NORTH VERNON — It just wasn’t a good night for either of the local teams at the Class 4A Jennings County Sectional on Friday.
The first semifinal saw eight-time defending champion Bedford North Lawrence overwhelm New Albany, 72-27, as the Stars placed four players in double figures.
The nightcap was nip-and-tuck throughout, before the host Panthers edged Jeffersonville 52-45.
The Stars (18-5) and Panthers (10-14) will play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night for the sectional title.
BEDFORD NL-NEW ALBANY
Things started well for the Dogs (7-15), as Bedford didn’t hit a field goal until the 3-minute mark of the first frame. However even with that, the Stars powered their way to a 13-3 lead at the first stop.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how our kids came out and competed, especially in that first quarter,” New Albany head coach Tammy Geron said. “I don’t think they scored a field goal the first four or five minutes of the game. You can’t ask more of our kids. They were out there busting their butts.”
Bedford, which has now beaten the ‘Dogs four straight, kept up its vaunted pressure defense in the second frame en route to a 34-17 lead at intermission. New Albany had 17 first-half turnovers.
“Their kids are so aggressive on both ends of the floor,” Geron said of the Stars. “Our size is an issue at the guard position. Those are things we need to solve, but our offseason has to be spent focusing on scoring. That just means more time in the gym.”
The Bulldogs shot just 16 percent in the second half, scoring 10 points over the final two periods.
“It’s been a struggle all year for us to score,” Geron said. “We had some critical turnovers in the second and third quarters and Bedford was turning those into easy baskets. We’re able to match-up with their big kid, but they are just so fundamentally sound from top to bottom.”
New Albany was led in scoring by Maleea Roland’s eight points. The Dogs say goodbye to two seniors — Mya Jackson and Naria Reed who scored four and two points, respectively.
“They are just great kids. Mya’s been here four years and it’s always hard to watch them walk out the door,” Geron said. “I’m so proud of what they’ve done for themselves on, and off, the floor. Naria was only with us one year, but captured our hearts very quickly. I’m confident those kids will go on to do great things with their life.”
Bedford was led by Chloe McKnight’s 21 points, which included six triples.
It wasn’t a pretty game, but Jennings did enough of the little things — i.e. the dirty work — to eek out its first win over Jeff since 2014.
“The rebounds and the 50-50 balls just killed us,” Red Devils head coach Mike Warren said. “Scoring has been an issue for us for awhile and when we get down a couple of points, it’s just hard for us to come back.”
After trailing 14-9 at the end of the first frame, senior Kiersten Poor powered her team to a 24-23 halftime advantage. Poor scored seven of her nine points in the second stanza, including a triple at the buzzer to give her team the lead.
“Somehow we had the lead at halftime,” Warren said. “We gave up 13 offensive rebounds, had seven turnovers, and got down 7-0 to start the game. If we could have just cut all of that in half, we might have been up eight or 10 points at the half.”
The third quarter was back-and-forth until the Panthers claimed a 37-32 lead heading to the final period. Jeff shot just 28 percent out of the locker room.
“That third quarter, we just let things get away from us. Once they got up four or five points, it was hard,” Warren said. “I was proud of the way we fought back and there, for basically two quarters, we cut down on our mistakes and we were playing well. We had our chances, but putting the ball in the basket has been the bugaboo for us for a while now. I was happy with the shots we got, we just didn’t make them.”
Alexis Gibson scored eight of her team-high 17 points in the fourth to fuel Jeff’s comeback attempt. Jennings, however, hit 9 of 12 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory. The hosts were led by Lilly Ernstes’ 21 and Kali Thompson’s 18
“Alexis has really blossomed over the last couple of weeks. I’m really proud of her,” Warren said. “I know she was gassed out there. She really stepped up here towards the end of the year and really carried us from time to time. If she continues on this track she’s set for a really big year next year.”
Jeff (14-11) loses three seniors from this season’s squad. Two of which, Nan Garcia and Kelsie James, were lost to injuries earlier this year.
“I sure would’ve liked to played this game with all three of them,” said Warren, who has guided Jeff to seven straight winning seasons. “KP had to take on a huge burden with this team, being the only senior left standing on the court. She had some big games for us this year. She was really vocal and positive tonight, but unfortunately we just didn’t score enough points, and that was my fear coming into the tournament – that we just wouldn’t be able to score enough to win.”