justice Burdin for stealing their spotlight.
The 5-foot-11 forward was held scoreless in the first quarter but came to life in the second. She scored 14 of her 20 points in the frame, including the Pirates’ first 10. With a variety of jumpers, putbacks and nifty spin moves inside, Burdin outscored North Harrison 10-9 over the course of seven minutes, pushing the Pirate lead to 29-19 at the intermission.
“We have players that have some strength and some size,” Charlestown coach Michael Prichard said. “We’re definitely not afraid to use it.”
Charlestown saw another player step up to help build on its lead after halftime, as junior Kaitlynn Henning delivered seven of the Pirates’ 13 points in the third period. Henning, who scored her 1,000th career point on a basket early in the final frame, managed five unanswered points to put the Pirates ahead 42-25 late in the third
North Harrison stayed within striking distance with six fast points to enter the fourth quarter down 11 at 42-31.
Things got even more interesting midway through the period with the Cats getting six straight points from Jourdan McAfee and two free throws from Carlie Burson to get within 48-38 with 3:48 to play.
Following a free throw from senior Kim Knight, North Harrison got a 3 from leading scorer Kendra Lambert to make it 49-43. It was the closest North Harrison had been since it trailed 21-16 just before the half.
The opportunites to crawl closer were there, but the Charlestown defense caused the Cats to come up empty on two straight offensive trips and they would fail to get closer.
“We were up 10 at the half and we talked to the girls about how this team could score in a hurry,” said Prichard, who wasn’t surprised North Harrison nearly rallied back. “But we survived the storm. That’s something we did earlier in the year, but lately when teams have come back, we’ve kind of folded. So we were happy to be able to keep things going.”
Charlestown quickly shook off the rally at the foul line, with Henning doing the most damage. She hit 5 of 6 from the stripe to complete her own 20-point night and a 3-point play from Megan Brooks put the Pirates back in the driver’s seat.
Lambert found herself swarmed with white Charlestown jerseys all evening and rarely got a clean look at the basket. She ended up shooting a dismal 4 of 26 from the field, including 1 of 7 from 3-point range. Jourdan McAfee picked up some of the slack with eight points and Burson finished with seven points and seven rebounds for the Cats.
While Henning and Burdin combined for 40 of Charlestown’s 59 points, Brooks concluded her regular season finale with seven points and four rebounds despite fighting early foul trouble.
It was a great way to cap off a career, but it won’t be the Pirate seniors’ last crack at a victory on their home floor. That will depend on Tuesday’s matchup with Brownstown, and hopefully beyond, where North Harrison could be waiting.
“We’ve had our ups-and-downs, but this is a great group of young women,” said Prichard, who noted that another senior, Jessica Farmer, aggrevated an earlier injury in the Rock Creek game and may have made her last appearance in a Charlestown uniform. “They’ve all done well and accepted their roles and have made the most of their ability.”
Brooks, Farmer, Knight, Lauren Crowe, and Hayley Layton were honored in a ceremony before the game.
CHARLESTOWN 59, NORTH HARRISON 45
North Harrison 7 12 12 14—45
Charlestown 11 18 13 17—59
North Harrison (11-9, 5-4 MSC): Kendra Lambert 11, Carlie Burson 7, Jourdan McAfee 8, Cammie Jones 4, Shaylah Neal 4, Kendra Baumgarten 4, Kim Chiquito 5, Regan Comer 2.
Charlestown (13-7, 6-3): Megan Brooks 7, Lauren Crowe 2, Hayley Layton 2, Kim Knight 1, Justice Burdin 20, Kaitlynn Henning 20, Lexi Logsdon 2, Shelby Goedecker 5.
3-point field goals: North Harrison 2 (Lambert, Burson); Charlestown 0.
Rebounds: North Harrison 27 (Neal 7, Burson 7; Charlestown 31 (Burdin 11).
Assists: North Harrison 3 (McAfee 2); Charlestown 6 (Goedecker 3).
Steals: North Harrison 9 (McAfee 3); Charlestown 10 (Logsdon 4).
Blocked shots: North Harrison 1 (Elliot); Charlestown 2 (Burdin 2).
Turnovers: North Harrison 16, Charlestown 18.
Free throws: North Harrison 13-20, Charlestown 15-22.
Fouled out: North Harrison — Burson.
Technical fouls: None.