Center Grove girls basketball edges Franklin for county title

Aubrie Booker and her teammates found themselves staring up from an 11-point deficit not once, but twice in the game’s first six minutes on Saturday night. Host Franklin was feeling it, knocking down four 3-pointers during that span.

But like any team warranting a No. 4 ranking in Class 4A, the Trojans shook off any urge to panic, stayed the course and claimed their first Johnson County tournament title since the 2020-21 season with a 54-47 overtime win in the championship game.

“We knew we were better than how we were playing. We knew we would come back,” said Booker, a senior guard who finished with seven points and four rebounds for the Trojans (6-0).

“Locking in on defense, that was the big point.”

Booker points to the timeout called by Center Grove coach Kevin Stuckmeyer at 2:47 of the opening quarter as a turning point.

“We just came more together as a team, and the starters just got together, and were like, ‘We can play better than this,’” Booker said.

The Grizzly Cubs led 13-5 thanks in part to two 3-pointers from senior wing Brooklyn York and another from teammate Erica Buening. Senior guard Emma Sappenfield’s post-timeout triple from the right corner put Franklin ahead 16-5, but Center Grove ended the quarter on a 7-2 scoring run.

Stuckmeyer’s squad outscored the Cubs in the second period, 15-12, as senior guard Audrey Annee delivered two treys of her own, and junior guard Ava Grant buried a long-range shot along the left baseline.

An Annee 3-pointer from just left of the top of the key at the 3:03 mark put the Trojans ahead for the first time, 25-24.

Franklin went back in front on consecutive Buening buckets down low, maintaining the upper hand throughout the remainder of the half and all of the third stanza.

Annee’s layup at 5:37 of the final period put Center Grove back on top, 42-41, but York, the game’s leading scorer with 20 points, put the Grizzly Cubs ahead a little over a minute later by delivering her fifth and final 3-pointer of the night.

With the score knotted at 47-47, Franklin coach Mike Armstrong called timeout with 13.1 seconds left, but point guard Lauren Klem’s shot was off the mark, as was Buening’s hurried putback attempt off the rebound.

The Trojans dominated the four-minute overtime, tallying all seven points on hoops from junior guard Lilly Bischoff and senior post Rachel Wirts, one free throw from Bischoff and two from Grant.

“In the beginning, honestly, I think we were kind of fast trying to score,” Bischoff said. “We said if we slow down and stay patient that we would get the right shots. Franklin is a very good shooting team, but I knew some weren’t going to fall.

“We just needed to keep playing defense and keep doing our best.”

Annee led the balanced Center Grove scoring breakdown with 16 points. Grant added 12, Bischoff 11 and Wirts eight. Buening chipped in 11 points for the Grizzly Cubs (5-2), with Sappenfield good for eight and Klem, the smallest player on the floor, scoring six and hustling her way to a game-high nine rebounds.

Franklin won the battle of the glass, outrebounding the Trojans 26-23, and there were plenty of boards to be had. The Trojans shot 20 of 47 from the floor (43%), while the Grizzly Cubs were a bone-chilling 17 of 56 (30%) overall and 10 of 39 on 3-point attempts. Over the final two quarters, Franklin was 4 of 19 from deep.

“That’s two games in a row where we play two phenomenal teams in Johnson County, and we did not have very good starts,” said Stuckmeyer, referencing a 61-52 semifinal defeat of Class 3A No. 1 Indian Creek that also required overtime. “I felt like we fought through adversity, but a little bit of it was our self-imposed adversity.

“Just not being calm and collected. But we made plays when we needed to, obviously.”

Franklin gets an opportunity for payback when it travels to Center Grove on Nov. 28. Before then, however, both face major challenges on Tuesday night, as the Trojans host Roncalli and the Grizzly Cubs welcome Indian Creek in a girl-boy doubleheader.