Center Grove, Franklin girls advance in sectional

The games may have started differently than expected at the Class 4A girls basketball sectional in Franklin on Tuesday, but the end result was still all chalk.

Center Grove had its hands full early on against a scrappy young Whiteland team, but the Trojans took charge in the second half to pull away for a 61-42 opening-round victory.

Mary Wilson scored a game-high 21 to lead the Trojans (14-10), who will play Franklin Central in the 6 p.m. semifinal on Friday. The second semi will feature Greenwood against the host Grizzly Cubs, who shook off a similarly slow start to overwhelm Shelbyville by a 77-43 margin.

In the opener, the Warriors (5-18) came out with a great deal of energy and gave the Trojans all they could handle for the first 10-plus minutes. The teams traded the lead back and forth seven times in the first quarter alone, and Whiteland was still within one at 17-16 after a Braylyn Clendenen 3-pointer with 6:12 left in the half.

Center Grove, though, held Whiteland without a point for the next 5:54, using two Wilson putbacks and a three-point play by Ella Hobson to build a 25-16 advantage. Emma Piercy ended the Warrior drought with a 3-pointer, but Wilson answered at the other end to make it a nine-point game again at the break.

Center Grove coach Kevin Stuckmeyer credited Wilson, who had 14 of her points in the first half, with helping the team get its composure.

"Where we were last year, how we lost in the championship, I just didn’t want to be in that same situation," Wilson said. "Just not take any plays off or take anything for granted, because it can be taken away just like that. I just tried to do the best I could on the offensive and defensive ends, to have that spark so we could move on."

Consecutive 3-pointers from Kylee Marlin and Clendenen got Whiteland within eight midway through the third quarter before a 9-0 run, capped by a Wilson 3 at the 2:56 mark, stretched the Trojan advantage to 42-25. The Warriors never got closer than a dozen after that spurt.

Though the score wasn’t as close as it was in the teams’ first meeting, a 52-39 Trojan win in the final of the Johnson County tournament in November, Whiteland coach Ashley Morgan Fouch was pleased with the effort she got from her team, which does not have a senior on the roster.

"We played a whole lot better than we did the first time," she said. "We fought harder, we did come out with a lot of energy. They did everything that I possibly could have asked for tonight, all the way down my bench."

Hobson finished with 10 points for the Trojans, while Aubrie Booker added nine. Gracie Taylor paced the Warriors with 11 points, followed by Clendenen and Marlin with 10 apiece.

Shelbyville (8-15) then continued the trend of plucky underdogs starting strong, getting out to leads of 6-2 and 13-11 early. But the Grizzly Cubs retaliated with a ruthless flurry, putting together runs of 14 and 16 consecutive points to bury the Golden Bears.

The first blitz included four consecutive 3-pointers — one from Kyra Baker to beat the first-quarter horn, followed by two from Erica Buening and one from Kuryn Brunson early in the second period — and gave Franklin (18-2) the lead for good at 25-13. The second began with a 3 from Scarlett Kimbrell with 3:36 left in the half and ended with two more from Kimbrell bookending a deep ball from Lauren Klem. The Grizzly Cubs went into the locker room with a 43-17 cushion.

"We didn’t have a lot of energy, and we needed to see the ball go in a few times to get it," said Brunson, who led all scorers with 20 points. "Once we got it in the basket a few times, that’s when we started playing our game."

Shelbyville never got any closer than 21 in the second half, and the Grizzly Cubs used another flurry of three straight 3s in the fourth to put the game well out of reach.

Kimbrell and Buening finished with 15 and 12 points, respectively, for Franklin, with Kimbrell adding nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Brunson and Buening had three steals each.

The Grizzly Cubs move on to face a Greenwood team that they’ve already beaten by margins of 50 and 48 points this season. They’re resisting any temptation to look past that.

"We definitely won’t look past it," Brunson said. "Every team has their strengths, has their players, and we’ll go in there 0-0 like we’ve never played them before."

"Honestly, I’m not even thinking about Friday," Franklin coach Josh Sabol added. "I’m thinking about practice tomorrow."

Center Grove, meanwhile, should have plenty of focus against the Flashes, who eliminated the Trojans in the sectional title game a year ago.

Stuckmeyer hopes that any nerves that might have hampered his younger players early on Tuesday will be long gone by Friday night.

"You can’t substitute anything for experience," he said. "Now they can go play basketball again."