By MITZI THOMPSON
NEW WASHINGTON —
The host Mustangs used a second-half barrage to shut down the feisty South Central Rebels, 69-39, and give their team, school and community a much-needed and highly-anticipated Class A New Wash Sectional title on Saturday night.
With the win, New Washington (20-2) advances to the West Washington Regional, where it will face Vincennes Rivet, the fourth-ranked team in the final Class A poll and the winner of the Barr Reeve Sectional on Saturday. Rivet beat the host Vikings 60-47 en route to the crown.
“Our goal has always been to win a state championship,” said New Wash guard Ashley Johnson, who was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “But coach always tells us that’s not just something you can expect. It’s something you have to work for, every day and every game. This win just puts us one step closer to that goal.”
And another priceless feat that comes with the title:
“We get to cut down the nets,” Johnson said with a big laugh. “This is awesome! We haven’t gotten to do that in forever.”
Not since 2007, to be exact, when Johnson and her fellow juniors were in elementary school. Before that, it was the 2001 state semifinalists that last got to climb the ladder with scissors in hand.
Saturday, it seemed the entire population was on hand to witness the celebratory cutting.
“I think our community has been looking for this for a long time,” said New Washington coach Terry White. “They’ve been wonderful standing behind us this whole season, and it’s a good feeling to give something back to them. After all they’ve been through, what with the tornado [last March] and everything, I think this is kind of a boost that they all needed, and it feels really good to be able to give that to them.”
And the Mustangs put on quite a show for their home crowd in Jim Matthews Gymnasium on Saturday, taking a quick and early lead with immediate 3-pointers by Johnson and Courtney Amick, then struggling on offense for several possessions, allowing the Rebels to make things interesting and closing the New Wash lead to just one point at 29-28 midway through the second quarter.
“I don’t think we were ever really worried as you’d expect,” White said. “That happened in Tuesday’s [first-round sectional] game [against Borden] as well. We knew we just had to regroup and refocus.”
Once they did that, it was all but in the books.
New Washington used a 17-2 run that spanned the half to bury South Central for good.
The Rebels, who finished the season 8-15, stayed alive in the first half with hot shooting — namely by senior Samantha Turner and junior Kelsey Miller — but went cold three minutes before the break and didn’t connect on another field goal until a Miller jumper nearly six minutes into the third quarter.
In all, South Central scored just nine points in the second half.
“When we had them to within [one point] there in the first half, we really felt like we had it,” said Rebels’ coach Randall Schoen. “But for three straight possessions, we couldn’t get anything going, then the bottom fell out.
“But New Washington does a nice job. They’ve got what can hurt you, with [Caroline] Ricks insdie and Johnson and [Kriston] Sarver. They’ve got some weapons and that give teams all kinds of trouble.”
Saturday night, that trio combined for 51 of New Washington’s 69 points. Johnson led all scorers with 23, Ricks scored 19 and grabbed 10 rebounds, and fellow junior Amick tossed in nine and dished out six assists. Sarver contributed with nine.