Head coach Brad Bryant was confident he and his coaching staff had the North Decatur girls basketball team ready to compete for a championship Saturday night.
Despite third-ranked Austin's 49-38 win to claim its first sectional title as members of Sectional 45, North held its own as a serious contender.
The Lady Chargers wore red as the visiting team, with Austin in white, meeting at center circle for the opening tipoff.
"We knew their personnel well,” said Bryant. “We knew what they wanted to do and what they wanted to take away.”
For the first 16 minutes of the South Ripley Sectional 45 Final, and for most of the third quarter, North appeared to have control of its destiny. The ladies in red jumped out to an 11-6 lead when senior Jenna Meyer went deep for a 3-pointer, until Austin made it 11-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Meyer, though, extended it to 14-8 with another from beyond the arc to open the second period. North led the entire second quarter, thanks to a Meyer shot off the glass, a triple from freshman Mary Hughes, and a pair of free throws each from Hughes and junior Alison Wallpe. The visiting team went on a 10-4 run going into halftime.
“We couldn’t have executed our game plan any better in the first half,” said Bryant. “In all honesty, we executed our game plan pretty well in the second half, too.”
North peaked with 4:37 left in the third quarter. A Meyer steal led to a 3-ball from junior Abby Lamb, giving their team its biggest lead at 29-21.
As quickly as North had built its biggest lead, Austin’s full-court press and a pattern of fouls caused a cascade of momentum change. Austin hit a triple and scored off a steal on the following possession, shrinking the North lead to 29-28. The Lady Eagles took its first lead since the opening quarter. Austin’s 9-0 run gave it a 30-29 at the third quarter’s 2:31 mark.
North’s Alison Wallpe, though, asserted her presence in the post to return the lead to the Chargers. She hit a layup and a short jumper to make it 33-30 with 1:36 left.
It would mark the beginning of the end for Bryant’s team. After Austin pulled to within two with a free throw, junior Abby Lamb grabbed a defensive rebound to give her team a chance. However, the possession ended in an Eagle steal and basket that tied the game at 33-all with 1:03 left in the period.
Austin took another lead with 6:52 left, 33-35, but Meyer tied it back up with a score off an inbounds at the 6:24 mark.
The Eagles effectively iced the game with a 14-1 run over the next five-plus minutes. Meyer scored North’s last five points, the final two on a rebound basket with 20 seconds left.
Three Lady Chargers were saddled with four fouls apiece, while one fouled out halfway through the fourth quarter. North attempted two free throws in the second half, while Austin attempted 22.
Meyer led all scorers with 18 points and added 10 rebounds. She finished her career as North girls basketball’s all-time leading rebounder.
“Jenna just did was Jenna has always done,” said Bryant. “She works her butt off and has tons of heart. Nobody plays with any more heart and love for the game than Jenna.”
Junior Alison Wallpe followed with eight points, including a 2-for-2 trip at the foul line. Mary Hughes added six (3-for-4 at line), while Lamb and junior Andrea Volk each chipped in a first-half triple.
Austin seniors Kourtney Mace and Jessie Davidson each scored 11 points. Five of Davidson’s 11 points were from the foul line. Bryant applauded senior Cindy Krieger for her work limiting Davidson far below her scoring average.
“Cindy just did one heck of a job defensively,” said Bryant. “She was the very first one in the locker room to give her team credit for how well everyone else did defensively, when she was on the bench for rest or fouls.”
Meyer, Hughes and Alison Wallpe were named to the All-Sectional 45 Team, while Meyer and Davidson were named co-MVP’s of the tournament.
Austin, now 19-4, will play eighth-ranked Sullivan (22-2) in the Regional Semifinal Saturday.
Contact Nick Gonnella at (812) 663-3111, x7003.