Franklin girls basketball edges Center Grove for county title

For three and a half quarters on Saturday morning, the Center Grove girls basketball team did just about everything it needed to do in order to upset Class 4A No. 5 Franklin and win the Johnson County tournament title.

The Trojans were gritty. They knocked down shots. They drew fouls. They forced turnovers. And they kept the ball from finding the hands of Grizzly Cub sophomores Scarlett Kimbrell and Lauren Klem, two of the most lethal 3-point shooters in the state of Indiana.

But they couldn’t keep that duo silent forever — and Kimbrell’s clutch trey with 27 seconds left proved to be the decisive moment in Franklin’s thrilling 40-37 victory on the Trojans’ home floor.

The victory gave the Grizzly Cubs (7-0) their first county championship since 1986.

“It’s very, very gratifying,” Franklin coach Josh Sabol said, recalling that winning this trophy was a focal point when he first took the job before the 2016-17 season. “I love it for the community, because 1986 is a long time, so I’m really, really happy. But I’m happy for the kids, too. They work hard, they do so much stuff that we ask of them, and for them to show this grit and come from behind and win at the end, I couldn’t be happier for them.”

Franklin needed all of the grit it could muster to pull this one out, as well as some timely makes from its two long-distance marksmen, who were a combined 0 for 5 from the field before Klem hit a 3 from the top of the key with 3:28 left to cut the Center Grove lead to 37-35. The Grizzly Cubs then got a defensive stop and kept their next possession alive for what seemed like forever with four offensive rebounds.

Finally, out of a timeout, Franklin got the ball in the corner to Klem, who had a decent look at the go-ahead shot but instead swung the ball to the wing for Kimbrell, who coolly drained the biggest 3-pointer of the Grizzly Cubs’ season so far.

“Me and Lauren have good chemistry; we’ve been playing together for a while,” Kimbrell said of the winning play. “Lauren made it easy — she made the extra pass.”

Erica Buening followed up with her third blocked shot of the game and a rebound, forcing the Trojans to foul. After Kimbrell knocked down a pair from the charity stripe with 9.1 seconds left, the Grizzly Cubs opted to put Center Grove junior Ella Hobson on the line rather than allow a potential game-tying look from deep. Hobson missed the first and then intentionally missed the second in a last-ditch effort to give the Trojans a shot to tie, but the visitors were able to prevent any buzzer-beating heaves.

Before Kimbrell’s heroics, the day had gone almost ideally for the Trojans (3-4). Franklin entered the game leading the state in scoring at 75.83 points per game, and it barely managed half that figure.

“Center Grove, defensively — I’ve been saying this for years — is the best halfcourt defensive team in the state,” Sabol said. “We were trying to get our running game going, we were trying to get our press going, and we couldn’t.”

Neither side was able to get comfortable on the offensive end at the outset, with the teams trading turnovers as often as baskets during a first quarter that saw five lead changes. The last of those came on a pretty feed from Brooklyn York to Adelyn Walker that put the Grizzly Cubs in front, 10-9, late in the period.

Center Grove tied it up at 10-10 on a Rachel Wirts free throw before Franklin finally got a little separation with three consecutive layups, two from Ashlyn Traylor and one from Kuryn Brunson. That was the first time either team had a lead of more than two points. The visitors maintained a slim edge for the rest of a low-scoring half, taking a 19-14 advantage into the locker room.

A corner 3-pointer by Brunson put the Grizzly Cubs up by eight to start the third quarter, but Aubrie Booker responded with a 3 and a layup at the other end, and the Trojans owned the rest of the period, scoring 13 straight points while making Franklin visibly uncomfortable with its defensive intensity. That four-minute surge, capped off by a Lilly Bischoff foul shot, put Center Grove ahead 27-22 with 2:21 left in the third.

“I don’t think it was any magic button; it was what we talked about at halftime,” Trojans coach Kevin Stuckmeyer said. “When you play a top team in the state that has the firepower that they do, that is extremely gifted like they are, you have to make them feel uncomfortable — and we pride ourselves on making teams uncomfortable at both ends and making them make mistakes.”

The Grizzly Cubs tied it, 32-32, on a Buening post-up with 5:13 to go in regulation, but the Trojans scored the next five points, four of those by Wirts, to reclaim the lead. In desperate need of a bucket, Franklin got one from Klem, setting the stage for Kimbrell’s big moment three minutes later.

Booker and Traylor led their respective teams with 10 points apiece.

Coming out of this game with a win despite everything that went against them should give the Grizzly Cubs some fuel when similar situations pop up in big games later this winter.

“It definitely builds our confidence,” Kimbrell said. “We always have to think that we’re always going to win. We have to go in with a mindset like that and never give up. … We never thought we were going to lose. We always knew the next play was coming.”